UPN, WB fuse into one network

Published: Wednesday, January 25, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 25, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
NEW YORK - The UPN and The WB television networks plan to shut down this fall and fuse their programming into the CW, a new broadcast network aimed at young audiences that could bring together shows ranging from "Gilmore Girls" to "Smackdown."
The CW will be an equal partnership between CBS Corp., which owns UPN, and Warner Bros. Entertainment, which owns The WB, executives of those companies announced Tuesday. Warner Bros. is a division of Time Warner Inc.
The network takes its name from the first letters of CBS and Warner Bros.
In Gainesville, the CW will air on Channel 10 - The WB's current station, said Todd Senter, general manager of WGFL-TV, Gainesville's CBS affiliate that manages the local WB and UPN affiliate stations. Channel 11 - which UPN airs on locally - will likely be replaced by independent programming, Senter said. Besides losing some syndicated programming, Senter said the merger will not have much of an impact on the Gainesville market.
Senter added that the merger of the rivaling networks was bound to happen and will make them "stronger" in the end.
"Both networks were just too small to survive on their own," Senter said. "The marketplace is more and more competitive with cable and satellite. The American public can only watch so many channels."
Since launching in 1995, UPN and The WB have struggled to compete for viewers and advertising against the larger broadcasters - CBS Corp.'s CBS, General Electric Co.'s NBC, News Corp.'s Fox and Walt Disney Co.'s ABC.
The small networks had sporadic success with shows such as "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "7th Heaven," but they have been losing money.
CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves said the new network is intended to compete and thrive among many broadcast and cable channels, and "will clearly be greater than the sum of its parts."
The CW will offer 30 hours of programming a week, with prime-time shows each night except Saturday, following The WB's scheduling model. The CW will also air the five hours of Saturday morning children's programming now called "Kids' WB!"
The network will incorporate shows from The WB, whose lineup includes "Smallville," "Gilmore Girls," and "Reba," and UPN, which now broadcasts wrestling, "America's Next Top Model " and "Everybody Hates Chris."
The CW will face challenges as it tries to establish an identity and reshuffle shows intended for different audiences, said Todd Chanko, a Jupiter Research media analyst.
"How do you bring the viewers that are loyal to those shows over to the new channel?" Chanko asked. "UPN and The WB were specifically created as broadcast networks targeting specific demographic groups."
Both networks aimed at youthful viewers, from adolescents to young adults, but UPN has leaned more toward black and urban audiences while The WB has lately focused more on appealing to female viewers.
Under 10-year agreements, the CW network is to reach about half the country carried on 16 stations owned by Tribune Co., which will give up a minority stake in The WB, and 12 UPN affiliates in major markets. A selection of other current UPN and The WB stations would carry the network to most of the country's remaining viewers.
The deal will mean changes at TV stations nationwide.
Home stations for the new network have been chosen in cities with properties owned by Tribune and UPN, but the future is less certain in cities with both WB and UPN affiliates with different owners.
News Corp., which owns 10 UPN affiliates, faces "orphaned TV stations" without network programming in its six largest UPN markets - New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Houston and Washington, D.C., said Richard Greenfield, an analyst with Pali Capital Inc.
The company will face decisions about reprogramming or selling the stations, he said.
UPN President Dawn Ostroff will oversee programming as the new network's president of entertainment, while John Maatta, The WB's chief operating officer, will keep that role with the CW.
Chanko, the analyst, said that the CW already has one strike against it. "It's a terrible, terrible name," he said, wondering if audiences will think it stands for "country and western."
Sun staff writer Deborah Ball contributed to this report.

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