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Weblets remain weblets

'Top Model' aids UPN to gain on the WB

HOLLYWOOD — It’s been a roller coaster 10 years for both UPN and the WB, but — at least ratings wise — they start their second decades in pretty much the same position.

At the midway point of the 2004-05 season, UPN is within striking distance of its rival for the first time in several years. Hit reality series “America’s Next Top Model” has made the difference, compensating for weakness in the scripted arena.

The WB, on the other hand, has yet to find that next hit — scripted or otherwise — and finds itself relying too much now on veteran series.

Here’s a closer look at the netlets, both of which recently celebrated 10 years on the air:

UPN

What happens when you make the right moves and the Nielsens don’t follow? New dramas “Veronica Mars” and “Kevin Hill” were both cheered by critics and made sense sked-wise airing behind established hits, but neither has showed any ratings spark.

Also troubling has been the decline for UPN’s urban laffers on Monday and Tuesday. While Nielsens for all comedies have dropped in recent years, UPN faves like “Girlfriends” and “Half and Half” had held up well — until now. Its Monday lineup has fallen by 23% year-to-year in adults 18-34.

Elsewhere, net has smartly pulled the plug on “Star Trek: Enterprise,” which has fallen even further on Fridays and doesn’t mesh well with the net’s other programming.

Also keep an eye on “WWE Smackdown,” the longtime wrestling franchise that has been flattened in the ratings (down another 17% this season) and is only a modest financial success. Net must weigh whether it makes sense to keep a show that reps 20% of its sked and may be keeping potential hit programs off the air.

But Wednesday’s “America’s Next Top Model” has been a calming force, standing as UPN’s top-rated program (2.8/8 in adults 18-34) and helping offset losses elsewhere.

Unscripted limited-run series “The Road to Stardom With Missy Elliot” has fared credibly on Wednesdays and new comedy “Cuts,” a spinoff of “One on One” to bow Mondays beginning next week, is the net’s best hope for any other midseason ratings jolt.

The WB

Two years after a dream season, the WB is foundering some, down 12% year-to-year in adults 18-34. The net has also lost its lock on the teen audience, which may be one of the reasons Frog execs have recently stated their desire to expand the WB’s audience beyond its 12-34 base.

New dramas “The Mountain” (mercilessly canceled) and “Jack & Bobby” (hanging on) have struggled, and the nights they’ve aired — Wednesday and Sunday — are both down more than 20% year-to-year.

Net is also having a tough time finding its comedy voice, with hit “Reba” and solid performers like “Blue Collar TV” and “What I Like About You” failing to produce a winning brand. (New laffer “Living With Fran,” bowing in April, could be a keeper, though.)

What is working is the Tuesday drama combo of “Gilmore Girls” and “One Tree Hill” (up 30% year-to-year in adults 18-34). Also, “7th Heaven” remains strong on Monday, and lead-out “Everwood” does solid numbers.

Look for “Summerland,” which performed well last summer, to juice the net’s Monday ratings as it returns in late winter in place of “Everwood” repeats. And the Frog’s best shot yet at a game-changing reality show could be the wannabe-actress skein “Starlet,” with Faye Dunaway as one of the hosts.

Bottom line

The WB looks stronger down the stretch and should open up some distance on UPN, but both could finish down year-to-year.

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