Like the stars of its hit shows “Dawson’s Creek” and “One Tree Hill,” the WB has gone through its growing pains in front of millions. No one can identify with them more than one of the net’s forefathers, chairman Garth Ancier.
Over the past 10 years — seven of which he spent as the web’s chief decisionmaker — Ancier has watched the WB, the net that he and former topper Jamie Kellner built, like a proud papa. He became chairman in June.
While few TV execs can claim to have been present at the creation of even a single broadcast network, for Ancier (and Kellner), the WB actually repped the second go-round at net-building. Both played key roles in shaping Rupert Murdoch’s Fox.
Ancier, who early in his career was a junior exec working with legendary Peacock programmer Brandon Tartikoff, was running NBC’s current department in his mid-20s, helping guide landmark skeins such as “The Cosby Show.”
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By 28, he was helping to launch Fox. After that, he headed Disney’s TV production unit for a year and helped the Democratic Party jazz up Bill Clinton’s convention coronation.
Before Ancier was 35, he managed to reinvent the daytime talkshow, handpicking Ricki Lake to usher in a more youthful era of gab.
He’s also the rare TV exec who actually has passions outside the biz (and golf). Ancier is a huge wine lover with an impressive collection of his own. At Frog functions, those in the know ask the bartender if any of Ancier’s private stash is available.
Long before the iPod revolution, Ancier was a rabid Apple advocate — so much so, that the company named him one of its Applemasters (Michael Crichton and Richard Dreyfuss are part of that club).
In recent years, Ancier has become known for an annual Oscar bash for TV types, a couple hundred of whom gather at his house to watch the awards on the latest bigscreen high-def TV.
Today, he watches with an ever-keen eye as the WB goes through the ups and downs of adolescence.
Ancier says the original grouping that got Fox off the ground with its bad boys of TV imagery had some homework to do when it came to conceiving a brand for the Frog. “The incentive was to see if we could pull it off again.
“When the WB came along, there was already Fox and then UPN. There were also cable networks getting more audiences every day. The big question on our minds was if we could do this again with all the competition.”
Some of that competish was successfully gobbled up in 1998 when the WB stole away five major Sinclair Broadcast Group stations from UPN. That overturned the balance, along with some powerhouse marketing for its originals.
Ancier credits programming whiz Susanne Daniels, who succeeded him as entertainment prexy, with unearthing such hidden gems as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Dawson’s Creek” that jumpstarted the WB’s reign over the teen scene in the 1997-98 season.
“Who buys the remake of a not particularly good movie several years later and turns it into smash hit?” Ancier says, remembering the day Joss Whedon came in to pitch the idea.
“He pitched all 22 episodes for ‘Buffy’ in the room. We just all sat there looking at each other in disbelief,” he recalls.
Ancier leap-frogged to NBC in 1999 to be head of entertainment. He rejoined the Time Warner family in 2001 as exec VP of programming for Turner Broadcasting, once again reteaming with Kellner, now head of TBS. But while he was helping to reshape CNN, he continued to weigh in on WB matters.
The cast of sizzling twentysomethings of “Dawson’s Creek” became the network’s trademark. The net became adept at finding those unique voices to pen its staple dramas — a talented group that includes ABC golden boy J.J. Abrams (“Felicity”), Amy Sherman-Palladino (“Gilmore Girls”) and Greg Berlanti (“Everwood,” “Jack & Bobby”).
But the Frog stumbled in recent seasons with such fare as “Birds of Prey” and the ill-fated “Tarzan.” “We tried not to clone our successes,” he says, acknowledging that not jumping into reality TV earlier was a misstep, as was targeting solely teens. “We’re definitely seeking out more of the older half of our core 12- to 34-year-old audience.”
Marketing for the latest crop of series, from “Jack & Bobby” and “Blue Collar TV” to returning series “Gilmore Girls” and “Everwood,” prominently feature such stars as Christine Lahti, Lauren Graham, Jeff Foxworthy and Reba McIntyre.
“Going forward, my assignment is to repopulate our schedule with some buzzworthy hit shows,” Ancier says. “ABC just did it, even in an era with 200 channels. So it can be done.”
(Josef Adalian contributed to this report.)