The War for the Fifth Network: UPN vs. WB - Part 2
Written by: Chris Bucca Taylor
As a 90s child I watched a lot of Saturday Morning Cartoons. After 50 years of continuous cartoons on Saturday morning the final block aired on The CW September 27th, 2014. I found myself obsessed with Kid's WB as a child and then The WB Network, as it was officially called, as a tennager. When Buffy the Vampire Slayer famously changed networks from WB to UPN, United Paramount Network, I switched sides and became a fan of UPN, even devoting my time to watching the Twilight Zone's third series, starring Forest Whitaker. The truth is I've always wanted to know what happened, afterall in my head, seeing and watching the quality of shows come out of the WB Network and the lack of quality material coming out of UPN, I thought it odd the President of UPN ultimately took over the newly combined network, now The CW or The CBSWarnerBrothers Network as I officially call it. Here is the story of what happened, pulled from the pages of Sussane Daniels and Cynthia Littleton's book Season Finale: the Unexpected Rise and Fall of the WB and UPN.
In the creation of The WB, Jamie Kellner left out one very important person at the company at that time, Leslie Moonves. Moonves was head of WB Television Production Division in the early 90s when Kellner was putting together his network. Kellner intentionally left Moonves out of the loop because he knew Moonves would want to control his network. Kellner wanted to be the only one in charge of The WB and the reverberations of not letting Moonves into The WB fold would be the network’s ultimate undoing. In 1995 Moonves became President of CBS Entertainment. After CBS’s merger with Viacom, Moonves was now an overseer of UPN. In 2002 Moonves selected Dawn Ostroff to take over for Valentine as head of UPN. With the acquisition of Buffy Moonves wanted to create a new brand identity for the network. UPN was finally stabilized and starting to get its act together.
With shows getting more costly to produce and the loss of Buffy, The WB had some rough times ahead. The Dawson’s Creek stars were all getting to old for the show and had budding movie careers they were focusing their time on. And shows like Birds of Prey, which seemed like a sure fire hit, fizzled out fairly quickly. The WB was now in the midst of having to lay off a large portion of its staff. By this time Kellner had left The WB for the greener pastures of cable. He went on to becoming instrumental in the success of Adult Swim for the Cartoon Network. Without Kellner, The WB was faltering.
On January 26, 2006 it was announced, The WB and UPN would merge their affiliates together and create The CW. There had been talks ever since Moonves took control of UPN that they would merge. Some would say the merger was the ultimate payback for Moonves. The man who was once pushed out of The WB during its inception now had a 50% stake in the network. It was agreed that Ostroff would run the new network and the highest rated shows from each network would be combined. Over the course of The WB and UPN’s 11 years on the air, they amassed up to $2 billion in debt. The hope was that with the strongest affiliates of each network, The CW would be able to reach into as many households as the Big Four. The debate of what to name the new station was never a problem with Moonves. Moonves was very adamant that it was to be named The CW, taking the first initial from CBS and Warner Bros. The WB felt that it should be called the CWB, since The WB still had an incredibly strong brand name. Moonves vetoed their wishes and told them the network needed to start fresh if it had any chance for survival.
In the end the frog never truly croaked. The WB’s business model was making money for its parent company, unlike UPN. Regardless in an age of high speed internet and 200 plus cable channels the target demographic The WB was going after did not watch that much network television. The 18-34 year old demographic never cared about a ‘fifth network’. But it was always a huge selling point to Kellner. He would try throughout The WB’s 11 year life span to get the media to call his network the fifth one. But Moonves never forgave Kellner for keeping him out of the loop during the creation of The WB and when he was finally in control of the network he changed it. In the battlefor The Fifth Networkneither The WB nor UPN won; the real winner was Les Moonves and his own network, The CW.
Les Moonves, who still runs CBS, arguably the only Television Network acting like a traditional Television Network. Procedurals and MultiCam Comedies are still going strong on the network, clearly Les knows what he's doing. Sadly The WB brand is no more, gone the way of the Dodos and the Datsuns. But The CW is continuing the legacy with a slate of WB's DC superhero shows, complete with their own continuity, they even got back the creator and showrunner to The WB's Dawson's Creek, Kevin Willamson, to adapt The Vampire Diaries and less successfully yet better The Secret Circle. Overall it's sad to see old brands go, but alas we must move on and appreciate what we have, because maybe it's not gone, just hidden under a new name, The CDubbaDubbaWB!
Daniels, Susanne, and Cynthia Littleton. Season Finale: the Unexpected Rise and Fall of the WB and UPN. New York: Harper, 2007. Print.