Net plans to go out with a bang

The Frog is planning one last hurrah before it croaks.

The WB will sign off the air forever on Sunday, Sept. 17, by rebroadcasting the pilot episodes of several of its signature skeins, including “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer,” “Felicity” and “Dawson’s Creek.”

Landing the rights to air the series required outgoing WB supremo Garth Ancier and the net’s remaining execs to conduct a delicate licensing ballet with the outside studios that own those skeins, and cablers that now play home to the shows.

In addition to the pilots, Frog plans to fill its final night with a bevy of classic promos and image campaigns from the WB’s 11-year history. There’ll also be a final tribute reel featuring the hundreds of thesps who’ve appeared on WB skeins over the years.

Such a farewell is unprecedented: When one-time fourth network DuMont signed off the air for the last time in 1956, it did so with little fanfare — and with very little coverage.

“How do you end a network?” Ancier asked rhetorically. “This will be an homage to our shows.”

The planning process began with a group of remaining WB execs, who made a list of the net’s most memorable series.

“We kept coming back to the same significant shows,” Ancier said. “Certainly ‘Dawson’s’ and ‘Buffy’ were no-brainers.”

Because the Frog’s final bow will take place on a Sunday — a night on which the WB airs programming from 5-10 p.m. — net’s blowout bye-bye will be a full five hours.

Night will kick off at 5 p.m. with the J.J. Abrams- and Matt Reeves-created “Felicity,” followed at 6 by Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt’s “Angel.” The two-hour pilot to Whedon’s “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer” will run in primetime from 7-9 p.m.

Appropriately, “Dawson’s Creek” — the Kevin Williamson teen sudser that put the WB on the map — will be the final show to air on the Frog, running from 9-10 p.m.

Some shows that would seem a natural for the last night — such as “Smallville” and “7th Heaven” — won’t appear because they’ll live on at the merged WB-UPN, which is called the CW.

anding rights to air the series one last time was a sticky process. Most of the shows are airing in off-net syndication on cable, and navigating those license holders was a bit more complicated.

“Every cable network that runs these shows had to give the rights to us,” Ancier said. “And they all wanted their own pound of flesh.”

That meant breaking the taboo of promoting cablers on the network’s air with date-and-time promos. (Usually broadcast networks allow only cable ads that tell viewers to “check local listings” to find the show).

But under this unusual circumstance — and with the WB folding anyway — the Frog and its departing affiliates were willing to let it slide.

The shows’ creators, producers and studios were game for the idea. But because all of the shows come from outside the WB’s Warner Bros. parent, Ancier and company had to find a way to make it attractive for those outside studios to license the shows for a night.

Solution: All the studios involved will get a free on-air promo of the DVD collections of their respective skeins.

Beyond that, Sony Pictures TV (which produced “Dawson’s Creek”), Touchstone/Imagine (“Felicity”) and 20th Century Fox TV (“Buffy” and “Angel”) waived the usual license fee; the WB was required only to pay the necessary residuals.

“Everyone was great about it,” Ancier said. “No one was making money off of this.”

Three of the five hours to air on the WB’s last night (“Buffy,” “Angel”) will be from 20th Century Fox TV — ironic, as the WB and 20th had more than a few financial run-ins.

In particular, the night reps a homecoming for “Buffy,” which moved to UPN after the studio and Frog couldn’t come to terms on a license renewal. It’s the first time the show has returned to the WB since leaving for the rival netlet in 2001.

There had been speculation the WB would sign off at the end of August. But the new CW net — which is replacing the WB in many markets –isn’t set to begin broadcasting until Monday, Sept. 18.

Across town, UPN has not yet announced how, or if, it will mark its own demise, which takes place the previous Friday, Sept. 15. One possibility: The netlet may simply shut off the lights after its usual weekly airing of “Friday Night Smackdown.”

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