WB wants to play nice with 20th

Mar 25, 2002  •  Post A Comment

While most of The WB’s pilots are being developed by in-house studios Turner Television and Warner Bros. Television, WB Entertainment President Jordan Levin said the network would seek outside production partners-including 20th Century Fox Television-to keep costs down if certain pilots get picked up as series.
Speaking to Electronic Media after giving six development presentations to advertisers in New York last week, Mr. Levin said this will be the year The WB and Fox move forward to mend their relationship. The WB’s relationship with TV’s largest supplier of programming was fractured last year after tense license fee negotiations to renew “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” had the program ending up on rival UPN. Mr. Levin said when in-house pilots get chosen for series, he’s prepared to pick up the phone and call Fox with an offer to “lay off”-essentially, to share production costs and future profits-a series order with them.
Despite the talk, Fox, which produces The WB’s Friday comedy “Reba” and Monday drama “Angel,” does not have any pilots in development with The WB for the 2002-03 season.
“Laying off” series, particularly those developed by Turner and Warner Bros. Television, at other studios will be one of the ways The WB keeps from breaking the production bank. Still, as have the other five broadcast networks originating most program development from in-house or sister studio production units, it remains likely that The WB-through Turner Television-will try to call the shots on long-term licensing deals, including cable repurposing, front-end international sales and back-end domestic syndication rights.
Another way to keep down costs is to increase multiplexing and multiplaying in the season ahead, Mr. Levin said.
Media buyers are sending Hollywood a message, he said. “They are not going to pay the price for Hollywood’s inability to figure out a new model, and they’re not looking to have costs passed on to them.”
Media buyers applauded, he said, when he told them that The WB was the network that could say no, a reference to the network’s refusal to pay a huge license fee for “Buffy” that would have affected the network’s chances for profitability.
The Big 4 networks and UPN are lowering their costs of doing business by increasing their percentages of nonscripted programming, Mr. Levin said, and The WB will keep its level of scripted programming high. “We are going to lower our cost basis by finding other opportunities to bring revenue in, by multiplex and multiplay.”
On the programming side, Sundays, Thursdays and Fridays are this fall’s nightly prime-time development targets, Mr. Levin said. Cornerstones of The WB’s development are “family and franchise pieces on the hour side and multiple comedies directed against Friday nights,” he said.
Sundays this fall will see a continuation of the multiplay strategy from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. In prime time, look for a return of hour programming with a “more female skew,” Mr. Levin said. “Lost in Oz,” The WB’s new take on “The Wizard of Oz,” is a strong candidate for the 8 p.m. Sunday slot, and the demise of “The X-Files” on Fox means another time slot opportunity in which to go after “The truth is out there” crowd.
On Wednesdays, where UPN has struck a chord with “Enterprise,” The WB sees itself as more in demo competition with ABC than with UPN, which is targeting the same young males as Fox, Mr. Levin said. On Thursdays, the greatest need is at 8 p.m., where the network is being battered by the competition. At 9 p.m., “Charmed” is “aging down rather than aging up,” so expect it to continue in that tough time period.
On the positive side, the “Charmed” TNT multiplexing experiment has proven to Turner executives that there is little audience duplication between The WB and TNT and that the young-skewing show can lower TNT’s age profile, a senior WB executive said. On the negative side, the “Charmed” costs per thousand remain too low, the executive said.
Mr. Levin and other senior Turner executives agree that multiplexing between The WB and the Turner cable networks will continue and likely will be expanded in the season ahead. “Charmed” also will be stripped next season on TNT. But whether it also will be multiplexed-and which other new-season WB series will have a second window on a Turner cable network-has not yet been determined, according to both WB and Turner executives.
Meanwhile, in addition to “Oz,” the hour pilots in earliest production include “Birds of Prey,” the spinoff from Warner Bros.’ “Batman” franchise; “Everwood,” about a big-city family in a small town; and “Home of the Brave,” about a soldier and his family at a new military base in California.
“Dawson’s Creek” and “Charmed” are expected to be back on the schedule, he said, but “Raising Dad” and “Maybe It’s Me” are “on the bubble,” with their fates dependent on how the next flights of original episodes, beginning in April, do in the ratings.
Fox’s “Angel” is another series that Mr. Levin called part of the network’s “core stability,” along with “Smallville” and “Gilmore Girls.” “If we can build off of the male strength in `Smallville,’ `Angel’ and `Jamie Kennedy,’ we would be wise to do so,” he said.
Based on past pilot season pickups, The WB will end up ordering four drama pilots and six comedies, Mr. Levin said.
Michael Freeman contributed to this report.