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August 4, 2000, Friday, FIVE STAR LIFT EDITION


Gail Pennington
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Candor from a TV network. Now, that's refreshing. Instead of elaborate facts and figures defending its performance in the 1999-2000 season, the WB offered a single, self-deprecating graphic -- a huge, red arrow pointing downward.

After four years of successfully battling rival UPN in the race to endure as the No. 5 broadcast network, the WB slipped into sixth place last season, its viewership down 20 percent. Two factors figured in the slide: A split from Chicago superstation WGN and its viewers, and the whopping success of UPN's wrestling series, "WWF Smackdown."

The network also expanded last season to a sixth night of programming, a move CEO Jamie Kellner now calls "a terrible mistake."

"We underestimated the effect of WGN," Kellner told TV critics meeting in Pasadena, Calif., last month to preview the fall season on network and cable. "We would have been much better off if we had ... kept as focused as we could on five nights." The WB still has no programming on Saturday, and that "may be a place we stay away from for quite a while."

Although "we didn't have a great season, which we acknowledge," Kellner predicted better things for 2000-2001, based on what he called a strong season of developing new series and the acquisition of two established ones: Eddie Murphy's animated "The PJs," from Fox, and "Sabrina the Teenage Witch," from ABC. And with a solid audience of younger viewers, the WB was still able to command increased prices from advertisers, noted Kellner, whose company, Acme Communications, Inc., also owns KPLR in St. Louis, the No. 1 station in the WB family. "We absolutely expect we're going to see a return to the growth pattern" of the first four seasons.

In other news and schmooze from Kellner and WB

Entertainment president Susanne Daniels:

  • "Sabrina" goes off to college this fall, and Soleil Moon Frye ("Punky Brewster") joins the cast as Melissa Joan Hart's roommate.

  • Michelle Trachtenberg ("Harriet the Spy") joins "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" as Buffy's previously unknown younger sister.

  • "Dawson's Creek" should be "the show to watch" in the new season. Although the teen series had slipped both in ratings and buzz, the season finale was as much-watched as almost any episode since the premiere, Daniels said, adding that "the romance between Josh Jackson's character (Pacey) and Katie Holmes' character (Joey) really seemed to rekindle and respark a lot of interest."

  • The "Felicity" hair crisis is over. According to Daniels, star Keri Russell's hair "has grown out; it's about to here" -- just above shoulder length -- "now, and she looks fabulous." Russell's short haircut, apparently self-inflicted with nail scissors, had sparked angst last year.

  • "Roswell" will emphasize mysteries this season and will feature more "closed-ended episodes."

  • "The Jamie Foxx Show" will end its run at midseason, as Foxx develops a new variety show for the network.

  • "Dead Last," about a rock band that sees dead people, is still in development, "and we think the show is really promising," Daniels said.

  • The network will get into the reality game with "Pop Stars," about the making of a Spice Girls-type band. The series, based on an Australian show, will begin with casting, set for September, and carry through the making of the band's first album.

  • In programming for children, the WB finished the season tied for first place with Nickelodeon. New kids shows include "Jackie Chan Adventures," an animated half-hour that features live-action segments with the real martial arts expert; "Static Shock," featuring "the first animated African-American teen superhero ever to star in his own series"; "X-Men: Evolution"; and "Generation O," about an 8-year-old rock star. Enough is enough, and after almost three weeks in a suburban LA hotel, some writers - including this one - bailed out before a half-day of presentations from UPN.

    By all accounts, only two moments stood out.

  • One, when president Dean Valentine announced that on Jan. 1, UPN (currently the United Paramount Network) would change its name to simply Paramount. (Now, how's that going to fit in the listings?)

    If you care: "United" stood for United Television, owned by Chris-Craft, which was recently bought out by Viacom, which owns Paramount. A bigger concern for St. Louisans remains where to see UPN (or Paramount) programs. Nominal affiliate KNLC still finds few of the network's shows suitable for airing.

  • And two, when Valentine was asked about the pilot "I Spike," which had female spies masquerading as volleyball players.

    Valentine's answer, as recorded in a transcript of the press conference, was this: "I can't bring myself to BS you. It was just bad."

    Now, that's candor.

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