The WB turns a profit

The WB Television Network has joined the elite ranks of profitable broadcast-television
networks, coming in at $50 million in the black in the fourth quarter of 2002,
said Brad Turell, executive vice president of communications for Turner
Broadcasting System Inc., at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour in Hollywood Saturday.

Besides The WB, only NBC and CBS of the "Big Six" TV nets showed a profit.

"The WB is also the only network to show across-the-board growth," Turell
said, pointing to ratings that showed The WB coming in second only to NBC in
females 12 through 34 and females 18 through 34 in the top 50 TV markets during
November sweeps.

Executives from The WB were crowing at the press tour about the stellar
ratings last week of the network's two new reality series, High School
and The Surreal Life.

Still, Jordan Levin, The WB's president of entertainment, said that while
people at the network were a little giddy over the ratings performance of the
two shows, The WB will always prioritize scripted programming.

"Reality shows are not series that create long-term, emotional relationships"
that viewers keep coming back for, Levin said.

Levin expects the network's teen hit, Dawson's Creek, to go off the
air after this season, but he said NBC's $10 million-per-episode deal to keep
Friends for another year shows that anything can happen.

"Dawson's is one of our best performers this season, but the cast
wants to exit the show with grace," Levin said.

The WB had the most surprising fall season of any broadcast network, but
it is still making some scheduling changes going into midseason.

In late February or early March, The WB will begin to air
Carsey-Werner-Mandabach's Grounded for Life, which the network purchased
after Fox declined to place a full-season order for the show.

The show likely will air on Friday nights, and the producers will have 16 new
episodes for the network after Fox aired three this fall.

Martial-arts drama Black Sash, starring Russell Wong, is the only new
scripted show the network has announced for midseason.

The show, produced by Mike Tollin and Brian Robbins, is expected to premiere
in March on Sundays at 9 p.m., where High School Reunion airs now and
Buffy the Vampire Slayer spinoff Angel previously aired.

Levin is the first to admit that the traditional sitcom format is going
through tough times on network TV, and in an answer to that, The WB has planned an
improvisational sketch show called On the Spot for midseason.

The legendary Tim Conway tops a cast that includes Jeff B. Davis, who has
appeared on Whose Line Is It Anyway?; former members of improv comic
troupe The Groundlings; Jordan Black, also of E! Entertainment Television's Star Dates; Mindy
Sterling of the three Austin Powers movies; and Michael Hitchcock, also of
Christopher Guest films Best in Show and Waiting for Guffman.

Other cast members are Erinn Carter, Arden Myrin, Lance Barber, Lindsey
Stoddart and Dweezil Zappa as the band leader.

Robert Cohen -- who has written for The Ben Stiller Show, The
, The Wonder Years and Just Shoot Me -- created the show
and executive-produces.

Also coming up on The WB is a two-hour movie, The Lone Ranger, a backdoor
series pilot the network so far has found too expensive to produce as a regular

Contributing to the pilot's expense was $27,000 the network spent trying to
figure out a mask that would work best for the title character.

With some models showing too much of the main character's face and others not
enough, it ultimately took three WB executives to select the final costume -- a
process even Levin admitted was a little ridiculous.

"You've heard the one about three network executives?" he said last weekend
while talking to a group of reporters. The Lone Ranger will air Feb.
26, the last night of that round of sweeps.

Another new show in development at The WB are a spinoff of The Gilmore Girls
featuring the character of Jess Mariano, played by Milo Ventimiglia.

The show, which doesn't yet have a title, will be created and executive-produced by The Gilmore Girls' Amy Sherman-Palladino, Levin said.

The WB also plans to bring back Steve Harvey to produce and star in an
unscripted prime-time variety/talk show. The show will feature Harvey
interacting with regular people who have unusual, unique talents.

Harvey appeared on The WB in a self-titled show for six seasons. He has his
own drive-time radio program and formerly was the host of Showtime at the

Attempting to capitalize on the success of Smallville, which looks at
Superman's young life, two other shows in development at The WB are a series
about a young MacGyver and another about a young Tarzan.

And this summer, The WB will air the tentatively titled Live from
, a show that will air no
advertisements, financing itself only with product placement.

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.