Net flogs the Frog

HOLLYWOOD — Michigan J. Frog has croaked — and with his passing, execs at the WB hope to finally shed their image as the Clearasil net.

WB topper Garth Ancier made it very clear that the Frog net would no longer be using the classic Warner Bros. animated amphibian as a mascot.

“In my opinion, the frog is dead and buried,” Ancier told crix at the previously news-free summer edition of the semiannual TV Critics Assn. press tour. “The frog was on life support for a long time and then we got permission from a federal court to removed the feeding tube.”

Later, in an interview with Daily Variety, the longtime WB exec made it clear he’s always wanted to muzzle Michigan.

“I’ve hated the frog since day one,” he said. “I think it’s a dumb logo.”

WB Entertainment prexy David Janollari, who’s been at the net for barely a year, emphasized that he was just as anti-Frog — and not because of aesthetics.

Michigan “was a symbol that, especially in the testing that we did, perpetuated the young teen feel of the network, and that is not the image that we want to put out to our audience,” he said.

Indeed, while the mini media frenzy over a frog was something of a distraction from the usual point of press tour — i.e., promoting the fall sked — the hoopla actually played into WB execs’ desire to send out the message that the net is growing up.

“We certainly hear it a lot: ‘My 14-year-old daughter loves your network. I don’t watch it, (because) it’s really for her,’ ” Ancier said. “We’re just trying to break that perception because our median age is obviously not 14. That isn’t what we monetize.”

Ancier said internal Frog research has consistently shown that when viewers age 12-24 are asked if the WB is a network “for people like me,” the responses are very favorable; when “older” viewers 25-34 are asked the same question, the stats aren’t as impressive.

As a result, in addition to committing Frogicide, Janollari has put together one of the WB’s most mature-skewing skeds, including skeins toplined by older thesps such as Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith.

“It’s important to us to continue to reinforce that the audience who is 18-34 can come to our network and see shows that are relevant to them,” Janollari said, dismissing the idea that the net might be getting too old too quick.

“For every Don Johnson, there’s a Jay Baruchel. For every Melanie Griffith, there’s a Sara Gilbert and Molly Stanton,” he said, referring to younger cast members of “Just Legal” and “Twins,” respectively.

Janollari and Ancier, as well as senior WB communications staffers, went out of their way to make it clear that nobody at the net had a personal grudge against Michigan J., an Oscar-winning toon titan of the Warner Bros. corporate family. Ancier said he had no problem with Daily Variety and other news outlets continuing to refer to the WB as “the Frog,” and a network spokesman made sure to tell reporters that Warner Bros. animation chief Sander Schwartz considered Michigan J. to be “alive and well (and) living in Bolivia.”

While the fracas over the frog generated the most buzz from the WB’s exec session, Ancier and Janollari discussed other topics:

–James Marsters, best known as Spike from the WB’s “Buffy”/ “Angel” franchise, will return to the net with a six-episode arc on “Smallville.” He’ll play Brainiac, a familiar DC Comics villain. “Smallville” star John Schneider will also film an episode with former “Dukes of Hazzard” co-star Tom Wopat later in the season.

–With the WB (and UPN) both skirting with record-low ratings on some nights this summer, Janollari acknowledged the net needs to do a better job finding cost-effective summer programming. “It’s a real priority for us to find a number of shows to roll out,” he said.

–Janollari expressed confidence that the move of “Smallville” and “Everwood” to Thursday nights will pay off. “We can’t imagine these two shows…won’t significantly increase our performance on the night,” he said.

–Canceling “Jack and Bobby” after just one season repped “the most heartbreaking experience…that I’ve been through in my entire career,” Janollari said.

–Janollari confirmed the casting of Jason Lewis in “Charmed” (Daily Variety, July 22) and said “Extra” host Mark McGrath wouldn’t be appearing on the skein.

–While dismissing the notion of a rivalry with UPN, Janollari nonetheless took a mild shot at the Viacom net’s transition to a young femme-focused outlet. “We’re flattered that they want to be us,” he said, carefully acknowledging UPN’s leadership has “done a really good job” and has launched some “bona fide hits.”

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