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The WB - The CW's predecessor

Jubenhimer

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You're probably familiar with The CW Television Network. The 5th major broadcast network jointly owned by ViacomCBS and WarnerMedia (Hence the initials, The CBS Warner Network) mostly known for DC superhero shows and sappy High School dramas. What you may not be familiar with, is its predecessor. Before there was The CW, there was The WB.



Another attempt at the 5th network owned by, you guessed it, Warner Bros. Well... sort of. Time Warner owned a majority stake, but they struck a deal with the broadcasting company Tribune to be a partial owner, so that the network can actually get into people's households. The WB was an attempt by Warner Bros. to replicate the flash-in-the-pan miracle that was The FOX Broadcasting Company. IE, an upstart broadcast network backed by a big Movie Studio to go up against ABC, CBS, and NBC. Fox completely broke the mold when it launched their namesake network in 1985, so WB was looking to get in on the action. They needed to launch fast though, because another major movie studio, Paramount, was also in the midst of getting its own FOX killer off the ground called the United Paramount Network (UPN). Despite initial success, The WB would end up in the "Also Ran" category of failed broadcast networks, and merged with the then equally doomed UPN, to form the current CW we know now. If you want to learn more about UPN, I recommend checking out the Connor Higgins 2-parter on why it failed, it's really interesting.


Now let's about The WB. The network launched in January 1995, with only two nights of Primetime programing a week. The very first show to air on the network was The Wayans Bros. A sitcom staring Shawn and Marlon Wayans. In fact, nearly the entire network's initial launch lineup were sitcoms aimed at African-Americans. A gimmick that would eventually define the UPN network (again, see Connor Higgins vids for more info). The network struggled for its first year or so, only managing a 1.8 rating on its first week, trailing behind UPN which had the mighty Star Trek franchise to prop up its arguably worse launch lineup. But The WB quickly identified a niche that it could fill that most other major networks, broadcast or cable weren't really committed to. Youth. The Adolescents and Young Adults aged 12-34 which at the time, was fairly underserved by most networks. After all, the only other major network specifically catering to a youth audience at the time, was MTV. But that was mostly music videos, reality shows, and bizarre cartoons. The WB sought to cater to this demographic with shows that had more mass market appeal similar to Fox's Beverly Hills 90210 and Party of Five, that could also appeal to families as well. This more defined direction, would lead to its first actual hit in 1996, 7th Heaven. A family drama about a family of 7 including 5 kids. It would become the network's longest running show, outlasting even the network itself as its last season bled into The CW's first.

The next step in this youth-oriented direction was a show about the literal horrors of growing up, and would not only cement The WB's status as THE network for young adults, but also become one of the most acclaimed series on Television, and launched the career of the guy who would later bring The Avengers to the big screen. Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiered in March 1997, and while its first season was met with modest success, it quickly picked up steam with its second in the Fall. Dramas aimed at Teenagers was nothing new (see aforementioned 90210), but Buffy Summers and her Scooby Friends completely flipped the genre on its head by incorporating Fantasy and Action into the mix. With its sharp writing, intricate and well developed characters, and compelling blend of supernatural mystery and high school drama, The WB found a voice that it could call its own.


The network followed up this 1-2 Punch in 1998 with a more conventional, but still wildly popular Teen Drama series. Dawson's Creek.


A show that's been mocked, parodied, and joked about countless times in Pop Culture for its over-the-top melodrama and obvious 26 year olds posing as High School kids, but Girls and Women ate this shit up, and gave The WB another signature series to cement its Youth-focused image. That Fall would see the premiere of two other YA-targeted shows. Felicity, a College Drama about life after High School, and Charmed, a Fantasy show about three witch sisters. Both of which continued to help The WB carve out a hole left by Fox and the other major broadcast networks.

By 1999, The WB had established itself as the "Teens" network with its shows primarily catering to Teenagers. With UPN slowly picking up steam, FOX making a comeback with shows like Malcom in the Middle, and increased competition from cable networks like MTV and even its corporate sibling Cartoon Network, in both Kids and Young Adults. The WB placed 6th for the 1999-2000 season. It was still popular with its young audiences, but aside from Buffy, few of its shows were able to break into mainstream popularity. On top of this, for a network named after Warner Bros., hardly any of its shows were produced by Warner Bros. itself, with the vast majority of its primetime lineup consisting of shows made by rival studios like Fox and Disney's TouchStone. It was obvious WB didn't have the resources to run a TV network on top of producing much of that network's programing.

To ease up the load, and to increase synergy with Time Warner's Cable Channels, The WB and its Children's Unit Kids' WB!, were kicked over to Turner Broadcasting System in Atlanta in January 2001, with founder Jamie Kellner, taking over all of Turner as a result. However, that same time, the network would loose one of its founding jewels. After declining to offer a larger budget, Buffy jumped ship to UPN where it would air its remaining two seasons, alongside another fan-favorite, Roswell. Despite the loss in one of its biggest hits, The network still managed to pull through in the end. Buffy's Spin-Off, Angel carried the supernatural torch, Gilmore Girls, which struggled in its first season, found new success in Buffy's old timeslot, and new shows like the Superman prequel Smallville, the new family sitcom Reba, and former ABC series Sabrina the Teenage Witch gave the network a sizable boost to compete with the others. Sadly, things wouldn't get much better. the 2002-2003 season was filled with one-season wonders with only Everwood and Dan "Hug her tighter" Schneider's What I Like About You, staring Amanda Bynes moving beyond their first season. It got worse in 2003, with only One Tree Hill Emerging as an actual hit, and practically no series that launched in 2004 lasted beyond its first season. By this point, Kellner resigned from his position at Turner, and Time Warner (in the midst of undoing its disastrous AOL Merger) gave oversight of the network back to Warner Bros. 2005, did see the launch of one show that is currently in its final season on The CW, Supernatural. It was the only actual success the network had that season as the popularity of its youth-oriented lineup dwindled.

In 2006, Time Warner and CBS, who inherited the perpetually struggling UPN from its initial merger with Viacom, announced the shut down of both networks come Fall, in favor of a new joint-venture called, The CW. The new network would feature Warner Bros. produced programing, with CBS' management and direction, consisting of both UPN and WB shows. The WB came to an end on September 17th with a 5-hour goodbye consisting of pilots for its most iconic shows.


The WB had its place in the TV industry. It crafted a friendlier, more inviting image than MTV to its youth audience, and gave 90s teens a network that focused on stories they could connect with. and helped inspire the creation of other similar networks such as The N (Now TeenNick), and ABC Family (Now FreeForm) even MTV tried copying its format for a brief time in the early 2010s, even hiring former WB Entertainment President Susaine Daniels to head programing. It was brought down in its later years by mediocre programing, indifference from its parent company, and a distinct lack of direction. But for a failed network, its lifecycle wasn't too shabby.
 
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Jubenhimer

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Oh Yeah, that's another thing. Of all the Looney Tunes characters they could've chosen to represent The WB... Why Michigan J. Frog? The network's first bumper even lampshades this by having Buggs and Daffy argue about who will be the network's mascot.


Michigan J. always seemed like an oddball pick as the mascot.
 
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Husky

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Actually been watching Smallville lately (on season 5 now), this shit's totally rad. How the fuck is this early 2000s production value so superior to what the Arrowverse achieved in the late 2010s?
 
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Ceallach

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SOMEBODY SAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAVE MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
 
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On topic, I watched the WB a TON in elementary school. It was the reason why I was able to get into The Simpsons, it was on every night at 10 PM. I used to stay up and watch it every day, even on school nights.
 
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teezzy

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Buffy and Angel are the greatest tv shows of all times.

*drops mic*