The WB warms ‘Wizard’

Weblet will air classic during holidays

HOLLYWOOD — The WB will showcase classic film “The Wizard of Oz” this upcoming holiday season — the first time Dorothy and Toto have been seen on broadcast TV since May 1998.

“Wizard of Oz” has aired exclusively on the Turner cable networks since then. Now that the WB is a part of the Turner fold, execs at the weblet hope to turn pic into a family-oriented holiday perennial, much like NBC does in December with “It’s a Wonderful Life” and ABC does in the spring with “The Ten Commandments.”

Auds traveled down the yellow brick road almost every year after CBS first aired “The Wizard of Oz” in 1956. Those broadcasts on the Eye (and, from 1967-1975, on NBC) helped turn “The Wizard of Oz” into the widely held classic it is today.

According to Nielsen, the 1959, 1964 and 1965 airings of “Oz” are among the top 20 highest-rated theatrical showings of all time on television. But in recent years, with the wide availability of “Oz” on video, ratings had declined.

After CBS’ 1998 airing, “Oz’s” 39th on network TV, Turner — which owned the film through its acquisition of MGM’s classic library — opted to place the movie on its cable outlets.

“We learned last season that our audience responds to classic material like this, as it is yet another way for parents to share childhood memories with their families just as they do with ‘Smallville,’ ” said WB Entertainment prexy Jordan Levin, announcing the scheduling at the network’s portion of the Television Critics Assn. press tour.

Meanwhile, also at the tour this weekend, both emerging networks quibbled over whether they should be invited to the big network table.

WB execs said they had earned their place to be considered part of the “Big Five,” given the Frog’s output of critically acclaimed series, healthy sales at the upfront market and strong perf with young demos during the May sweeps.

“Our audience views the quality that we do at a level of or exceeding other networks in some cases, and for the producers and the writers and executives who work on these shows, I think it is insulting to demean the work as something sort of separate and aside from what the other networks do,” Levin said. “At some point you want to be treated with the respect that you think you deserve and other people give you.”

The WB’s notion that there’s only a “Big Five” didn’t sit well with CBS topper Leslie Moonves, however, who pointed out that UPN finished ahead of the WB last year in total viewers.

Other tidbits coming out of Pasadena’s Ritz Carlton hotel:

  • Moonves and new UPN Entertainment prexy Dawn Ostroff reiterated their mantra that their bid to turn the network into a destination for adults 18-34 has just begun.

    “The goal is to start stringing nights together,” Ostroff said. “What we have in UPN is a brand and franchise every night of the week.”

    Moonves said there are no plans to repurpose any more CBS programming on UPN anytime soon, given the disappointing results from rebroadcasting “Wolf Lake” and “Amazing Race 2” on the weblet.

    Moonves also expects to seal a new long-term affiliation deal with News Corp.’s major-market UPN affils by the first of next year.

  • The WB will offer some programming in high-definition for the first time this fall. According to the net, “Smallville,” “Reba” and frosh entry “Everwood” are among the entries that will be broadcast in the digital format.

    “It’s important to the affiliate body, the Tribune guys in particular,” said WB prexy-chief operating officer Jed Petrick.

    Petrick said the weblet is in discussions with various entities about potentially underwriting the high-def telecasts.

  • Just in time for Christmas, “Mrs. Beasley” dolls may be coming to a toy store near you.

    The WB, Turner and Pariah Prods. have held preliminary talks with various toy manufacturers about producing a doll similar to the one Buffy totes around on the net’s “Family Affair” remake, exec producer and Pariah topper Gavin Polone said.

  • UPN has quietly dropped all references to “United Paramount Network” as its name, now that Paramount and United Television (an arm of one-time UPN owner Chris-Craft) are no longer in charge of the network (and in the case of United, no longer in existence).

  • Speaking of the ex-jockstrap net, UPN will break with weblet tradition and launch most of its fall sked opposite the other nets during “premiere week.”

    Netlet’s Monday night lineup (including new entry “Half and Half”) will bow Sept. 23, followed by its Tuesday sked (featuring frosh drama “Haunted”) Sept. 24 and UPN’s Friday movie Sept. 27.

    Thursday’s “WWE Smackdown” is always in originals, while UPN’s Wednesday night sked — featuring the new version of “The Twilight Zone” — will bow a week earlier, on Sept. 18.

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