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From Theglobeandmail.com

WB : TV for people with short attention spans (buffy mention)

By Andrew Ryan

Saturday 17 July 2004, by Webmaster

LOS ANGELES — It’s wise to rest up the night before The WB invades the annual television critics tour. And when they’re done, you need a nap.

The WB is the rock ’n’ roll hootchie-koo network in the American television landscape. It’s the after-school drop-in centre of drive-through teen dramas and disposable sitcoms. Short-attention-span theatre for young eyes. The WB is for the kids and like the kids: loud, pushy and pointless. The WB network mascot is a talking frog. It’s all enough to rattle an old TV critic’s bones.

Day Six of the annual TV tour belonged to The WB, a lower-rung broadcast entity allowed exactly one day to hype its new fall season, unlike the big-boy networks who have two days. The WB always makes up for it by going over the top.

The WB is only a decade old, an infant in network terms. They produce far less programming than the other networks. The channel is beamed into Canada on U.S. superstations, and the few teen-themed hits they’ve had over the years — Dawson’s Creek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Felicity, Charmed — are normally picked up by CTV, Global or another Canadian network looking to cash in on a trend.

But it’s been interesting to watch The WB sprout. On its first year on the press tour, all the critics showed up for the opening session, just to see what the heck it was all about, and then went golfing. Now The WB press day is standing room only — not because its schedule is getting any better, but because The WB is madly scrambling to find its Next Big Hit, and desperation is always fun to watch.

It’s been a bit dry for The WB the last few years. It’s had middling success with The Gilmore Girls and Everwood, but it needs one monster hit to regain any standing in the U.S. network universe. It’s still looking for its next Buffy.

This time last summer its programmers were all worked up about their new Tarzan series, which placed the brawny ape-man in designer jeans and a New York condo. The show lasted three weeks.

The WB publicity machine was just as excited this year about Jack & Bobby, which is not about the Kennedy brothers, but instead focuses on two hunky teen brothers growing up in small-town Missouri. Apparently one brother is going to become president one day, so viewers watch the pretty boys while guessing which one. The generic model dudes playing the brothers look about 18, so I assume The WB’s plan is for Jack & Bobby to run 30 or so years.

Jack & Bobby is little more than a teen soap, but still wildly ambitious by WB standards. It’s the sort of show churned out by the regular networks. The show’s strong pedigree includes among its producers West Wing veteran Thomas Schlamme, who did his best to convince critics that Jack & Bobby was one hot property.

"We pitched this show to all the networks," said Schlamme, who cast his actress wife Christine Lahti as the brothers’ feisty single mother. "All the networks wanted it. The WB wanted it the most." Jack & Bobby is accessible TV for young adults. The WB is trying to gradually expand its audience upwards, just a tad, which is pretty sharp planning. Think about it: Those listless American teens who gushed over Dawson’s Creek nearly a decade ago are now late twentysomethings with jobs, kids and car payments. They need something to watch, too, and it isn’t going to be ER or Judging Amy. The WB wants Jack & Bobby to fill that viewing void.

The rest of The WB’s new fall schedule confirmed its slight re-skew to an older demographic. It pitched for something called Blue Collar TV, a weekly half-hour of cornpone comedy from Jeff Foxworthy and other standups. This used to be called Hee-Haw.

The WB’s other new drama this year is called The Mountain, another densely earnest soap about real people, living real lives, I guess. This time it’s set in an affluent ski-resort burg and concerns a prodigal son returning home. Yet another laundry-list cast of attractive young talent-catalogue types fill the principal roles.

I was hopeful when I saw that the cast of The Mountain included Chad Everett, who used to play rugged Dr. Joe Gannon on Medical Center back in the seventies, but then he died in the first 10 minutes of the pilot.

The other WB newcomers were just flat-out weird. Reality-TV heavyweight Mark Burnett was on hand to promote his first sitcom: Commando Nanny, which was awarded the worst-show prize a month before the tour began. It really is excruciatingly bad.

Commando Nanny concerns a tycoon (Gerald McRaney) hiring an ex-British Special Forces commando (a British actor) to watch over his three Beverly Hills brats. Oh, the fun. Burnett claims the show is based on his own experiences as an ex-military chappie who worked as a nanny. Sure, mate. Commando Nanny must be part of some vanity bonus deal given Burnett for creating Survivor and The Apprentice.

The WB types also pushed their new series Drew Carey’s Green Screen Show, in which the former sitcom star will perform in skits with other improv players before a green chroma-key screen; the skit footage is then sent to Korea where animators add hee-larious background scenes. Carey dyed his hair green for the press session, but it didn’t make the pilot any funner.

There was of course an executive session with the WB chairman and entertainment president, whose names aren’t important. The second job seems to have a new person in it each press tour. Both men asserted that The WB is no longer the teen network, though you wouldn’t know it by their evening party, which I think had a Spring Break theme.

The WB always closes the day with an overblown bash and did so again at an entertainment complex in West Hollywood. There were hundreds of people there, likely everyone who works at The WB or ever did. The entire WB talent roster turned out in their best teen-mag tart gear. Midriffs were bared, crazy music blared, underage kids drained cocktails.

The large patio was also littered with spidery personal publicists trying to introduce critics to their young charges and wouldn’t they just make a t’riffic story for your paper? All the critics wanted to do was eat and go back to the hotel.

But it was still a genuinely surreal Hollywood moment, at least one time removed from what passes for reality down here. Dozens of nameless young WB stars, air-kissing each other, signing autographs and acting all grown-up. Just as if they were Fox stars.

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