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Nuptials chill hot netlet race

CW may challenge Big Four on some nights in young demos

About a week ago, the fact UPN has a shot at topping the WB in ratings would have made for an intriguing storyline for the second half of the season.

But the air was let out of that balloon when CBS Corp. (which runs UPN) and Warner Bros. (which runs the WB) decided to merge the two weblets, forming a network called the CW.

While UPN and the WB will continue their rivalry through this season, there may be something of a truce between the two. After all, each now wants programming on the other net to succeed so that the sum of their parts is a winner next fall.

The CW will take the best programs from the WB and UPN to form a 13-hour primetime sked that should be able to challenge the Big Four on some nights in key young demos.

While they seek the same aud (12-34, with a femme focus), UPN has consistently targeted an edgier, more urban crowd, while the WB has fared better in the suburbs and with shows set in small towns. It will be interesting to see how the two mesh.

At the midway point of the season, according to Nielsen, UPN has the lead on the WB in the 18-34 demo (1.5 to 1.4), a reversal of their year-ago standing. Here’s a look:

WHAT’S WORKED: It hasn’t been a great season for newbies on these nets, with the WB’s “Supernatural” and UPN’s “Everybody Hates Chris” looking best.

“Supernatural,” which has retained about 80% of its “Gilmore Girls” lead-in on Tuesday, would fare better behind “Smallville,” which has similar male appeal.

Speaking of “Gilmore” and “Smallville,” both vets are bright lights for the WB and will be anchors on the new net. Frog is also sitting pretty with the second edition of reality series “Beauty and the Geek.”

At UPN, “Chris” opened strong in September (7.8 million viewers for its preem) and has performed as well as could be expected for a new 8 o’clock show airing on a busy night. Net was hoping it would be a bigger, broader success, but more than half its aud is African-American.

UPN also continues to do solid biz with its Monday comedy block and Friday’s “WWE Smackdown,” while “America’s Next Top Model” is easily its top draw in young demos.

WHAT HASN’T WORKED: UPN continues to have a tough time with dramas, as sudsers “Sex, Love and Secrets” and “South Beach” crashed and burned.

And “Veronica Mars” has not really seen the ratings needle budge in its second season despite critical support and a cult following. Still, give “Veronica” a good shot at sticking around. (How about a “Gilmore”/”Veronica” pairing?)

At the WB, an attempt to skew older with shows like dramas “Just Legal” and “Related” and comedy “Twins” has fizzled, a lesson for the new network to keep in mind.

WHAT’S AHEAD: The WB has a pair of promising new dramas set for April in “Pepper Dennis” and “Bedford Diaries,” though some question how much of a promotional push they will get given the Frog’s lame-duck situation.

UPN’s only new skedded product is the unscripted “Get This Party Started,” which bows in February.

As for the CW, look for the WB to do the heavy lifting on the drama side, while UPN will bring over more comedies. “One Tree Hill” and “Everwood” are likely to return, but fading vet “Charmed” may not.

BOTTOM LINE: The WB’s scripted assets and UPN’s unscripted skeins should combine for a competitive and profitable network.

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