Frog’s main man swings from the trees

Network seeks older auds without upsetting teen base

It’s easy being green — if you’re the WB.

Luck seems to shine on the Frog, which has been able to replenish its schedule in recent years despite the loss of most of the network’s original signature shows.

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Felicity” and “Dawson’s Creek” are all memories. Yet WB execs have been able to replace the pipeline with newer entries such as “Smallville” and “Everwood.”

On the drama side, WB will next look for franchise glory in “Tarzan,” which has already garnered quite a bit of attention for underwear model-turned-thesp Travis Fimmel.

And with “One Tree Hill,” Frog is hoping to return to its sudsy, “Dawson”-style roots.

” ‘One Tree Hill’ is the first attempt in a couple of seasons on our part to really go after that young soap in the tradition of ‘Dawson’s’ or ‘Felicity,’ ” says WB Entertainment prexy Jordan Levin.

But the real challenge comes on Thursday and Friday nights, where the network will take yet another stab at creating some comedy traction.

WB hasn’t had much laffer success in recent years beyond “Reba,” and this year will have to compete with ABC and Fox for the Friday night yuks crowd.

“We’ve spent two years focusing on comedy,” Levin says. “We focused on drama early on because everybody was doing comedies. Now everyone’s doing dramas, so we’re going the comedy direction. And I think we’ve put some good building blocks in place.”

Net appears to have a solid contender in “All About the Andersons,” and is still hungry to turn Fox import “Grounded for Life” into a hit.

As for Thursday, WB has tried for years to make scripted comedy work at 8 p.m., in the hope that the net would have a leg up when “Friends” went away.

But “Friends” didn’t go away as soon as anyone expected. Which is why the net is now trying the unscripted route in the hour, with “Steve Harvey’s Big Time” and “JKX: The Jamie Kennedy Experiment.”

Besides the comedy goal, WB execs are also conscious of finding a way to continue to grow its audience base into an older (adults 18-34) crowd without upsetting its core teen base.

“There’s an inevitable aging process,” Levin says. “If you look at most brands, whether it’s entertainment brands or otherwise, you really have to make an effort to maintain stability with your median age.”

Beyond the WB’s behind-the-scenes drama — as the question of who will replace Jamie Kellner as top Frog remains unanswered — the net’s performance this season will also have an effect on talks between AOL Time Warner and Tribune to renew their joint venture. Tribune’s pact with the conglom expires in 2004.

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