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Frog, UPN face season of challenges

Advice for netlets: get more dramatic

LAST IN A THREE-PART ANALYSIS

HOLLYWOOD — One year after riding high and setting network records right and left, the Frog leaped back to earth this season.

But armed with the knowledge of some sked mistakes and a smart strategy on how to cut down on long stretches of repeats, the WB is still a force to be reckoned with heading into 2004-05 television season.

Key to the unveiling of this fall’s Frog sked could be the relocation of both its top drama (“Smallville”) and comedy (“Reba”) as well as novel ways of double-pumping shows.

In the third of a three-part series looking at the nets prior to the upfronts, here’s a peek at the WB and UPN:

The WB

The loss of “Dawson’s Creek” combined with declines by other hit shows made for some ugly year-to-year comparisons for the Frog. Net has acknowledged it came late to the reality dance, too, and improvement in this area could also help its perf next season.

It still has a foundation of hit shows, including late-blooming rookie drama “One Tree Hill,” and will likely look to add a couple of new dramas and comedies to its sked.

Idea of double-pumping some series weekly (same episode twice) and having two series share a time period (a la “Felicity” and “Jack and Jill” a few years ago) is a great one.

Look for the Frog to use tough slots like Sunday at 7 and maybe Thursday at 8 to air encore episodes of dramas. For example, “Everwood” could play Monday at 9 and Thursday at 8 for 13 weeks in the fall, sit out while a new skein airs in the same pattern during winter and then return for the last nine weeks of the season.

This would nearly eliminate repeats in the Monday hour while allowing the net to recoup ad revs by playing “Everwood” a second time.

One of the WB’s problems this past season was the move of its top shows (“Smallville” and “Reba”) to the 8 o’clock hour, and putting less popular shows behind them to air in higher-viewed timeslots.

Look for “Reba,” a strong performer on Friday, to get a chance on a midweek night, possibly Wednesday, while the net keeps its Friday comedy lineup, with “Grounded for Life” and “What I Like About You” both still in the mix.

“Steve Harvey’s Big Time” performed well for the net on Thursday and deserves to be back in some form as well.

As for dramas, net might rejigger some of its pieces, with important skein “Smallville” likely headed back to a 9 o’clock slot after suffering sharp ratings declines when moved to Wednesdays at 8.

Among new shows, “The Mountain” (a family drama set at a mountain ski resort) sounds like a winner and could have more male appeal than most Frog hours. Net also seems to be high on “Jack and Bobby” (a drama about two brothers, one of whom is destined to become president), a possible contender to share a timeslot with “Everwood.”

And promising half-hours include family laffers “Shacking Up” with Fran Drescher, “Commando Nanny” from Mark Burnett and “Blue Collar Comedy” with Jeff Foxworthy.

Also encouraging is the net’s plan for original movies, which in success would help bring new viewers to the net while further reducing the number of repeats.

Bottom line: The WB needs to generate some heat with a new drama or reality show and give “Reba” a chance to showcase comedy for the Frog on a higher-profile night.

UPN

Net has something working with its African-American comedies on Monday and Tuesday, and appears to have a viable franchise reality player in “America’s Next Top Model,” but now it needs to turn its attention to drama.

And that’s where most of the attention is focused heading into the fall, as UPN looks for a pair of dramas that could provide a boost to Wednesday, where “Star Trek: Enterprise” is really struggling and likely will not return.

It would be tough to launch two new hours on one night, but the net needs to find a compatible pair among its drama pilots, which include the light, supernatural-tinged “Silver Lake,” the lesbian P.I. duo of “Nikki & Nora” and the legal/family tale “Kevin Hill,” starring Taye Diggs.

On the comedy front, “The Parkers” ended its successful five-year run this month and could be replaced on Monday by a “One on One” spinoff. Another high-profile entry is “The Bad Girl’s Guide,” starring Jenny McCarthy.

Until the net gets something going on Wednesday, don’t look for it to spend too much energy on Friday, where movies could return. Wrestling’s “WWE Smackdown” will be back on Thursdays.

Bottom line: “Top Model” rescued UPN this season, but the net won’t be a consistent player until it adds a signature Wednesday drama.

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