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WB demo demolition

Weblet urges balance to revive ratings

The exec duo now officially in charge of the WB insisted Tuesday that Nielsen Media Research was a major culprit in the sudden disappearance of young viewers from the troubled fall sked, but promised the weblet would leap back to action with a balance of dramas, made-for TV movies, reality and comedy.

“We’re not going to get anywhere pointing the finger at Nielsen,” newly elevated WB CEO Jordan Levin said.

Morning sesh at the winter Television Critics Assn. press tour in Los Angeles marked a very public rite of passage for the Frog, with net founder Jamie Kellner making his last WB appearance. He was flanked by his successors: Levin and WB chair Garth Ancier.

Noticeably absent was WB prexy-chief operating officer Jed Petrick, who announced last week he is resigning. Insiders say Petrick, who was passed over for one of the top slots, wasn’t sure of his place in the post-Kellner restructuring. Petrick, who was in Gotham on Tuesday, will exit in April.

Levin told Daily Variety there are no immediate plans to hire someone to fill his previous job as entertainment prexy.

“In the abstract, it’s easy to say we need someone there,” Levin said. “But we have really strong, well-respected department heads. And internal or external, we don’t want to upset the apple cart. There’s no sense of urgency. But at some point, we’ll have to address it.”

Young at heart

Confident and breezy, Levin and Ancier said the Frog remains devoted to younger auds in developing new projects, despite last fall’s drop-off in the youth demos. They revealed it wasn’t just men 18-24 who disappeared from Nielsen’s sample, but also young women 18-20. While all the networks felt the impact of the fall-off, the WB was particularly vulnerable.

Heeding the networks’ call for an investigation, Nielsen concluded that part of the drop-off was indeed due to changes in its methodology, but that the rest of the fall-off was real. Nielsen, along with Madison Avenue, suggested that many of the new shows were skewed to older audiences, and that the nets themselves were to blame.

Ancier and Levin said that Nielsen’s methodology played a greater role than Nielsen contended it did. They cautioned that net execs should rely on their gut instincts — and not just Nielsen.

“I’d hate to rip up the sked based only on numbers. This season has been very complicated. You need a cool, level head,” Levin said.

‘Tarzan’ swings, misses

Still, Ancier and Levin were quick to concede that the ill-fated drama “Tarzan” was a bomb. This came on the heels of another failed, high-profile show, “Birds of Prey.”

Also during the TCA session, Levin announced that the net is permanently shelving “Fearless,” a crime drama produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Warner Bros. TV. “Fearless” never aired, while “Tarzan” was quickly pulled from the sked after bowing in September.

Levin said the network, Warner Bros. and Bruckheimer officially pulled the plug on “Fearless” last week, after failing to secure a deal with a new writer.

“We tried, but we couldn’t find anyone to crack the concept,” Levin said. “Trying to figure out how to make it work was tough, and we couldn’t do it.”

As the mid-season gets under way, Levin and Ancier were able to crow about the second season of the reality show “The Surreal Life,” which bowed Sunday to impressive, potentially record-breaking ratings. Show features porn star Ron Jeremy, former evangelist Tammy Faye Messner, rapper Vanilla Ice, former “Baywatch” regular Traci Bingham, actor Erik Estrada and former MTV “Real World Las Vegas” participant Trishelle Canatelle.

Soon, the WB also will bow the second season of another buzzworthy reality show, “High School Reunion.”

At the TCA session, the WB also previewed the mid-season sitcom, “The Help,” from “Married…With Children” creator Ron Leavitt. Comedy bows sometime this spring.

WB also presented a rough pilot of the Aaron Spelling-produced drama “Summerland.”

Levin said “One Tree Hill” also has the potential to be a hit. Although show bowed last fall, it is only now being heavily marketed.

Made-for market

Ancier said the trick to a successful sked is finding the right balance. He said theyare committed to signing more reality deals, as well as developing made-for-TV movies. On Monday (Daily Variety, Jan. 13, 2004), the net tapped former TBS longform exec Tana Nugent to serve as senior VP of the newly created made-for unit. Her first duty will be overseeing production of the previously announced adaptation of the “American Girls.”

“Now, there are no movies being targeted to young adults. There are not many family movies either,” Ancier said.

The WB made sure to tout its returning hit shows at TCA, hosting a panel on “Angel,” which is enjoying a particularly strong year. Levin said there is no reason for “Angel” to worry about competition from producer John Wells’ “Dark Shadows,” which is being developed for the WB.

“I think the two shows can co-exist. ‘Angel’ is an action-adventure, while ‘Dark Shadows’ is a gothic soap opera,” Levin said.

(Michael Schneider contributed to this report.)

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