WB, UPN on the hunt for femme auds

The weblet see-saw has balanced itself.

UPN launched on top, but the WB quickly stole its thunder. Now, 10 years after the birth of both nets, the WB and UPN are both coming off disappointing seasons — and heading into the upfronts targeting similar auds.

The WB has drifted toward a slightly more Middle America bent (“Everwood,” “Reba”), while UPN maintains a more urban approach (“Kevin Hill,” “Girlfriends”), but both have their eyes on the same prize: young women.

Whether either network reverses its declines — or once again takes control of the teeter-totter — will depend on the strength of development. Here’s how both networks are sizing up for May:

THE WB Frosh WB Entertainment prexy David Janollari says his development strategy this season can be summed up in three words: new hit shows.

“It’s that simple,” Janollari says. “Our No. 1 priority is to find the next generation of big, buzzworthy, breakout shows.”

Janollari’s first full year on the job has been made tougher by the Frog’s failure to schedule a single new hit drama or reality show this season. It hasn’t helped that rival UPN is now going right after the WB’s chief demo target — femmes 12-34 — or that reality hits like Fox’s “American Idol” are most popular with that same demo.

Janollari is tweaking the WB’s strategy by focusing on the older half of the net’s demo, going after viewers in their late 20s and early 30s.

“That section of the audience hasn’t been reflected on the screen, and it’s the biggest part of our audience,” he says. “The perception we’ve tried to fight is that we’re just a teen destination.”

Frog is developing shows with so-called dual-entry points, so that teen and kid characters in shows are balanced by more mature storylines. “For every Chad Michael Murray, there’s a Moira Kelly,” Janollari says.

Hot skeins on the WB’s development roster include David E. Kelley’s “Felicity”-like “Halley’s Comet”; Tom Fontana-produced college drama “The Bedford Diaries”; and a pair of projects from Jerry Bruckheimer.

The good news for the WB is that veteran skeins like “Gilmore Girls” and “Everwood” saw ratings upticks this year, while midseason laffer “Living With Fran” looks like a keeper. Janollari thinks the success of those shows, along with soph sensation “One Tree Hill,” means he can focus his energies on fixing the Frog’s two biggest problem nights: Sunday and Thursday.

“Sunday is the most challenging night on the TV landscape because of the amazing strength of ABC,” he says.

His prescription: “Aggressive and counterprogramming are the words.”

Even with “Friends” gone, Thursday has been even more brutal for the WB. This week, the net will test out an all blue-collar-themed comedy bloc to see if that can get some traction, but some wonder if the night works as a lab for letting buzzworthy dramas (“Jack & Bobby”?) slowly build an aud, as “Gilmore Girls” did during its infancy.

Likewise, with Fox’s Sunday comedies slipping, the WB may want to take a crack at laffers on that night. That would give the net a nice flow of buzzworthy dramas on weekdays and lightweight laffers come the weekend.

UPN Weblet’s transformation from jock net to chick magnet is nearly complete, if the net’s upfront marketing tagline — “Where the Girls Are” — is any indication.

With “Star Trek: Enterprise” sailing to the final frontier (that is, cancellation), UPN inches one step closer toward creating a cohesive, femme-targeted Monday-Friday sked.

Nevertheless, the male-dominated “WWE Smackdown” is still too strong an asset for UPN to give up.

“We have been tackling this network show by show, night by night,” says UPN Entertainment prexy Dawn Ostroff. “Wrestling is still profitable. The rest of the nights we will hopefully have a good flow.”

“The ultimate goal,” Ostroff says of the netlet’s target 18-34 female aud, “is to keep them for the whole week.”

Meanwhile, Ostroff contends that “Where the Girls Are” is not just a statement on its target aud, it also highlights the face of UPN, from Tyra Banks and “Veronica Mars” star Kristen Bell to the net’s Monday night lineup and upcoming reality star Britney Spears.

Next season, net hopes to capitalize on the ratings strength of “America’s Next Top Model” and critical acclaim of “Veronica Mars.”

That includes potentially expanding its comedy scope beyond African-American female-centered shows like “Girlfriends” and “Eve” to include entries like the Shannen Doherty starrer “Wingwoman.” Net is also high on two pilots with male leads: “The Show With A.J. Calloway,” starring the BET host; and the Chris Rock-produced “Everybody Hates Chris.”

On the drama side, potential entries include the Spelling drama “Crazy,” starring Lara Flynn Boyle; Joel Silver sudser “The Studio”; and the Jennifer Lopez-produced “South Beach.”

“We looked at developing a lot of different things in a lot of different directions,” Ostroff says.

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