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Feel-good Frog

Mainstream content has Levin feeling confident

The folks at the Frog are feeling good — both onscreen and off.

While the WB network still boasts some edgy fare, the bulk of the net’s new fall skeins fit squarely in the warm-and-fuzzy category. From new Monday drama “Everwood” to a remake of “Family Affair,” the Frog is serving up a lineup heavy on heart and filled with feel-good characters and plotlines.

On the ratings front, after a rough start last fall thanks to the departure of tentpole drama “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” the WB managed to get back on track by the second half of last season, ultimately ending 2001-02 flat. That, combined with another successful upfront ad selling season, has net execs feeling upbeat about the WB’s business plan.

“We’re feeling pretty confident,” says WB Entertainment prexy Jordan Levin. “We’ve on average, since our inception, had two shows stick every year, and we’ve had more series go into syndication than any other network since we launched. So our goal for this season is to really drive the circulation (and viewership) of our affiliates with this new programming.”

On the surface, the WB’s fall sked seems riddled with changes. Sunday and Thursday nights have been completely overhauled, while there’s at least one hour of new programming on three of the other four nights the net offers programming.

Levin, however, believes that the net’s core sked is actually pretty stable.

The Thursday and Sunday shifts simply rep a change in strategy, Levin says, with established dramas replacing low-rated laffers Sunday, while high- concept comedies will air Thursdays. Levin admits it’s the net’s riskiest move, but believes the Thursday laffer block has tremendous upside for the Frog.

“Thursday night has always been a night of patience for us,” he says. “We’re up against eight of the top 10 shows in our demo but we think if we establish our presence there now, we’ll be ready when ‘Friends’ eventually goes off the air.”

As for the rest of the WB’s sked, “We have anchor shows in place on the other four remaining nights,” he explains. “I really don’t feel like there’s a significant amount of change.”

In terms of specific programs, the Frog’s hype machine has been croaking loudly about “Everwood,” the Treat Williams starrer that’s cut from the same cuddly cloth as lead-in “7th Heaven.” Early critical reaction has been mixed to positive, but net execs think the skein reps the WB’s best bet at a breakout this fall.

Comicbook caper “Birds of Prey” will certainly attract the sci-fi geek brigade, but its 9 p.m. Wednesday slot is one of the toughest in television and its Byzantine pilot episode may turn off all but the most devoted. By contrast, tween superstar Amanda Bynes should add a big jolt of energy to the WB’s decently performing Friday comedy block.

Overall, most industry insiders expect the WB to have an OK season — no huge breakthroughs, but no giant collapse, either.

That seems fine by Levin, who uses three words to describe how he sees the Frog’s growth evolving:

“Slow and steady.”

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