WB Breaks The News To Critics: We're Only 'Break Even'

PASADENA, CALIF.--TV economics were a major part of the discussion from WB executives during the first network day of the Television Critics Association winter meeting.

Garth Ancier, chairman of the WB, defended his decision not to bring back one of the network's highly touted shows, "7th Heaven," for another season, saying the economics don't work now for the 10-year-old show.

"It loses $16 million a year," he told reporters and critics. Privately, executives say soaring license fees and actors salaries, followed by slipping ratings, forced the network to make a tough financial decision.

Conversely, Ancier said "Smallville" has the same license fee as "7th Heaven," but does far superior viewership numbers. "Gilmore Girls" has a lower fee than "7th Heaven," and also has better ratings.

All this has led The WB to become a network that "essentially breaks even," said Ancier. Since the network takes about half of its TV shows from its own Warner Bros. studio, he added, now the network is more of a "catalyst" for shows--giving them a platform for other bigger revenue gains in cable or in syndication.



Ancier also put to rest the rumors that the WB might cut back on the network's programming--specifically, Sunday or Friday night. Amid recent cost-cutting moves at Time Warner, talk surfaced--in conjunction with the network's low ratings--that it was considering giving up a night. But at the TCA, Ancier said this was no longer a consideration.

Ancier also answered questions regarding the ground-breaking on-demand programming deals by the networks. "It's uncharted territory," he said. "Right now, there is a real process to figure out what works."

It has yet to be determined, he said, whether consumers should own TV downloads, or rent them for some period of time, and whether those downloads should have commercials. Starting in March, sister divisions AOL and Warner Bros. Television are teaming up to offer older library TV shows for free--but one 15-second commercial will run before the show airs.

The WB has had a rough season so far--with its ratings down double-digit percentages versus a year before. Still, David Janollari, president of entertainment for the WB, crows that recent big numbers for reality show "Beauty and The Geek" are helping the network improve its core 12-34 viewership, so much so that the WB is working on a "reverse" spin-off--casting good-looking men who will date geeky, smart women.

The WB tripped out of the box last September with some shows: Drama "Just Legal," starring Don Johnson, was pulled after two episodes. Executives say the show had a median age of 56, with its best rating demographic the women 55+ demo group. All that missed the network's young female and young male viewers.

Tribune Broadcasting is a major affiliate group of WB, as well as a 25 percent partner of the network. Although Tribune's earning results have been stung by lower WB ratings recently, Tribune is not giving up, and wants a new affiliation agreement. Ancier says: "We expect to have that deal done in the next few weeks."

Janollari also announced other shows/development, including one from Ellen DeGeneres and her brother Vance, who will co-write a pilot script for a new comedy, "My Dog Sparky." The show will be written from the dog's perspective, with DeGeneres as the voice of the dog. The WB's summer schedule is also starting to shape up. A reality show called "Survival of the Richest" pairs up "seven young people born into incredible wealth with seven of society's most disadvantaged."

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