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WB Network Goes for Made-For-TV Movies

Wednesday 14 January 2004, by Webmaster

WB Network Goes for Made-For-TV Movies Tue Jan 13, 6:03 PM ET Add Entertainment - Reuters to My Yahoo!

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - As it struggles to reverse a ratings decline in its target audience, the youth-oriented WB network is moving into an area the bigger broadcasters are shying away from — made-for-TV movies.

The 9-year-old network, owned by Time Warner Inc. and Tribune Co., on Tuesday announced the appointment of its first executive in charge of original movie programming, cable veteran Tana Nugent Jamieson.

Jamieson comes from Time Warner’s cable movie and sports channel TBS, where she served as vice president of original programming and movies. She is credited with developing the successful TBS thriller, "Red Water," one of the highest-rated original movies on basic cable last year.

The first film on Jamieson’s slate will be a period drama based on the turn-of-the-century Samantha character from the popular "American Girls" collection of dolls and books, a project seen as appealing to one of WB’s chief constituencies, young female viewers and their mothers.

WB executives said they hoped to have the movie, to be executive produced by Hollywood actress Julia Roberts (news), ready to air by November of this year.

By venturing into the realm of TV films, the network, home to such shows as "7th Heaven," "Everwood," "Reba" and "Smallville," is hoping to occupy a programming niche left by its bigger competitors.

In recent years, ABC, CBS and NBC have increasingly moved away from original movies, finding them costly enterprises that often fail to deliver high enough ratings to justify the one-time expense of making them.

"Broadcast television has largely abandoned the long-form genre to cable, particularly with content directed at young viewers," said WB’s co-CEO Jordan Levin in a statement. "We have had success with theatrical presentations and have decided that this would be a great time to expand into original production."

WB co-Chairman Garth Ancier said the network would aim initially for four or five original films a year.

WB’s move also comes as it deals with a marked decline in ratings, particularly among the 12- to 34-year-old viewers it has long considered its core audience.

During the November ratings "sweep," the WB posted a ratings drop of 16 percent nationally among females aged 12 to 34 and 20 percent for the 12-to-34 age group overall.

Like other networks, the WB blames much of the decline in younger demographics on recent changes in the way ratings tracker Nielsen Media Research collects its data.

The TV movie venture marks one of the first initiatives under the new executive team led by Levin and Ancier, who are taking charge of the WB as CEO Jamie Kellner prepares to step down at the end of the current season.

Ancier said the WB was looking to schedule more shows in a pattern of 22 first-run episodes over 22 consecutive weeks with each episode repeated once during the same week instead of later in the season. The idea is to avoid disrupting the continuity of programs, especially dramas, while giving added exposure to popular shows.

In addition to original movies, the WB recently acquired rights for the first TV broadcast of "The Lord of the Rings" feature trilogy, with the first film in the series, "The Fellowship of the Ring," set to air in November this year. Parts two and three will debut in 2005 and 2006, respectively.

The WB also has given veteran TV producer John Wells ("The West Wing," "ER," "Third Watch"), the go-ahead to develop a pilot episode for a new thriller based on the classic daytime gothic soap opera "Dark Shadows."