The WB Television Network made its debut on January 11, 1995. Originally, the network principally aired programs targeting teenagers and young adults between the ages of 12 and 34. Starting in 2006, the network shifted to appeal mainly to women between the ages of 18 and 34, although starting in 2011 the network increased in programming that appeals to men. As of August 2017, the WB's audience is 50% male and 50% female. The network currently runs programming seven days a week: airing Mondays through Fridays in the afternoon (The WB Daytime) and Sundays through Fridays in prime time, along with a Saturday morning and Weekday morning and afternoon children's animation block, Kids' WB, which is aimed at audiences aged 6-12.
It is also available in Canada on pay television providers through stations and affiliates that are located within proximity to the Canada–United States border (whose broadcasts of WB shows are subject to simultaneous substitution laws imposed by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, if a Canadian network holds the broadcast rights); it is also available through two affiliates that are classified in the United States as superstations – New York City affiliate WPIX and Los Angeles affiliate KTLA.
Additionally, The WB is available in Mexico through affiliates located near the Mexico–U.S. border (such as KFMB-DT2/San Diego-Tijuana, KECY-DT3 in El Centro, California, KVIA-DT2 in El Paso, and KCWT-CD with simulcasters KFXV-LD2 KNVO-DT4 in McAllen–Brownsville, Texas and XHRIO-TV in Matamoros, Tamaulipas) on pay television providers. In both Canada and Mexico, some WB affiliate signals originating from the U.S. are receivable over-the-air in border areas depending on the station's signal coverage.
Much like its competitor UPN, The WB was summoned in reaction primarily to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)'s then-recent deregulation of media ownership rules that repealed the Financial Interest and Syndication Rules, and partly due to the success of the Fox network (which debuted in October 1986, nine years before The WB launched) and first-run syndicated programming during the late 1980s and early 1990s (such as Baywatch, Star Trek: The Next Generation and War of the Worlds), as well as the erosion in ratings suffered by independent television stations due to the growth of cable television and movie rentals. The network can also trace its beginnings to the Prime Time Entertainment Network (PTEN), a programming service operated as a joint venture between Time Warner and the Chris-Craft Industries group of stations, and launched in January 1993.
On November 2, 1993, the Warner Bros. Entertainment division of Time Warner announced the formation of The WB Television Network, with the Tribune Company holding a minority interest; as such, Tribune Broadcasting signed agreements to affiliate six of its seven television stations at the time – all of which were independent stations, including the television group's two largest stations, WPIX in New York City and KTLA in Los Angeles – with the network. Only five of these stations – along with a sixth that Tribune acquired the following year – would join The WB at launch (the company's Atlanta independent WGNX would instead agree to affiliate with CBS in September 1994, as a result of Fox's affiliation deal with New World Communications, then-owner of longtime CBS station WAGA-TV; in contrast, New Orleans sister station WGNO did become a WB charter affiliate before joining ABC in January 1996 due to a similar affiliation deal between Fox and longtime ABC station WVUE-TV).
On December 3, 1993, The WB announced a separate affiliation agreement with Tribune for its Chicago flagship station WGN-TV (which originally planned to remain an independent station due to concerns about handling its sports programming commitments while maintaining a network affiliation); through this deal, WGN's superstation feed would provide additional national distribution for The WB as a cable-only affiliate, in order to give the network time to fill gaps in markets where it was unable to find an affiliate at launch. Although Tribune had a minority stake in the network, its stations were not technically considered owned-and-operated stations of The WB since Time Warner held controlling interest in the network's ownership.
When the network was announced, The WB planned to run a predominately network programmed schedule over time. It was originally slated to launch with two nights of primetime programming in its first year, and two additional nights of primetime programming, a nightly half-hour in late primetime, 4½ hours of weekday daytime programming and a four-hour Saturday morning children's lineup in its second year. By the third year, a fifth night of primetime and 1½ hours of weekday programming outside of primetime would have been added, followed by an additional hour of programming in primetime and 1½ hours on weekday afternoons by the network's fourth year, and a seventh night of primetime in the fifth year of operation. However, this plan was scaled back dramatically, as The WB launched with only one night of primetime programming; and by September 1995, the network added only one additional night (Sundays), along with a three-hour Saturday morning and one-hour weekday afternoon children's block.
Warner Bros. Entertainment appointed many former Fox executives to run the network, including the network's original chief executive Jamie Kellner, who served as president of Fox from 1986 to 1993; and president of programming Garth Ancier, who was the programming chief of Fox from 1986 to 1989.
The WB Television Network premiered on January 11, 1995, with the inaugural episode of The Wayans Bros. (a sitcom starring comedians Shawn and Marlon Wayans) as its first program. The classic Warner Bros. cartoon character Michigan J. Frog appeared on-air as the network's official mascot (with animator Chuck Jones, in person, drawing him out after Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck argued about who should launch The WB during the network's premiere), and would remain as part of the network's branding in one form or another until 2005. Much of the network's branding was based around Warner Bros. locations and characters: the television network's original logo (which was originally displayed upright until 1998, and displayed at a titled angle thereafter) was based on the typography of the iconic Warner Bros. Pictures' "shield" logo; network promotions and imaging campaigns for The WB and the Kids' WB block from their launches until the 2003–2004 season were also centered on the Warner Bros. Studios backlot, often involving large neon signs promoting the nights of programming and their component shows (at times including signs for Kids' WB and certain shows from that block); this approach was similar to one used for Fox's 1989-90 "This is the Year" fall campaign (likely thanks to Kellner and Ancier previously having worked at Fox).
The WB's scheduling structure was similar to Fox's when it launched, as it started with one night a week of programming and then gradually added additional nights of programming over the course of several seasons: the network started with a two-hour Wednesday night lineup of sitcoms, airing from 8:00 to 10:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific Time. The limited amount of network programming in The WB's early years essentially rendered its affiliates as nominal independent stations; because of this, affiliates held the responsibility of programming primetime slots on nights that the network did not program, airing either first-run and/or off-network syndicated programs or more commonly, movies.
The network's first programs were mostly sitcoms targeted at an ethnically black audience. Even though four of the five shows that debuted in the network's first nine months were renewed beyond the first year – The Wayans Bros., Unhappily Ever After (a dysfunctional family sitcom from Married... with Children co-creator Ron Leavitt), The Parent 'Hood (a family sitcom starring and co-created by Robert Townsend) and Sister, Sister (a teen/blended family sitcom starring Tia and Tamera Mowry that was picked up by the network after its cancellation by ABC in the spring of 1995) – none of them made a significant impact.
On August 17, 1995, the Tribune Company acquired a 12.5% limited partnership interest in The WB for $12 million; the deal gave Tribune an option to increase its stake in the network up to a 25% interest; Tribune would eventually increase its ownership share in The WB to 22.5% on March 31, 1997.
The WB expanded its programming to Sunday nights for the 1995–96 season, but none of the new shows (including the Kirk Cameron vehicle Kirk and night-time soap opera Savannah) managed to garner much viewing interest. The network also launched the Kids' WB programming block in September 1995, which featured a mix of existing Warner Bros. animated series that originated either on Fox Kids or in syndication and originally aired on Monday through Saturday mornings. The WB continued to expand in the 1996–97 season, adding programming on Monday nights. This season gave The WB modest hits in the Aaron Spelling-produced family drama 7th Heaven (centering on a reverend and his family) and comedies The Steve Harvey Show (starring Harvey as a funk musician working as a music teacher at an inner-city Chicago high school) and The Jamie Foxx Show (starring Foxx as an aspiring actor/singer working at a Los Angeles hotel owned by his aunt and uncle).
1997–2000: Courting the teen marketEdit
The WB first began to experience success with Buffy the Vampire Slayer (a series based on the 1992 film of the same name), which became a hit with critics when it premiered as a mid-season replacement in March 1997. It debuted with the highest Monday night ratings in the network's history, attracting not only new teenage viewers, but new advertisers as well.
Inspired by BuffyTemplate:'s success, The WB intentionally shifted the focus of its programming, trying to capture what it perceived to be a heavily fragmented market by marketing to the under-courted teen demographic. While the Fox network, the previous destination for teen television (with shows such as Beverly Hills, 90210 and Parker Lewis Can't Lose), began to court older audiences with shows such as Ally McBeal, The WB began to craft its identity with programs targeted at teenagers. The network's breakout hit and, arguably, its signature series was Dawson's Creek, which debuted in January 1998 to what were then the highest ratings in the network's history (and made stars out of its four principal actors, James Van Der Beek, Michelle Williams, Joshua Jackson and Katie Holmes). It quickly became the highest-rated show on television among teenage girls, and the most popular program on The WB. The popularity of Dawson helped boost the network's other shows, such as Buffy, which served as its lead-in on The WB's new night of programming that also launched in January 1998, branded as "New Tuesday," and 7th Heaven, which enjoyed a massive 81% increase in viewership that season.
With three hit shows in its roster, The WB continued to build its teen fanbase the following season with college drama Felicity (which made a star out of lead Keri Russell) and the wicca-themed Charmed (which was also produced by Aaron Spelling, and co-starred Alyssa Milano and 90210 alumnus Shannen Doherty), both of which set new records for the network when they respectively premiered to 7.1 and 7.7 million viewers; Charmed had the highest-rated premiere on the network until Smallville broke its record, debuting to 8.4 million viewers in October 2001. At the start of the 1998–99 season, the network expanded its programming to Thursday nights. That season, 7th Heaven overtook Dawson's Creek as the network's highest-rated program, and garnered The WB the highest ratings it would ever see – the show's February 8, 1999 episode attracted 12.5 million viewers.
For the 1999–2000 season, the network concluded its primetime expansion with the addition of programming on Friday nights. New shows that season included Roswell, Popular, and the Buffy the Vampire Slayer spin-off Angel, the latter of which premiered with 7.5 million viewers – the second-highest rated premiere for the network at the time. During this season, The WB was the only network to have gains in its total audience viewership and in each key demographic.
2000–2003: Broadening the focusEdit
As the teen boom of the late 1990s began to wane, The WB attempted to broaden the scope of its primetime lineup. Although teen-oriented fare like Popular and Roswell had premiered to strong ratings, both series saw serious ratings erosion in their sophomore seasons, leading the network to cancel them both (Roswell, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, would end up being revived by rival network UPN). Meanwhile, even though ratings for 7th Heaven, Buffy and Charmed remained consistent, viewership for flagship series such as Felicity and Dawson's Creek began sagging. The network realized that it could no longer rely merely on the tastes of young teenage girls, and thus began moving back into more family-friendly fare, attempting to launch a successful sitcom, and generally targeting a more diverse audience.
This new strategy came as The WB had dropped to sixth place in the ratings among all major broadcast networks (behind UPN) during the 1999–2000 season, losing 19% of its household audience. Executives for the network attributed the ratings decline in large part due to the Tribune Company's decision to remove WB network programming from WGN-TV's superstation feed in October 1999, on the pretense that the network's national distribution was large enough that it was no longer necessary for WGN to broadcast The WB's programs outside of Chicago; the network reached several affiliation deals during the prior four years with various station owners (such as the Sinclair Broadcast Group and Pappas Telecasting Companies), buoyed by the September 1998 launch of The WB 100+ Station Group, a national cable-only service that served most of the 110 smallest Nielsen media markets in the United States that did not have enough television stations to support an over-the-air affiliate. The removal of The WB's programs from the WGN national feed effectively reduced the network's potential household audience by 10 million homes (WGN-TV continued to carry WB programming over-the-air and on cable within the Chicago market until the network shut down in 2006).
Despite the slight downturn in the network's fortunes, there were a few bright spots during the era. Gilmore Girls, which debuted in 2000, netted meager ratings when it debuted in a tough Thursday timeslot (where it competed against NBC's powerhouse Must See TV lineup), but subsequently grew into one of the network's most successful shows after moving to Tuesdays in 2001, where it remained for six seasons (before moving to The WB for its seventh and final season). Also in the fall of 2000, the fantasy sitcom Sabrina, the Teenage Witch moved from ABC to The WB as part of its Friday night schedule; the show continued on the network for three more seasons before ending in May 2003.
Time Warner transferred operational duties for The WB from Warner Bros. Entertainment over to its Turner Broadcasting System division in 2001. On November 12, 2002, chairman Jamie Kellner – who became chairman and chief executive officer of the Turner Broadcasting System concurrent with that deal – sold his 11% stake in The WB to majority corporate parent AOL Time Warner, leaving it and minority owner, the Tribune Company, as the only partners in the network. Following Kellner's departure from Turner, AOL Time Warner reassigned the network's operations back to the Warner Bros. unit in 2003.
In October 2001, the Superman-inspired Smallville debuted with 8.4 million viewers, the highest-rated premiere in the history of the network; that show was also important because it was one of the few series that drew a substantial male viewership. 2001 also saw the launch of the Reba McEntire vehicle Reba, arguably the network's most successful comedic series; Reba and Sabrina served as the linchpins for a new Friday night sitcom block that debuted in October 2001 (delayed from a mid-September launch, as other networks did with their fall schedules following the September 11th terrorist attacks) and continued for much of the remainder of the network's run (comedies on that night were relegated to one hour in April 2006, with reality series filling the 8:00 p.m. hour). Other series to gain attention during this period were the family drama Everwood, and the short-lived but critically acclaimed soap satire Grosse Pointe.
Despite some early success, the network struggled to shift its focus from the female 12–24 demographic to the broader 12–34 range, in its attempt to attract a broader young adult audience. In 2005, the network retired Michigan J. Frog, as the network's trademark mascot. The WB's president of entertainment at the time, David Janollari, explained in July 2005 at the network's summer press tour that "[Michigan] was a symbol that perpetuated the young-teen feel of the network. That's not the image we [now] want to put to our audience."
Still, the move did not seem to help the network. The period from 2003 to 2005 produced only three viable new series, the teen-oriented drama One Tree Hill, social experiment reality competition Beauty and the Geek and fantasy drama Supernatural, and even still their ratings paled in comparison to the ratings peaks of Dawson's Creek, which had ended its run in May 2003. Ratings dropped for many of The WB's shows, while also cancelling shows with steady ratings such as Angel; the network failed to launch new hit shows to take their places.
Although The WB's well-known inability to launch successful comedy series was nothing new (Reba being the sole exception), this period saw the network struggling to establish new dramas as well. High-profile failures included Birds of Prey (a series inspired by the Batman mythos, which premiered in October 2002 with an impressive 8 share), Tarzan, Jack & Bobby, The Mountain, the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced legal dramedy Just Legal, the Marta Kauffman-created dramedy Related, and the Rebecca Romijn vehicle Pepper Dennis.
During the 2004–05 season, The WB finished behind rival UPN for the first time in four years, and fell even further behind in fall 2005. Both networks fell behind Spanish language network Univision in the overall 18–34 demographic. Between November and December 2005, the network laid off approximately 40 employees amid continued ratings and profit losses (with viewership down 12% by November 2005), with network representatives expecting The WB to lose about $35 million during the 2005–06 fiscal year. The WB was programming six days and 13 hours per week at this time.
2006-2011: Focus shift and strugglesEdit
On January 24, 2006, TimeWarner announced that The WB would shift its focus to audiences aged 18 to 34. The changes took effect starting on September 18, 2006.
The WB launched a focus shift party from the CBS-produced Entertainment Tonight at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California on September 18, 2006, after a repeat of the tenth-season finale of 7th Heaven; the same schedule was repeated on September 19, with the sixth-season finale of Gilmore Girls airing in the second hour of prime time. The network continued to air season finales from the previous season through the remainder of the week. The second week consisted of season and series premieres for all of its other series from September 25 to October 1, with the exception of Veronica Mars, which debuted its third season on October 3.
Despite this, The WB largely struggled to gain an audience foothold throughout the next five years on the air. Because of declining viewership for the network during the 2007–08 season and effects from the Writers Guild of America strike, the network announced on March 4, 2008, that it would eliminate its comedy department (dismissing executive vice president of comedy Kim Fleary and senior vice president of comedy Steve Veisel), while also combining its drama and current programming departments into a single scripted programming unit. The corporate restructuring resulted in the layoffs of approximately 25 to 30 employees. It also included the elimination of certain positions, other newly opened positions being left unfilled, layoffs from the Kids' WB unit (the block itself would be retained however), and the elimination and transfer of marketing positions at The WB 100+ to the network's marketing department.
On May 9, 2008, The WB announced that it would lease its Sunday lineup (then running from 5:00 to 10:00Template:Nbspp.m. Eastern and Pacific Time) to production company Media Rights Capital (MRC). The move allowed The WB to concentrate on its Monday through Saturday prime time schedule, while giving MRC the right to develop and schedule programs of its own choosing and reap advertising revenue generated by the lineup. The Sunday series that were scheduled – two reality series (4Real and In Harm's Way) and two scripted series (romantic dramedy Valentine and drama Easy Money) – performed poorly in the ratings (averaging only 1.04 million viewers), prompting The WB to scrap its agreement with MRC and program Sunday nights on its own starting on November 30, 2008. With no first-run programming available to run on Sundays as a backup, the network added reruns of The Drew Carey Show and Jericho, and movies to replace the MRC-produced programs.
The WB generally struggled in the Nielsen ratings sinc 2006, primarily placing fifth in all statistics tabulated by Nielsen (total audience viewership and demographic ratings). On several occasions, The WB was even outrated by the Spanish language network Univision. This led to speculation within the industry (including a May 16, 2008 article in The Wall Street Journal) that Tribune, Time Warner or both companies might abandon the venture if ratings did not improve. However, The WB's fortunes were buoyed in the 2008–09 and 2009–10 television seasons thanks to increased ratings among females in the 18–34 demographic and the buzz that some of its newer series (such as Gossip Girl, 90210 and The Vampire Diaries) had generated with audiences. Executives with Tribune and Time Warner also emphasized their commitment to the network.
On May 5, 2009, The WB announced that it would give the five hours of network time on Sundays back to its affiliated stations that fall, effectively becoming a weeknight-only network in prime time, in addition to The WB Daytime and The Kids' WB! blocks (the latter block, airing on Saturday mornings, would remain the only weekend programming supplied by the network until the return of Sunday nights). This change meant the Sunday late afternoon repeat block (formerly branded by that network as "EasyView") was discontinued. Subsequently, in mid-May, 65% of The WB's affiliates, including those carrying The WB 100+ Station Group, signed agreements to continue to air the replacement MGM Showcase movie package on Sundays, which was offered as a traditional syndicated film package meant for The WB's former prime time slot on that night.
2011–2016: New leadership and content shiftEdit
On April 28, 2011, Mark Pedowitz was appointed by the network to succeed original president of entertainment Dawn Ostroff; Pedowitz was made the network's first president and assumed broader responsibilities in The WB's business operations than Ostroff had. As president of entertainment, Ostroff oversaw entertainment operations while John Maatta, the network's chief operating officer, handled business affairs; both reported to a board composed of Tribune and Warner Bros. executives. Maatta began reporting to Pedowitz as a result of the latter's appointment as network president. Pedowitz revealed that the core target demographic of the network would not change, though The WB would attempt to lure new viewers. Pedowitz began looking to bring comedies back to The WB after Ostroff had publicly declared that the difficulty of developing comedies for its target demographic was the reason for their removal from the network following the 2008–09 season. The network also ordered more episodes of its original series and ran them consecutively starting on September 12 through the first week of December without repeats. In July 2012, Pedowitz no longer referred to the target demographic of The WB as women 18–34, but rather that it would now be an "18–34 adult network".
The introduction of action-superhero series Arrow, based on DC Comics' Green Arrow, received favorable reviews from critics and became a hit with audiences when it premiered. As evidence of the network's refocusing toward a broader audience, Arrow not only premiered to some of the highest viewership totals in the network's history (the third-highest overall, behind the series premieres of The Vampire Diaries and The Flash), but it also gave the network its strongest performance in the demographic of males 18–34 since Smallville ended its run in May 2011. The strength of Arrow, combined with the stability of The Vampire Diaries and a rejuvenated Supernatural, gave The WB a much-needed win. The network also found success with its summer programming in 2013 with the revival of the U.S. version of the improv comedy series Whose Line Is It Anyway?, which later became part of the network's fall-to-spring schedule.
The introduction of Vampire Diaries spin-off The Originals successfully extended that franchise and contributed to the network's momentum. Arrow continued to perform strongly, leading to a spin-off of its own with The Flash, which surpassed The Vampire Diaries as the highest-rated premiere in the network's history and became the most-watched show on the network. Jane the Virgin earned some of the highest critical praise of any series during the 2014–15 television season, and became the first WB series ever to be nominated for, and win, a Golden Globe Award, with lead actress Gina Rodriguez winning the Golden Globe for "Best Actress in a Comedy or Variety Series".
Overall, the network ended the 2014–15 season posting its highest average total viewership in a single television season since 2007–08 with 2.15 million viewers, a 12% increase in total viewership year-to-year; The WB also posted its highest seasonal demographic ratings among males ages 18–49 with a 0.8 share.
Expanding on the success of the network's DC Comics franchise, Arrow/Flash spin-off DC's Legends of Tomorrow premiered to high ratings for the network and became the most-watched show on the network's Thursday night block in two years. The 2015–16 season also saw Crazy Ex-Girlfriend become one of the most critically acclaimed shows of the season and the second show on the network to be nominated for, and win, a Golden Globe Award, with actress Rachel Bloom winning a Golden Globe Award for "Best Actress in a Comedy or Variety Series".
2016–present: Brand identity and reliance on existing propertiesEdit
The network's DC Comics lineup expanded again with Supergirl being moved to the network from CBS for its second season. The debut of Archie Comics-based Riverdale signaled the network's foray into using preexisting media properties in hopes of creating new television series with built-in brand awareness. This strategy led to another new DC Comics entry, Black Lightning, and a rebooted Dynasty. While it met with poor ratings, Dynasty proved lucrative thanks to off-network streaming deals struck based on the strong appeal of the brand.
On February 14, 2018, The WB announced that it would add a 2-hour primetime block on Sunday nights beginning in the fourth quarter of 2018, returning the network to Sundays for the first time since the lease to Media Rights Capital ended in 2009, as well as expanding The WB's primetime slate from 10 hours a week to 12. Discussions with Tribune and Warner Bros. about the expansion began as early as July 2017; both gave their approval to the move that December, with the network reaching clearance deals with key affiliate partners in early 2018.
On June 12, 2018, AT&T received antitrust approval to acquire Warner Bros. parent Time Warner, with the acquisition closing two days later. Time Warner was renamed WarnerMedia and AT&T became a co-owner of The WB with Tribune.
The mining of intellectual property continued with the network debuting reboots of Charmed, Roswell, and Originals spin-off Legacies during the 2018–19 season. Despite modest ratings, their renewals – along with the renewal of the entire 2018–19 WB lineup (absent those series already previously announced as ending) – reflected the value of their brands as assets to network co-owners Tribune and Warner Bros., which own the underlying intellectual properties of all the series and receive the windfall of selling them to off-network buyers. This strategy continued with the premieres of the new DC Comics series Batwoman, Riverdale spin-off Katy Keene, and Nancy Drew.
In September 2019, Tribune's stake in the network was acquired by Nexstar Media Group due to that company's acquisition of Tribune around that same time.
On August 1, 2020, The WB has debuted a new logo which was first seen on upfront promos made specifically for the fall 2020-21 season of where the new branding and logo will take place. The new logo featured an updated design featuring the word "THE" in the Warner Bros. Sans custom font and the WB letters were taken straight from the current Warner Bros. logo.
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