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January 29 2006

A Tale of Two Networks: Is Buffy responsible for the WB/UPN apocalypse?

Doubtful, I say, but it would have been hilarious if Gail Berman showed up at that meeting with a yellow crayon.

Oh, snap! Great find, Allyson! :-)
It seems to me that Buffy's leaving the WB -- and the network's subsequent decision to cancel Angel -- were certainly symptomatic of the problems that network was having. But the problems seem more deep-seated. That is, the "teen" market grows up. If a network is going to target itself towards teens, then it cannot stand by its hits, because those hits last longer than teen-hood does. That, in theory, was why they cut Angel loose, because it was "too old." But this whole issue of Buffy's audience being primarily teen-aged girls seems not to correspond with the facts -- or perhaps my assessment of the facts is skewed by the membership here. That is, despite its marketing strategies, the WB was bringing in an older audience than its target for some of its most successful shows, and it never quite learned how to deal with that. So it lost Buffy and cancelled Angel and lost a substantial part of its audience who were not interested in the other garbage it was putting out.

I would have to agree with the writer that the UPN never quite found an identity.

So, are the two networks combined going to be any more successful?
I think they'll certainly be more successful combined. Combining the WBs programming with UPN really forges a network identity. Before UPNs programming was so dispersed that no program benefitted another, whilst the WB has failed to produce any shows to sustain its future since Smallville. Combine the two though and the WBs aging heavyweights tie the dispersed UPN shows together (adding the ability to cross promote), and offer the WB the hits they never got. Additionally the shows avalible from development just doubled in quality. The WB consistantly failed with comedies, UPN with dramas, now they have the expertese to do both.

Meanwhile the competition is erroded somewhat, though it must be rememebered that the stations that arnt gonna be part of the CW, arnt simply going to disapear. Some such as the Fox owned, former Chris Craft stations, will be able to offer competitive content still. But overall they'll be less competition.
I don't like how the article insinuated that "Gilmore Girls" was a replacement for Buffy. Wasn't GG on an entire season before Buffy left the WB?
was a runaway hit with teenage girls

And boys, and people of all ages (not to mention a favorite of academics).
Oh, snap! Great find, Allyson! :-)
billz | January 29, 11:26 CET

Snap? Alright, billz! LOL! You took the word right out of my mouth. hands...on the keyboard...or...oh never mind.
: )
Anyway, good article. I worked in TV for years so none of this really surprises me, but I think it's a very good read that sheds light on How Things Work in The Biz. Someone once said that there are two things that drive decision-making in the entertainment industry: Fear and Greed.
(20th Century)Fox wanted $44 million for a single season of "Buffy". There's your Greed. UPN paid $50 million because they were filled with Fear that someone else would get that desired demographic: the youth audience. (If they're asking that much for shows they liked, how much are they asking for "Firefly", which they hated and ran into the ground? Just wonderin'.)
And everyone's asking about the fate of Veronica Mars. I'm thinking that she's going to be just fine. I'm wondering what the new CW conglomeration is going to bring for Girlfriends and the other "urban" cast shows that populate UPN (Urban People's Network)? And will The CW be daring enough to try to ease up on the sitcoms and give us dramas like Gilmore Girls or even Charmed...with maybe some "ethnic" protagonists?
Know what I mean?
From what I read in Hollywood Reporter and Entertainment Weekly it seems like The WB has been shopping around trying to sell the network to the ABC, CBS, NBC or Fox.
This is plan B.
Janollari & Co are out!

Could this be why we have got such foggy comments about the Spike movie? The WB person answering the question did not A. ) Know if he would be around B. ) Did not know if there would be a network next year???
That "runaway hit with teenage girls" comment annoyed me a little, if i'm honest. Not because it wasn't true. Teenage girls really did make up a large number of the fanbase, particularly early on in the run. It was because the comment highlights one of the reasons Buffy hardly ever gets taken seriously as a series outside of the fans of the show. People who don't watch it just don't see it as anything more than a show for teen girls, which is absolutely unfair and an insult to the genius of the writers and cast that made it the incredible show that it became.

Living in the UK it is hard to go a day without seeing or hearing some mention of a soap opera like Coronation Street or Eastenders. Despite the fact that these series are predictable, poorly written and in some cases extremely badly acted, not to mention occasionally ludicrous in development, it is perfectly acceptable to watch them, night in, night out, and talk about them the next day as if these characters were part of your every day life. Doesn't matter that there hasn't been an interesting development on Coronation Street for two decades or more, it's a British institution and therefore okay to watch.

Now, watch a show where the writing, acting and development is second to none and predictability is a rare occurence but then dare to add a little fantasy into the mix and you are watching a show for teenage girls! Sorry, did those nasty Mutant Enemy people attempt to add a little too much quality to your daily diet of soap opera dirge? Shame on them!

Anyway, enough ranting ...

It is interesting that Buffy could be considered to be such an almighty influence on the impending destruction of two networks. If that is the case then Buffy certainly proved a double edged sword for both the WB and UPN. Seems to me like the WB especially may have cut off their nose to spite their face with cancelling Angel on top of losing Buffy. They were apparently very much aware of what they had lost in letting go of BtVS and yet they still chose to alienate the rest of what could be considered their core audience by getting rid of the only Whedon series they had left? Regardless of the cost of licensing the show from Fox i still think it makes for a very poor business decision.
Jonas brings up an excellent point. If this is what the WB has been planning for the past while, then no wonder they were coy on future Buffyverse projects. They didn't want to definitively slam the door on what has undoubtedly been their most successful franchise to date, because they knew that such a comment would put the last nail in the coffin of Buffyverse fans' reasons to watch the WB. Yet they also had no clue about whether their network would be around long enough to greenlight production, if that's what they decided to do.

I actually think this move could make a series of Buffyverse TV movies more likely. With a wider broadcast market and a lineup of solid hits and critical favorites, the CW network execs would probably feel safer risking $15-20 million or so on that series of four movies we've been hearing so much about, or even just spending the $3-$5 million it would take to get a decent Spike movie. If it doesn't succeed, they'll be able to take the financial hit, and if it does, that might open the door for more programming from our favorite 'verse.

Also, I think this kind of network could be EXACTLY what the old Mutant Enemy writers need. If the CW really wants to go after the youth market, and I think that's what they'll angle for, then they'll need shows that are smart, witty, hip, and cutting-edge. (I would just like to apologize to everyone for the use of the word "hip.") Shows like Firefly, Miracles, Wonderfalls, and The Inside could have been big survivors on this network...and those writers are capable of coming up with more of the same. Could you imagine a Minear fantasy series as the leadout for Smallville? An Espenson comedy behind Gilmore Girls? A Greenwalt horror series paired with Supernatural? A Noxon girl-power show leading into America's Next Top Model? Best yet, a Whedon creation backing up Veronica Mars? CAN YOU IMAGINE DREW GODDARD ANYWHERE ON THIS NETWORK?

Think of the possibilities...
Vampire With A Gun, if you look at it from another angle, it's an even worse decision. Remember that Angel was the ONLY returning primetime series for the WB to show an increase in ratings during the 2003-2004 season. Charmed went down, Smallville went down, 7th Heaven went down...and some of those shows took a huge ratings hit. Angel only posted a modest increase of 7% in viewership, and it didn't pull in as many viewers as some shows on the network. But it was closer to leading the pack than staggering at the rear, and its increase still made it (by far) the show with the best season.

Then, after Joss and Co. do exactly what they were supposed to do (stop the soap opera format to make more standalones, and cut costs by increasing the time spent on-set), the WB cancelled one show from its primetime lineup--ANGEL. Logic dictates that you cut the show that costs the most money and shows the least results. Nobody here is denying that Angel was an expensive show to make, but it was getting the job done and doing what was asked of it. Ridiculous business move.
well like, I think, like we shouldn't let CW know that like, there are Whedon fans (doesn't he just rock?) that are maybe not teenage girls. (how do you get the heart over the i on a keyboard anyway?) I four one just watch the OC and Falcon Beach, you know? But I'd watch another Whedon show for sure.
The article was a good read. The above posts were even more perceptive and insightful. Thanks all; too bad you,re not on the new network's payroll.
Wasn't GG on an entire season before Buffy left the WB?

Yes. GG's first season and Buffy's fifth ran concurrently, beginning in the fall of 2000.
I'm pretty sure Roswell is responsible for the WB/UPN merger, but if this article says it's Buffy,...
keever and SlayerTV, I think the article was refering to the fact that GG got Buffy's time slot when it moved to UPN.
I know men in their 70's who think Buffy was the smartest show in the history of television. Most of the Buffy fans I encounter are women in their 40's and 50's - and - zeitgeist is right - academics. The cheesey business-types who make all the programming decisions weren't necessarily born with a preponderance of brains. Perhaps they should be replaced by a bunch of teenage girls.

[ edited by Nebula1400 on 2006-01-29 23:12 ]
I think the loss of Buffy was the grim reaper knocking on the door for the WB and the cancellation of Angel was them inviting him in.

Loved this article though - great find Allyson. I have high hopes for the CW and I think because they are delving into the reasons why the WB failed and putting a lot of the blame on their mishandling of BtVS I think it shows they want to try not to make the same mistakes. I hope this also means that they will take a good look at writers from Joss' shows and give them a chance to create something unique. Of course I'd love them to give Joss a job but I think he is pretty busy right now so he may not be available.
Oh, this was a very good article that showcased the history between the two networks. I had not known all that had gone on the last ten years between the two. And whoa, I really didn't realize 'Sister, Sister' was a WB based show.

The comments about Buffy being a runaway with teenage girls is incredibly annoying but the fact that the article cites losing Buffy as the WB's biggest downfall mistake I find incredibly entertaining. I've said for years how disgusting it was that they let go of the show after 5 years yet let shows of less quality continue. The only thing the article could have mentioned was Angel. Cancelling Angel is what I see as the real FINAL stake in the network. It's fallen ever since.

So, as much as once upon a time I loved the network and am sad to see it go, it's lovely to see that after all the crap Joss had to put up with, he, and all the fans, are finally able to feel some sort of vindication with the whole mess.
Maybe I'm just being a cynical bitca, but it seems to me that combining these two netlets will only make it easier for them to cancel quality programming and develop worse shows catering (desperately) to the teen demographic. UPN never had enough affiliates to match the WB's, but combined, the CW will have a shot at bigger numbers, which I read as "they'll become more like Fox and just cut off decent shows after 3 airings." To me, that could put "Veronica Mars" in more danger if it doesn't start to pull better numbers when it's available in more markets.

Still, I'm enjoying the idea that the WB's gross mishandling of BtVS (and AtS) has led to its downfall.
zimshan: Funnily enough, "Sister Sister" started on ABC, running in its TGIF family-friendly sitcom 2 hours. When ABC ditched that, Sister Sister ran over to the WB. It already had a built-in fanbase of sorts, which could only have helped.
Just wanted to add that the article was impressively-placed in the print edition - above the fold on the first page of the Business section of the Sunday Times. Very cool coverage, with the big "Buffy Fight May Have Slain Two Networks. . ." emblazoned right there when you open the paper.
Firefly Flanatic : In my opinion, 20th Century Fox TV pretty much deserves the blame for Buffy leaving the WB, and not The WB themselves. The studio was asking what most considered a rather outrageous (or at least "surprising") amount for a show that was a success no doubt, but not a MEGA success that calls for $44 million a year just for the network to air the show. UPN was willing to pay that much because they needed something, anything at that point, to bring in viewers, but it really didn't make sense for The WB to pay that much to hold on to Buffy. And in the end, UPN lost money on the Buffy deal, as the viewership (and ad sales) did not justify the cost to them. Of course I'd say a lot of this had to do with the fact that these were the declining years for Buffy... I don't want to get into an argument on the quality of season six and seven, but with five years behind it, I think it was safe to say that Buffy was a show heading towards the end after season five (if for no other reason then hey, it had been on for five years and numbers tend to decrease over time) and for several reasons, the declining ratings reflected that. As much as I loved Buffy, I can't fault The WB for not blindly saying, "Sure, we'll pay ANYTHING to keep it" when it made such little business sense to do so, and 20th Century Fox wasn't really playing fair asking for that much in the first place.
Eric G, not sure thats the whole picture.

If I am not misinformed ( please correct me if I am) one of the reasons that few shows survive beyond 5 years is that many contracts for cast and writers promise nice pay increases if the options are picked up for additional years after the first five.
A large part of the shows cost increase was to pay for cast and writers, money well deserved but someone still had to pay.
It can be argued that Fox studios made a lot from the DVD's but I suspect that is still not taken into account when they price the show for a network.
The other ways for a show to cut costs, more indoor scenes, less special effects and letting some of the cast leave isn't options that we as fans like, at all.
While UPN might have lost money on BtVS, its securing the show was what stopped a large number of Cris Craft affiliates from leaving, thereby saving the network (for awhile). So they probably would have lost more money if they HADN'T picked up Buffy. Similarly, if the WB had sprung for the extra $10 million, there's a good chance that they would have "won" over UPN and wouldn't be merging right now.

And Angel was the only show that not only survived but thrived in the tough Wednesday 9 PM timeslot. Apparently the WB thought that it was the Smallville lead-in that was keeping Angel's ratings high, but The Mountain, Jack & Bobby and High School Reunion only getting less than half the ratings of Angel proved that theory wrong. So now the WB's basically lost Wednesday, which was one of their strongest nights with Smallville/Angel. Very bad decision, for lots of reasons. And right after they cancel Angel, their #2 show in the 18-49 demographics, because it "skews too old, with not enough teenagers and not enough females," they announce that they're trying to attract the older male 18-49 demos with Blue Collar TV. Um, morons, you HAD that demo and just threw it away...
Ahh, the other shoe drops. I was waiting for that. First, the WB nor UPN were in very good shape from the get-go. However, the WB dropped the ball big time in their dealings with 20th Century FOX over BtVS. If I remember correctly, it became quite personal between the heads of this network and studio. It also got very silly. I think the top price per episode of Buffy that the WB was willing to offer was 1.6M while FOX refused to accept anything under 2.0M. Then, we layed in a stalemate for the longest time until the UPN stepped in offering the full episode price of 2.3M. If you may recall, having their most popular show ripped off from under them royally pissed off the WB. Need I bring up the 100th episode brash when Joss walked out of the party?

Anyway, UPN really fared no better. They already knew they would lose money with BtVS, but that wasn't their goal. The UPN was trying to break out of their 'Wrestling' image and they saw BtVS as a way to do so. Popular television show, so what if it drives us in the red as long as we get watched.

This is old news and, to be honest, I'm tired of going over it again. I hope that the CW is successful. I also wish that Dawn remembers the relationship she had with Joss and something becomes of it.
deanna, strong points. As a really freaky "What if," can you imagine what a night of Angel paired with Blue Collar TV would have done for that demographic?

Yeah. Me neither. I mean, think about it...that kind of pairing could never happen. It would be as weird as Cordy and Connor!

Oh, wait...

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