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Frog leaps ahead with new laffers

WB decides to skip over repeats for some skeins

After a dubba-dubba-disappointing season last year, The WB hopes that it’s back on track for fall.

For starters, the Frog net isn’t facing a crippling blow to its distribution system like last year, when the loss of WGN Cable’s feed hurt the network more than anyone had expected.

Since then, The WB has worked to replace much of that distribution, and now can be found in 87 percent of the country.

Also, unlike last year, when just about every network decided to take a page from The WB’s playbook and try to target younger auds, the big webs have avoided programming any so-called “teen drama.”

“It certainly didn’t help them, and it certainly didn’t help us,” says WB CEO Jamie Kellner.

Steve Sternberg, senior vp of broadcast research at TN Media, also notes that The WB is crippled by the significant number of repeats it must air in midseason.

“Since many of its programs are serialized dramas — which don’t repeat well — it hurts WB’s average ratings more,” he says.

Hoping to fight that problem, The WB made the unprecedented move to schedule both “Felicity” and “Jack and Jill” in the same time period. Rather than repeating either show, the time period will feature original episodes throughout the year.

As for this year’s programming strategy, laughter is key. In the process, The WB is especially interested in attracting more men to the web.

“Typically men watch more comedy than they watch drama, and just by virture of the fact that we’re looking to put more comedy on our network, that automatically is going to suggest that hopefully more men come,” says WB Entertainment prexy Susanne Daniels.

From its inception in 1995, The WB has struggled to make comedy a priority. Although a number of WB laffers have gone on to off-net syndication runs, the network has yet to produce a breakthrough comedy in the same way “Married With Children” and “In Living Color” put Fox on the map in that network’s infancy.

With an all-comedy Sunday night, as well as the acquisition of “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch,” the top-rated series among teens during its ABC tenure, the netlet hopes to finally make in-roads with the half-hour genre. Besides “Sabrina,” The WB also has high hopes for its other acquisition, the Eddie Murphy foamation comedy “The PJs.”

Additionally, the Frog web believes that the sketch comedy “Hype” could do for The WB what “In Living Color” did for Fox.

Other new skeins include the Bruce Helford laffer “Nikki,” starring Nikki Cox; Darren Star’s sudsy parody “Grosse Point,” which already spawned controversy when Star’s former boss Aaron Spelling cried foul; and one new drama, the mom-daughter opus, “Gilmore Girls.”

With improved distribution and the addition of “Sabrina” and “The PJs,” WB execs are counting on year-to-year growth this fall.

“We absolutely expect we’re going to see a return to the growth pattern that you’ve watched over the past five seasons with the exception of this past season,” Kellner says.

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