WB is crooning about `Reba’

Nov 5, 2001  •  Post A Comment

The drawing power of “Reba” on The WB presents network executives with an enviable quandary: The freshman sitcom’s broadened appeal in adults 18 to 49 leaves them searching for other big-tent family shows.
In fact, with the Reba McEntire-led multigenerational sitcom lighting up The WB’s 9 p.m.-to-9:30 p.m. (ET) Friday time slot with triple-digit percentage increases in the adults 18 to 49 demo, the network is already developing a revival of “Family Affair,” among other family-oriented comedy formats that can work as potential companion pieces to “Reba” next season.
Mike Clements, The WB’s co-senior vice president of comedy development, confirmed that the Frog network has made a development commitment to “Family Affair” with series rights-holder Sid and Marty Kroft Productions and emerging TV producer Gavin Polone (executive producer of The WB’s “Gilmore Girls”). Mr. Clements said he sees “Family Affair,” originally starring Brian Keith as an uncle-turned-father to three children in the 1966-71 CBS sitcom, being “updated in a contemporary version with broad evergreen appeal” to The WB’s kids, teens and adult audience.
“`7th Heaven,’ `Gilmore Girls’ and `Reba’ have proven that we could have broad family appeal shows, which have a strong draw to our core younger demographics as well as parents,” Mr. Clements said.
On that tack, Mr. Clements said The WB is simultaneously developing several other sitcom projects that he thinks will have similar multigenerational appeal as “Reba.”
He said that The WB is currently working with Latino-Irish writer Peter Murietta to develop a sitcom about an upwardly mobile Latino family that makes the move uptown (a la “The Jeffersons”). Ryan Murphy, the creator of former WB drama “Popular,” is developing a New England boarding school comedy which has Delta Burke (“Designing Women”) playing house mother to a group of “sweathogs.” And Amanda Bynes, a former star of Nickelodeon’s “The Amanda Show” and “All That,” is set to star in a Tollin/Robins and Warner Bros. Television sitcom about a teen-age girl who moves into an apartment with her older sister.
“At the beginning of the season, even before we knew `Reba’ would work, we had been developing traditional family, big family and surrogate family sitcoms,” Mr. Clements said. “Development-wise we bought a lot of family sitcoms from different angles, but it certainly seems that post-Sept. 11, people are really looking for optimistic and less cynical shows.”
That potential swing in viewing habits toward warmer, more inclusive shows may have played a major factor in “Reba” proving that The WB can reach beyond its core females 12 to 34 demographic base with viewers on the older end of the adults 18 to 49 spectrum.
“I think that The WB knows that it has something that is a rare commodity, but its broad appeal is very much in the same spirit as [the drama] `7th Heaven,”’ said Gary Newman, co-president of “Reba” series co-producer 20th Century Fox Television. “While they are still firing on all cylinders in the core teen and young women demos, I don’t think The WB is going to lose that focus. But `Reba’ also gives many more demo options to build a mass appeal night.”
Certainly, as The WB appears intent to maintain its focus on young female demographics, “Reba’s” success with the older end of the 18 to 49 spectrum creates an enviable quandary over whether to build a broader audience base next season.
“We do skew a bit more [broad in] appeal, but I think The WB looked at us as a test of whether it could have similar youth appeal as its other shows,” said Allison Gibson, creator and executive producer of “Reba.”
“My favorite sitcoms were shows like `Roseanne’ and `The Cosby Show’ [that were] big-tent shows with appeal to teens, young adults and parents. If we can widen the audience of The WB, that’s all the better for everyone involved.”