Leaping into the Future

Warner Bros. surprised the industry last week by ousting Jordan Levin as The WB's boy wonder CEO after only three weeks. The next day, David Janollari was named the network's president of entertainment.

Industry vet Garth Ancier remains The WB chairman, and he'll leave most of the programming decisions to Janollari, much as he did with Levin. WB execs say Levin's departure wasn't because The WB had one of the toughest years of any network. It was chemistry: WB's top brass was more comfortable with Ancier at the helm and Levin as entertainment president. Since Levin refused to take a public demotion, Janollari won the job.

Janollari has a broad background. He worked for Peter Chernin at Fox, for Leslie Moonves at Warner Bros., and then as an independent producer with Bob Greenblatt. Together, they brought Six Feet Under to HBO. They also produced several shows for UPN.

Now Janollari moves from shepherding his own projects to searching for the best shows for The WB. Day one on the job, he and Ancier spoke to B&C's Paige Albiniak about the network's future.

David, what do you think needs to be changed at The WB?

DJ: Nothing here needs wholesale fixing. The base is solid. They've built a solid foundation with genuine hits on many nights and in key time slots. The key is to build upon that and broaden the success. I've been involved with shows such as Friends, Drew Carey, and Six Feet Under. There's nothing more exciting than coming up with a big hit. That's the goal of the person in this job.

What do you think you bring to The WB?

I've put shows on the air from all different sides, being a network executive, a studio executive, and an independent producer. Now I'm just taking another chair at the same table.

GA: It's not about losing Jordan, because he did a great job here. He was my partner creatively at the network the whole time. He was the third person we hired. And I'm ecstatic about the dramas and product we've bought for fall. What David brings is a different sensibility. He has developed hit shows, and he has great taste in writers, talent, and concepts. There's not much more you can ask for than all those skills in one person.

You two said The WB needs to get a reality hit on its schedule. What's the plan?

We've budgeted quite a lot of our programming budget for reality. We've increased the number of original hours per year. We still plan to use reality to replace repeats of serialized dramas that don't repeat well. We'll use it when One Tree Hill runs out of originals. The challenge is, to what degree reality has changed the paradigm of how stories are told. Great reality shows do what great scripted shows do. But frankly, it's been fascinating in the past few weeks to watch what's happened with Summerland and how well we've done with that.

David, you've been successful with comedy on UPN, an area where The WB has had a tough time. How do you plan to approach comedy in your new job?

DJ: I will keep in mind the core target demo of the network: females 18-34. We have to find the next unique voice, identify the next show creators, and mine them for giant hits. People are saying comedy is dead or dormant, but that only provides more opportunity for a big hit to come around and take the audience by storm. I would not run from comedy; I would embrace it.

Buyers have questioned whether Jeff Foxworthy and Drew Carey are good fits for The WB. Why did you choose their shows?

GA: The last time comedies were having this much of a hard time was when we were at Fox. At that time, we took a shot with non-story-form shows, which did not require audiences to sit for a half-hour and watch the whole thing. Now we have Jeff Foxworthy's point of view for middle America. You have to take big bets when you have stars like Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy. It will be a sad day for television when executives are unwilling to take shots that aren't down-the-middle hits.

David, you had it good at Greenblatt-Janollari Studios. Why leave?

DJ: A year ago, I would not have thought of doing a job like this. But the one thing I haven't tried is helping to run a network. They've built a successful company here, and I wanted to become part of that.

What's going to happen to Greenblatt-Janollari now that Bob is Showtime's programming president?

DJ: We haven't had a chance to decide what the future of the company is.

The WB ended down $25 million in the upfronts. How do you plan to change that?

GA: To be down only 4% in revenue when you are down more than 4% in audience is actually good. We still have a healthy CPM increase on a somewhat lower audience base. When we had as rough a year in the ratings, that tells you we have good brand equity on Madison Avenue. It's because of the kind of shows we make: Everwood, 7th Heaven, Smallville. Advertisers know their clients we'll be comfortable in them. We believe we will turn this around.

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.