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Frog web, WBTV synch on synergy

New comedy series on sked

After years of sometimes strained relations, the WB network and sister studio Warner Bros. TV are now singing the sweet song of synergy, Frog net execs declared Tuesday.

“It is a new era,” WB CEO Jamie Kellner said, responding to a query about his net’s dealings with WBTV since former Fox Broadcasting prexy Peter Roth assumed control of the studio. Kellner’s remarks came during a session with reporters at the semiannual TV Critics Assn. press tour.

Kellner and WB Entertainment prexy Susanne Daniels backed up the positive words with definitive action, formalizing a 13-episode commitment to a fall 2000 laffer to be created and exec produced by Bruce Helford (“The Drew Carey Show”) with Nikki Cox (“Unhappily Ever After”) as star. Both Helford and Cox are repped by UTA.

The WB also ordered WBTV’s “The Miseducation of Piper Fein,” an hour-long, multiethnic comedy-drama from writer-producer Yvette Lee Bowser (“Living Single,” “For Your Love”).

“I love working with Peter Roth,” Daniels said Tuesday. “He is one of the strongest creative executives today.” Since he’s been at WBTV, she said, he’s shown that he “understands the WB and what we’re trying to do. It’s terrific.”

While development for the 2000-2001 season is just now getting under way, sources say the Frog net has already given firm pilot orders to at least eight WBTV projects.

Stormy relationship

The early orders and kind words stand in marked contrast to the perception just six months ago, when the WB and WBTV were at odds with each other. At the time, the studio, under Tony Jonas, often seemed upset at the network for not ordering more of its product, while Frog net execs appeared frustrated by their lack of access to top WBTV producers and stars.

While praising Roth’s handling of the WB-WBTV relationship, Kellner said there’s been no corporate mandate for the two Time Warner units to work more closely with one another, even though it’s in TW’s best interests for the WB to purchase inhouse as much of its programming as possible.

Improved access

“Our rule is to put on the best show, and I think we’ve always done that,” Kellner said, hinting that net-studio relations have improved because the WB is now working with some of WBTV’s biggest names.

“When you deal with the A-level showrunners at a studio, the odds of them having one of the best shows is much higher,” he said.

Kellner said it’s too soon to predict the future of the WB’s relationship with Disney-owned Touchstone Television, which is now being absorbed into the ABC fold. Some network sources have all but ruled out buying new pilots from the still-evolving unit, arguing it makes no sense to actively develop a program with a competitor.

‘Relax’ on Disney

“I believe we should sit back and relax and not get all nervous about (Touchstone/ABC),” Kellner told reporters. “We’ll let their actions speak louder than their words.”

The WB’s “Felicity” and the upcoming “Popular” and “Brutally Normal” are Disney productions, and Daniels said the WB is skedded to work with the Mouse House on at least one more pilot.

“I’m excited about continuing to work with them,” she said.

Continuing what’s become a theme at this summer’s TCA meeting, WB execs took some heat for what some critics charged was a lack of ethnic diversity in the net’s dramas. One scribe even pointed to the absence of black faces in a collage of WB talent featured on two giant videoscreens flanking Kellner and Daniels.

Kellner said the charges didn’t ring true.

“I think we’re doing a great job” with diversity, he said, rejecting the notion that the WB was planning to get out of the African-American sitcom biz. “In no way are we abandoning … our interest.”

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