WB Television Network officials say the little-network-that-could will become profitable by next year with a new fall schedule emphasizing situation comedies over dramas, despite the loss of one of its top rated shows to a rival network. Jamie Kellner, the network’s head until he recently accepted the CEO slot for AOL-Time Warner’s Turner Broadcasting System, had pledged that WB would be profitable by next year. And even with the recent departure of WB’s breakout hit, “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer,” the network insists it can achieve that goal. “We feel that we’ll have a better chance with Buffy gone,” said Keith Marder, a spokesman for the Burbank-based network, 67 percent of which is owned by AOL-Time Warner. Marder explained that the five-year-old series featuring Sarah Michelle Gellar had become very expensive about $1.1 million in licensing fees per episode, before 20th Century Television asked for more money. Last week’s season finale and the series’ 100th episode was seen by an audience of about 5.5 million viewers. Last year, the network posted $453 million in revenue, compared to $384 million in 1999. Its fortunes have been largely tied to hit shows like its top-rated “7th Heaven,” “Dawson’s Creek” and “Buffy,” which last year alone accounted for about $35.2 million in advertising revenue for the network, Kellner said. Youssef Squali, an equities analyst with ING Barings, said he believes the network can break even by next year, given its target market of young people between the ages of 18 and 34. The soft advertising market that hurt nearly every TV network last year seems to be picking up for broadcast networks, giving WB reason to believe it can’t be far behind, Squali said. WB is banking on a slew of new situation comedies to offset the loss of “Buffy,” which moved to the United Paramount Network earlier this month after 20th Century Television sought to double its licensing fee. WB’s move toward comedy was hailed by John Swift, a group director at the ad agency OMD USA, which purchases television air time for its clients. Swift said sitcoms often attract more viewers than dramas and have higher ratings as reruns. Susanne Daniels, WB’s co-president of entertainment, said the new schedule is an intention to focus on developing situation comedies that will increase viewership. As part of the two-year “Buffy” deal, UPN will pay $2.3 million apiece for 22 episodes next season and $2.35 million per episode in 2002-03. WB had been willing to go as high as $1.8 million per episode. The show was seen by an average of 4.4 million viewers and was last week ranked 84 out of 104 network programs, according to Nielsen Media Research. By comparison, other teen-oriented shows like UPN’s “Moesha” and “The Parkers” were ranked 94 and 87, respectively last week. Instead, WB has come up with a slate of sitcoms like “Deep in the Heart,” starring country singer Reba McEntire who plays a Southern woman dealing with a cheating husband and a pregnant teenage daughter. Others include: – “Men, Women & Dogs”: Four young men struggle with their careers, girlfriends and dogs. – “Off Centre”: Two roommates move into a luxury apartment in New York City. – “Maybe I’m Adopted”: A family comedy starring Fred Willard and Julia Sweeney. – “Raising Dad”: Comedian Bob Saget stars as a widower in charge of two young daughters. But, Daniels said, that’s not all there is to the new fall schedule. “We wanted to attract more male viewers to our fall schedule too,” Daniels said. So, there will be two new reality-based programs: a dating show dubbed “Elimidate Deluxe” and “Popstars 2,” the second edition of its “Popstars” show which followed aspiring performers aiming for success in the music world. And the network isn’t forsaking drama altogether. It has also added two new dramas, “Glory Days,” about a burned-out writer, and “Smallville,” featuring Superman as a teenager. Perhaps in response to the departure of “Buffy,” WB has also agreed to long-term deals to renew its top-rated “7th Heaven,” as well as “Dawson’s Creek,” “Charmed” and “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.” The network says it is continuing to attract a growing number of viewers in the key demographic, ages 18 to 34, through its youth-oriented programming. According to Nielsen, the network ranks first in that demographic among all six broadcast television networks.
BUFFY—WB Claims ‘Buffy’ Loss Is No Big Deal