The WB and UPN marry, but will baby be happy?

By Ilana Emmett

Despite the fact that two out of the 16 “geeks” on the reality show Beauty and the Geek have gone to the U of C, most students here probably don’t even know what channel the show is on. As of September, there might be even more confusion.

This January, TV networks UPN and the WB (which currently airs the show) announced that they would be coming together to create one network called the CW. (The C is for UPN parent company CBS and the W for WB’s Warner Brothers.)

Most reports on the new network expressed shock and surprise about the announcement. Maybe it is surprising from the insider’s perspective, but, on the outside, it makes perfect sense. Both networks began in January 1995 in an attempt to reach the ever-growing television audience that Fox found after launching in 1985. Both reached out to a similar 18-to-34 demographic, on occasion even sharing shows. (WB’s first big hit, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, spent its last two years on UPN.) And both looked on as that growing group of television viewers slipped away from network television into the arms of cable TV. After 11 years of continually struggling to turn a profit and combating weak ratings as they fought each other for fifth and sixth place, the new incarnation of the two could use some advice.

Although the schedule is not yet official, it is rumored that the CW will integrate the most popular shows from each network into its new primetime schedule. Many of the shows that will move to the new network were alluded to during the same press conference where the announcement of the new network was made. The final schedule, like all network schedules, will not be made public until May.

The lowest-rated show that seems likely to be part of the new fall schedule is UPN’s Veronica Mars. This hour-long show about a high school private detective is one that is often affixed with the best-show-no-one-is-watching label. Another that is often referred to in this way is Fox’s recently axed (or “put-on-hiatus”) Arrested Development, a show that is generally popular at the U of C. The renewal of Veronica Mars would be a wise move for the new network and one that should be commended. While Arrested Development fans are bemoaning the loss of their favorite show now that the third season is over, Veronica Mars’s third season will be a getting a new life (and likely a new fan base) when scheduled alongside the plethora of WB shows that are about high school– and college-age characters.

In a similar vein, the CW ought to remember what has been successful for the networks in the past. As of the end of last season, the combined viewership of the WB and UPN (totaling less than seven million) averaged significantly less than the viewership of the fourth-rated network, NBC, which was nearly 10 million. The executives at the CW would be wise to remember that.

Coming from someone who’s been watching WB shows since I was in middle school, the beauty of these channels is that they have given a network-TV home to shows that might not otherwise have survived. Gilmore Girls is currently the WB’s second most popular show, but that’s after struggling through its first season and continuously increasing in ratings over the five seasons since then. It is because of the nature of the network that this critically acclaimed show has remained on the air and will likely be an anchor for the new network.

While UPN and the WB have been criticized for low ratings and poor programming over the years, they have each reached out to audiences that might not otherwise have been served. The success they did gain was generally through high-quality programming that had a specific audience in mind and through giving these shows time to find that audience. The new CW has a lot of potential to be successful, but to do so, it ought not to forget the audience that has given UPN and the WB their meager success in the last decade.