Tuesday is WB's Night to Crow, 10.29.01 ...
Think back a moment to the days of last spring.
You'll recall that there then existed a quiet coexistence between fledgling networks the WB and UPN.
But then one day UPN upended things, and rather abruptly, in two moves that launched the two into a fierce battle for young viewers on Tuesday nights.
UPN wrested "Buffy" away from its rival, in a $102-million deal covering two seasons, then went on to pick up the canceled "Roswell." Both deals were rightly seen as an attempt to win dominance among teens and young adults.
The WB then countered by moving "Gilmore Girls" from Thursday to Tuesday at 8 p.m. and assigning a new show, "Smallville," to the 9 p.m. slot.
The obvious question six weeks into the new season is: Did UPN’s strategy work?
The short answer is no.
The WB’s 4.2 teen rating two weeks ago was 40 percent higher than UPN’s 3.0. And the WB had a 42 percent advantage in the 18-34 demo, with a 3.7 to UPN’s 2.6.
"The WB is doing well because it’s all coming from 9 p.m.," says Shari Anne Brill, vice president and director of programming services at Carat. "It’s really ‘Smallville’ that pulls it so far ahead."
But there is a long answer too.
The long answer is that UPN, while failing at beating the WB with its own show, was at least able to improve its ratings for the night, and rather dramatically.
Its teen and adult 18-34 ratings are up by 225 and 155 percent, respectively, over what the UPN was getting last season with a movie.
Since the WB and UPN debuted in 1995, both have settled into their own niches with young women and young men, respectively. Both, however, have worked to expand those audiences and to beat one another in the process.
Going into the season, at this year's TV press tour, UPN chief executive Dean Valentine boldly predicted that his network would beat the WB this season.
Perhaps Valentine's statements reflected the tough-talking ways of UPN’s new parent company and sister network, Viacom and CBS. Or perhaps UPN executives truly expected the lineup to trounce the WB’s with what appeared to be a sure bet in the long-running "Buffy."
What UPN executives clearly were not anticipating was the enormity of the WB’s success with its new lineup.
The "Gilmore Girls" has had its highest ratings ever this season. About 6.4 million viewers tuned in last week, which is 81 percent more than watched last season, on average.
The show, which took "Buffy’s" time slot, has brought in about 43 percent more viewers to the time period. And it beat "Buffy" in head-to-head competition by about 700,000 viewers.
That edge, substantial in its own right, leads viewers into what is emerging as the season's real hit, the rookie "Smallville."
Its premiere was watched by 8.4 million people and scored the WB’s third-best adult 18-49 rating ever.
It tied for No. 42 in the demo with a 3.8 rating that ranked it comparably with shows like NBC’s "Third Watch." Its rating, moreover, was three times bigger than that of "Roswell," which ranked No. 105 out of 111 primetime shows.
Its second airing brought 7.3 million viewers, and the network, anxious to trade on the show's popularity, rebroadcast the first two episodes as a movie over the weekend.
"I’m not at all surprised that it’s as successful as it is," says Brill.
"There is an inherent appeal in Superman, for the nostalgia factor. And the 12- to 34-year-olds that the WB is trying to attract can relate to a younger hero."
The drama received almost unanimously positive reviews. Media Life’s Elizabeth White wrote, "Simply put, ‘Smallville’ is a solid teen drama made more interesting and more widely appealing with a young Superman as its central character."
Credit: Media Life
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