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Tuned In: UPN got 'Buffy,' but WB gets ratings

Wednesday, January 16, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

PASADENA, Calif. -- UPN won the battle over which network gets to air "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," but The WB is winning the war. The WB's "Gilmore Girls" beats "Buffy" in households and some key demographics most weeks, even as "Buffy's" ratings are up compared to last season when it aired on The WB.

This fall, The WB also launched a hit in "Smallville" and finally got some comedy traction on Friday night with "Reba." To reward these series, The WB announced yesterday "Gilmore Girls," "Smallville" and "Reba" have been renewed for next fall.

Though "Smallville" is a hit, Jordan Levin, The WB's Entertainment president, acknowledged the frustration of some fans who feel the series devolved into a monster-of-the-week show after its launch.

"You'll start to see some smaller mini-arcs over three to four episodes to get away from some of the formulaic storytelling structure we were getting ourselves boxed into," Levin said. "We don't want to turn it into a serialized show -- we do want to retain its close-ended nature -- but we do want to extend the mythology."

The network still has trouble on Sunday night, where ratings remain in the basement, and "Dawson's Creek" and especially "Felicity" are losing viewers.

"It's going to be a situation where we're going to have some tough decisions come fall," said Levin. "We've always bet on new development. Being a network that has a younger audience, they expect new things and it's difficult for us to maintain shows as long as some other networks. 'Dawson's Creek' has performed strongly for us, 'Felicity' always comes back and performs stronger for us in the second half. We'll have to see how our development comes out and see how the cards fall in May."

And despite the fact that "JKX: The Jamie Kennedy Experiment" premiered Sunday with The WB's best ratings among men age 18 to 34 since 1997, Levin still thinks the night needs work.

"It's fair to say Sunday has been a struggle," Levin said. "We've got to figure out a strategy for an audience that's not being served on that night. We were hoping as 'The Simpsons' aged they'd cede that audience over to us. ... But we found 'The Simpsons' remains a fantastic show and shows no signs of losing steam. That requires us to retrench."

Piggybacking on the upcoming Warner Bros. movie, The WB will roll out the "All New Scooby-Doo! The Animated Series" next fall as part of the Kids' WB! lineup. It will also air on sister station Cartoon Network during the 2002-03 season.

Upcoming midseason series airing on The WB include:

"JKX" (premiered Sunday at 8 p.m.): Jamie Kennedy stars in this unfunny candid-camera show that includes Kennedy playing various characters who embarrass the unsuspecting marks.

"Glory Days" (premieres tonight at 9): "Dawson's Creek" creator Kevin Williamson returns to The WB with a series that tries to be both "Murder, She Wrote" suspense show and sudsy drama. The former is uninvolving and there's not enough of the latter.

"No Boundaries" (premieres March 3 at 7 p.m.): Making their way from British Columbia to the Arctic Circle on a 30-day journey, 15 adventurers attempt to win $100,000 and a Ford Explorer. Not available for review.

"The Young Person's Guide to Becoming a Rock Star" (premiere date not announced): Oliver Hudson, son of Goldie Hawn, stars as a wannabe rock star in this single-camera, no-laugh-track comedy.

New sidekick

When "20/20" returns to its 10 p.m. Friday time slot this week, Barbara Walters will be joined by a new co-anchor, ABC reporter John Miller. Walters has hosted "20/20" solo since the retirement of Hugh Downs in September 1999.

"I like working with someone else," Walters said. "When Hugh left, the big question was who?"

Miller is the ABC reporter who interviewed Osama bin Laden face-to-face in May 1998 in Afghanistan. During that interview, he was not allowed to take notes and the answers came in Arabic without the help of an English translator, preventing any follow-up questions.

"I remember getting eye contact with him and I started to acknowledge his answers," Miller said. "And I nodded in interest and then in agreement and gave him the RCA dog head tilt ... but I can't imagine that Osama bin Laden believed that I had somehow spontaneously learned Arabic that day in the tent."

At the end of it, Miller went to his translator in the back of the room to ask if bin Laden had answered any of the questions. Bin Laden did answer, saying he would kill Americans and send them home in coffins and boxes. Miller asked what he was doing when bin Laden made these threats.

"You were nodding in agreement the entire time," the translator said.

Honors from TV Land

The 2001 TV Land Future Classic Award was awarded to NBC's "Scrubs" this week. The award recognizes one new show from the past year that best exemplifies "the qualities of an emerging television phenomenon that will endure for years to come."

Past recipients include "Malcolm in the Middle," "The Sopranos" and "Sports Night."

Fox's virtual ads

Remember those annoying virtual ads that popped up in the background during Fox's coverage of the World Series last fall? You weren't the only one who disliked them.

Fox Television Entertainment Group chairman Sandy Grushow wasn't a fan of the initial spots either.

"We all went home and watched those virtual ads the first night, and it was pretty clear to anybody who was watching that having the image of Calista Flockhart didn't exactly feel appropriate," Grushow said. "Had I been able to make it go away as I was sitting in my own living room, I certainly would have. It was one of those cringe moments."

Grushow said that reaction caused the network to reel in the spots and replace the cast photos with logos. But, Grushow added, there will probably be no opportunity to place those virtual ads in the background during Fox's coverage of the Super Bowl next month.

Time after time

While we're on the subject of annoyances during sporting events, CBS president Leslie Moonves assured Pittsburgh viewers KDKA won't use its Time Machine to insert extra commercials during NFL games again. The station got caught using the device during Steelers games last fall, leading to a national furor among some broadcasters and advertisers concerned about the clutter that results from too many commercials, diminishing their impact.

"If it ever happens again, everybody involved will be out the door in 30 seconds," Moonves said, "and they're well aware of it."

Post-Gazette TV Editor Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association winter press tour.

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