The WB Gets Real

The WB Television Network is adding roughly 100 more original hours of prime time for the 2004-05 season, bringing the total  of original hours to 450, according to chairman Garth Ancier.

During the network’s new schedule presentation at Madison Square Garden Tuesday, all WB executives who spoke were contrite about this season’s performance, which was down double digits across key categories.

At one point, WB CEO Jordan Levin admitted that he completely misread viewer and advertiser demand for reality shows by not developing nearly enough of them. “I was wrong,” said Levin, adding, “I will not make that mistake again.

He’s making up for it with a bunch of reality series for next season from some of the genre’s top producers.

Michael Davies is producing Studio 7, in which college-age kids live together for a week while competing in game show-type contests for the grand prize of $777,000. Studio 7 will air Thursday at 9 p.m.

Mike Fleiss will produce a new reality series, Big Man on Campus, that will debut mid-season. Fleiss will also produce a third installment of High School Reunion.

The Candid Camera-style Jamie Kennedy Experiment is canceled, but Kennedy will executive produce a new reality series called Wannabes featuring aspiring actresses who live together while competing for a spot on a new WB program. 

Survivor/Apprentice producer Mark Burnett is one of the busiest producers on the WB next season. He’s producing a drama called Global Frequency; a reality show, details to follow; and he’s consulting on a comedy based on his own life, called Commando Nanny.

The WB will be returning all of its key dramas to the fall schedule, but it is also trying several risky moves in an attempt to improve its performance. Among those moves: Making Steve Harvey’s Big Time even bigger--it expands to an hour on Sunday at 7, putting improvisational and sketch comedy on Wednesday at 9, and taking comedies off Thursday.

The WB picked up its two new dramas early, with the network’s early fave, Jack & Bobby, getting a spot on Sunday at 9, after Charmed, and The Mountain getting the tough Thursday 8 p.m. slot. Studio 7 will premiere in the fall instead of this summer, airing Thursday at 9 p.m.

Harvey’s show will morph from a showcase of freaks and geeks to more like The Ed Sullivan Show, Harvey said at Tuesday’s presentation. “If you survive a year on Thursday getting your butt kicked by Friends and Survivor every week, they give you an hour on Sunday,” Harvey joked. “That’s what they do on TV these days. No one was more happy to see Friends get the hell off the air than me.”

Also new to the schedule is Blue Collar TV, featuring Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall and Larry “the cable guy.” That show had been scheduled for summer, but was moved to fall. Drew Carey has figured out a way to bring his troupe back to TV with Drew Carey’s Green Screen, in which the troupe from Whose Line Is It Anyway will perform in front of a “green screen,” which allows animators to add features as the actors play out the skits.

“The non-traditional route in comedy is the way to go,” Levin said, although that may simply be by default since none of the WB’s traditional attempts have worked so far.

Besides the two sketch shows, The WB only picked up one scripted comedy--Commando Nanny, in which a commando from British Special Forces ends up a Beverly Hills nanny, will air Friday at 8:30. The WB also promises to bring “another big game-changer” to TV, a reality show from Burnett. The network is keeping that show’s premise under wraps.

In addition to Commando Nanny, Friday’s slate will include three returning comedies, with What I Like About You at 8, Reba back in its original time slot at 9, and Grounded for Life at 9:30.

The rest of The WB’s schedule remains intact, with 7th Heaven and Everwood on Monday, Gilmore Girls and One Tree Hill on Tuesday, and Smallville on Wednesday at 8.