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The WB Television Network (commonly shortened to The WB and short for Warner Bros.) is a broadcast television network that was launched on January 11, 1995 as a joint venture between the Warner Bros. Entertainment division of Time Warner and the Tribune Broadcasting division of the Tribune Company, with the former as controlling partner.
As of June 1997, The WB airs programs targeting families and mostly ethnically black people, with the exception of its Saturday morning and Weekday afternoon lineup of shows called Kids' WB, which is geared towards children.
Origins (prior to 1995)
Much like its competitor UPN, The WB Television Network was created as a reaction primarily to new FCC deregulation of media ownership rules that repealed the Financial Interest and Syndication Rules, and partly to the success of the upstart Fox and first-run syndicated programming during the late 1980s and early 1990s such as Baywatch, Star Trek: The Next Generation and War of the Worlds, as well as the erosion in ratings suffered by independent television stations due to the growth of cable television and movie rentals. The network can also trace its beginnings to the Prime Time Entertainment Network, a joint venture between Time Warner and the Chris-Craft Industries group of stations.
On November 2, 1993, the Warner Bros. Entertainment division of Time Warner announced the formation of The WB Television Network, with the Tribune Company holding a minority interest; as such, Tribune Broadcasting signed agreements to affiliate its then-seven television stations – all of which were independent stations, and included the television group's flagship station WGN-TV in Chicago (in a separate agreement signed the following month), as well as WPIX in New York City and KTLA in Los Angeles – with the network (only five of these stations, plus a sixth that Tribune acquired the following year, would join The WB at launch, as Tribune's independent stations in New Orleans and Atlanta that had originally been tapped to become WB charter stations respectively joined ABC (though WGNO would not switch to that network until 1996, spending the year prior as a WB affiliate) and CBS as a result of Fox's affiliation deals with the original affiliates of those networks). Although Tribune had minority interest, their stations would not have been considered owned-and-operated stations of The WB since Time Warner had a majority stake and thus owned controlling interest in the network. In order to give the network time to fill gaps in markets where the network was unable to find an affiliate at launch, The WB later announced on December 3, 1993 that WGN-TV's superstation feed would provide additional national distribution for the network as a cable-only affiliate.
The WB originally was slated to launch with two nights of primetime programming in the first year, with two additional nights of primetime, a late primetime half-hour strip, 4½ hours of weekday daytime programming and a four-hour Saturday morning children's lineup in the second year; by the third year, a fifth night of primetime and 1½ hours of weekday programming outside of primetime would have been added, followed by an additional hour of primetime and 1½ hours on weekday afternoons by year four, and a seventh night of primetime in the fifth year of operation. However, the plan was scaled back dramatically, particularly as only one night of primetime programming debuted as the network launched; and by September 1995, The WB added only one additional night (Sundays), plus a three-hour Saturday morning and one-hour weekday morning children's block.
Warner Bros. Entertainment appointed many former Fox network executives to run the network, including the network's original chief executive Jamie Kellner, who served as president of Fox from 1986 to 1993; and president of programming Garth Ancier, who was the programming chief of Fox from 1986 to 1989.
The WB Television Network began its life on January 11, 1995, with the premiere of The Wayans Bros. as its first program. The classic Warner Bros. cartoon character Michigan J. Frog appeared on-air as the network's official mascot, and remains as part of the network's branding in one form or another as of mid-1997. The WB's schedule was similar to Fox's when it launched, as it started with one night a week of programming (essentially rendering its affiliates as nominal independent stations initially). The WB is gradually adding additional nights of programming over the course of the late-1990s: the network started with a two-hour Wednesday night lineup of sitcoms, airing from 8–10 p.m. ET. The network's first programs were mostly sitcoms targeted at an ethnically black audience, though several series during the network's first five years were also targeted at families.
Even though four of the five shows that debuted in the netlet's first nine months – The Wayans Bros., Unhappily Ever After, The Parent 'Hood and Sister, Sister (the latter of which was picked up by the network after being cancelled by ABC) – were renewed beyond the first year, none of them made a significant impact. The WB expanded its programming on Sunday nights for the 1995–1996 season, but none of the new shows (including the Kirk Cameron vehicle Kirk and night-time soap opera Savannah) managed to garner much viewing interest.
The network also launched the Kids' WB programming block in September 1995, which features a mix of existing Warner Bros. animated series originating either on Fox Kids or in syndication (such as Tiny Toon Adventures and Batman: The Animated Series), with newer shows (such as Freakazoid!, Histeria!, Pinky and the Brain and Batman Beyond). The WB continued to expand in the 1996–1997 season, adding programming on Monday nights. This season gave The WB modest hits in the family drama 7th Heaven and comedies The Steve Harvey Show and The Jamie Foxx Show.
1997–present: The WB Today
The WB first began to experience success with Buffy the Vampire Slayer (a series based on the 1992 feature film of the same name), which became a hit with critics when it premiered as a mid-season replacement in March 1997. It debuted with the highest Monday night ratings in the network's history, attracting not only new teenage viewers, but new advertisers as well.
Inspired by Buffy's success, The WB has started to shift the focus of its programming, trying to capture what it perceives to be a heavily fragmented market by marketing to the under-courted teen demographic. While the Fox network, the previous destination for teen television (with shows such as Beverly Hills, 90210 and Parker Lewis Can't Lose), has begun to court older audiences with shows such as Ally McBeal, The WB has started to craft its identity with teen-targeted programs. One of the network's upcoming programs is Dawson's Creek, which is schedule to start airing in January 1998. The show will join forces with Buffy and 7th Heaven, and will serve as its lead-ins on the network's new night of programming, known as "New Tuesday," which will start sometime during the upcoming 1997-1998 television season.
With two hit shows and one upcoming show in its roster, The WB continues to build its teen fanbase as of mide-1997 with college drama Felicity and the wicca-themed Charmed, both of which will set new records for the network when they premiere. When the 1998–99 season begins, the network will expand its programming to Thursday nights.
When 1999–2000 season comes to a start, the network will expand once again, adding Friday night programming. New shows for the 1999 will include Roswell, Popular, and the Buffy the Vampire Slayer spin-off Angel.
Differences between The WB and the "Big Four" networks
As of June 4, 1997, The WB runs only two hours of primetime network programming on Mondays and Wednesdays and three hours on Sundays, compared to the three Monday through Saturday and four Sunday primetime hours offered by the Big Three networks (unlike The WB, UPN does not carry any weekend primetime programming, though it does offer a movie package to its affiliates on weekend afternoons as of the summer of 1997). This primetime scheduling allows for many of the network's affiliates to air local newscasts during the 10-11 p.m. (ET/PT) time period.
The WB does not run network programming on Saturday nights and on weekday afternoons – despite the fact that the network maintains a children's program block on Saturday mornings and on weekday afternoons – allowing affiliates to run syndicated programs, sports, movies or network programs that are preempted from earlier in the week due to special programming in the 8–10 p.m. (ET/PT) time period.
As of June 4, 1997, The WB is the only English-language broadcast network that does not have any owned-and-operated stations, and one of only four without any O&Os in the three largest markets of New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago (along with the DuMont Television Network and UPN). Although Tribune Broadcasting maintains an ownership stake in The WB, its stations in the three respective markets (WPIX, KTLA and WGN-TV) are actually affiliates of the network as Tribune's ownership stake in The WB television network is lower than the 50% needed for any of its stations to be considered WB O&Os. Time Warner does not have a station group of its own, although its Turner Broadcasting System division does own Atlanta independent station WPCH-TV (then the superstation feed of TBS as WTBS-TV), which does not carry WB programming due to the network's affiliation with Tribune-owned WATL.
Unlike the other major networks, The WB distributes its programming in markets that does not have enough commercial stations to support a standalone WB affiliate to cable-only outlets thorugh the Chicago-based superstation feed of WGN-TV. While viewers in the Chicago area sEE primetime and Kids' WB programming on separate stations (primetime shows on WGN-TV, children's programs on WCIU-TV), the WGN superstation feed carrIES The WB's entire schedule as of 1997.
News programming on The WB's affiliates is similar to Fox stations at the time in that the quantity of newscasts vary from station to station. Roughly half of The WB's approximately 200 affiliates air a local newscast in the 10–11 p.m. ET/PT (9–10 p.m. CT/MT) time slot. Fundamentally, the newscast schedules on WB affiliates vary considerably between stations compared to those affiliated with ABC, CBS, NBC and especially Fox. Generally, most WB affiliates run a two-hour extension of a morning newscast and a half-hour or hour-long 10 p.m. newscast; though there are a few larger market stations that maintain in-house news departments that also produce midday newscasts and have morning newscasts that begin in the traditional 5-7 a.m. timeslots; early evening newscasts are largely absent on most of these stations.
The WB affiliate body features fewer news-producing stations in comparison to stations aligned with the Big Three television networks (NBC, ABC and CBS) and considerably fewer than Fox (which has only around 70 stations with in-house news departments, with most of its stations outsourcing their news programming to a competitor). When the network launched in January 1995, The WB automatically gained five affiliates with functioning news departments through the initial affiliation agreement with Tribune Broadcasting, all of whom founded their news operations as either independent stations or during early affiliations with other networks including DuMont: WGN-TV/Chicago, WPIX/New York City, KTLA/Los Angeles, KWGN-TV/Denver and WLVI-TV/Boston (a fifth news-producing station owned by Tribune at the time, WGNX/Atlanta, was to become a WB charter affiliate but instead affiliated with CBS after WAGA-TV ended its association with that network to join Fox in December 1994, through a groupwide affiliation deal between Fox and New World Communications). KPLR-TV/St. Louis (which is owned by ACME Communications) also continues to produce a 9 p.m. newscast as a WB affiliate; while Phoenix, Arizona's KTVK began running expanded newscasts shortly before joining The WB at the network's launch (it had earlier lost the ABC affiliation to KNXV-TV, The WB affiliation moved to KASW, which KTVK began managing under a local marketing agreement upon its sign-on, the following year).
In most markets, the local WB affiliate either outsources news programming to an NBC, ABC or CBS station in the market (due to insufficient funds for production of their own newscasts, the station being operated through a legal duopoly or operational agreement with a major network affiliate) or opt to carry syndicated programming in the hour following The WB's primetime programming. As with Fox affiliates, WB-affiliated stations whose newscasts are produced by a same-market competitor tend to have fewer programming hours devoted to news than the station producing the broadcasts.
The WB debuted the Kids' WB children's program block in September 1995. As of mid-1997, the block features a mix of Warner Bros.' most popular shows (such as Animaniacs, which originated on Fox Kids with newer series (such as Freakazoid!, Histeria!, Superman: The Animated Series, Road Rovers, and Pinky and the Brain). After the Turner Broadcasting System was acquired by Time Warner in 1996, Kids' WB formed an alliance with Cartoon Network, with an increasing amount of programs being shared between the block and the cable channel over time. On September 7, 1996, the Saturday block was extended by a full hour, airing from 8:00 to 12:00 p.m. ET. Although the Kids' WB block airS on almost all WB-affiliated stations, the network's Chicago affiliate WGN-TV – owned by The WB's co-parent, the Tribune Company – does not air the weekday and Saturday blocks to air its weekday and weekend morning newscasts and other locally-produced programming (such as The Bozo Super Sunday Show) in the morning hours, and syndicated programming in the afternoons (ironically, WGN's superstation feed carries the block as of June 1997). On September 1, 1997, a weekday morning block will be added from 7:00 to 8:00 a.m., and the weekday afternoon block will be extended by one hour, airing from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. Some WB affiliates (such as WPIX in New York City, New York, KTLA in Los Angeles, California and KWGN-TV in Denver, Colorado) will air the weekday morning block in conjunction with the weekday afternoon block, extending it to three hours, running from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. On the same date, the block will receive an on-air rebranding – that will include a revised logo and graphics package centering upon the Warner Bros. Studios lot theme that is also used in promotions for The WB's primetime programming. The new look will be developed by Riverstreet Productions.
See also List of The WB affiliates
As of June 4, 1997, The WB has an estimated audience reach of 91.66% of all U.S. households (equivalent to 90,282,480 households with at least one television set); the network is carried by 177 VHF and UHF stations in the U.S. The WB is also available in Canada on cable and satellite providers through affiliates that are located within proximity to the U.S.-Canadian border (whose broadcasts of WB shows are subject to simultaneous substitution laws, if a Canadian network holds the broadcast rights), and through two affiliates owned by Tribune (KTLA/Los Angeles and WPIX/New York City) that are classified in that country as superstations, as well as the superstation feed of Chicago affiliate WGN-TV.
As of 1997, The WB brands most of its affiliates as "WB" or "The WB", followed by the channel number. This means that, for example, WPIX/New York City and KPLR-TV/St. Louis were both referred to as "WB11" (though WPIX branded as "The WB, Channel 11" until 1996, and KPLR as "St. Louis 11"). Fox originated such naming schemes, and CBS uses similar on-air branding for most of their owned-and-operated stations (NBC and ABC also utilize similar, but less extreme, naming schemes). While Fox and UPN mandated their respective naming schemes on all stations, The WB does not. Therefore, other WB affiliates opt to use different naming schemes: WGN-TV/Chicago branded as "WGN Channel 9" (or simply "WGN") with The WB's logo placed within the right curve of the station's "9 as an upside-down G" logo as of 1997.
Most of the Tribune Company's WB affiliates only use the network's logo within the logos of each station or used "The WB" name after the callsign in its on-air branding (an example was Los Angeles affiliate KTLA, which brands as "KTLA, The WB"). Many WB affiliates use another form of standardized branding: the network's Lakeland, Florida affiliate has the WFVT call letters and is branded on-air as "The WB 32."