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‘Felicity’ survives as WB plays it safe

Skein to share slot with 'Jack'; lineup features 6 new shows

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NEW YORK — Frog execs have croaked up a fall WB schedule heavy on stability.

The weblet will play it safe in many ways next fall: Its Monday through Wednesday lineup remains unchanged; two proven performers have been swiped from rival networks, and one of them even remains in its same timeslot; comedy returns to Sunday, where the network first launched with laffers five years ago; and three underperforming but signature shows will return after all.

Beyond that, the WB this morning will announce a fall schedule that includes one new drama and three new comedies.

The WB does have one unusual programming trick up its sleeves: Both “Felicity” and “Jack & Jill” have been slotted in the same time slot, Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. (Daily Variety, May 15).

Under the so-called “wheel” concept, the network will air 11 originals of “Felicity” in that spot through fall, then replace it with “Jack & Jill” in January. After that, the network will air 11 additional episodes of “Felicity” (barring any fall ratings disaster) in the slot come springtime.

Frog executives figure a repeat-free “Felicity” and “Jack & Jill” will strengthen both shows’ overall standing. The two dramas generally collapse in reruns, which hurts the shows’ season-to-date figures and the WB’s overall ratings.

WB execs were also inspired by ABC’s decision to split the Tuesday 10 p.m. slot between “Once and Again” and “NYPD Blue,” allowing for an all-original season of “Blue.” Alphabet web is expected to do the same thing this year with “Gideon’s Crossing” and “Blue.”

“We’re looking at the way people watch TV, which has changed with the introduction of alternative programming sources,” one senior WB exec said.

According to that exec, the WB and Imagine Television are in discussions to carve out a secondary window for “Felicity”– most likely on a vertically integrated cable outlet.

The move to repurpose “Felicity” is similar to the decision last season by Disney and ABC to rebroadcast episodes of “Once and Again” just a few days later on Lifetime. As a matter of fact, Lifetime (which is partly owned by Disney/ABC) is one of the possible homes for a second run of “Felicity.”

Finding an additional home for “Felicity” is one way to get around the financial problem that comes with not airing reruns in season. Networks generally make money only after a series episode is repeated; the original airing normally covers the studio license fee.

“It’s something that we felt would help us make good on lost revenue,” the exec said.

The WB may also potentially save money by making fewer full-season pickups. Putting two shows in one slot means a backup is readily available should one show stumble toward the end of its initial 13-episode run.

The fact that “Felicity” and “Jack & Jill” would return wasn’t a given in the first place. At one point it didn’t look good for either skein. But The WB eventually decided to take a “favored nations” approach to renewing “Felicity,” “Roswell” and “Jack & Jill,” giving each show (from Imagine/Touchstone, 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros., respectively) a 13-episode pickup and one more shot at survival.

Mouse moves

The return of “Felicity” and “Popular” weren’t necessarily done deals until very recently; sources said that the tense relationship between Disney and Time Warner delayed the final firm go, and the return of Warner Bros. TV’s “Norm” on ABC was somehow tied to last-minute hardball negotiations.

In the end, the WB picked up “Popular” for 22 episodes and didn’t change the license fee to “Felicity.” As for “Jack & Jill,” WB execs are said to be especially hot on series co-star Amanda Peet.

New shows next fall include the Warner Bros. drama “Gilmore Girls,” which follows a single mom who runs a New England bed and breakfast; the ATG comedy “Grosse Pointe,” from Darren Star, about the behind-the-scenes goings on of a soap opera; the Warner Bros. sketch comedy “Hype”; and the Warner Bros. comedy “Nikki,” from Bruce Helford and starring Nikki Cox.

Midseason pickups include the Warner Bros. drama “Dead Last,” about a struggling rock band that helps the dead.

Lotsa laffers

The WB schedule includes four hours of comedy, up from two at the start of last season. The web, which has long thrived on young adult dramas while struggling to make any in-road with laffers, made developing comedy a top priority for fall.

The new lineup also moves the web’s block of urban comedies to Sunday — including “The PJs,” which jumps from Fox as expected (Daily Variety, March 2).

On Mondays, the network sticks with top drama “7th Heaven” at 8 p.m. and the return of sci-fi “Roswell” at 9. Tuesdays continue with “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” at 8 p.m., followed by “Angel.” “Dawson’s Creek” leads Wednesday at 8 p.m., followed by “Felicity”/ “Jack & Jill.”

New drama “Gilmore Girls,” at 8 p.m., is said to be a much more “broader” show for Thursday night than “Popular” was in that slot. “Charmed” continues at 9 p.m.

On Friday the WB will go after the defecting “TGIF” audience with ABC import “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” at 8 p.m., “Grosse Pointe” at 8:30 p.m. and the move of “Popular” at 9 p.m.

Sunday starts with “The PJs,” “Jamie Foxx Show,” “Steve Harvey Show” and “For Your Love” from 7 to 9. The favorite among WB insiders, “Hype,” tentpoles at 9 p.m., followed by “Nikki.” With comedy taking over for drama, WB execs expect to average at least a 3 rating on the night.

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