Mixed views on WB, UPN merger

Some exex left jilted

Not everyone’s happy about the merger of UPN and the WB.

Dozens of programming and development execs will soon be looking for jobs. Pilots that last week looked like sure things are now long shots. And scribes looking to land a spot on a broadcast net now have one less buyer.

“There are always casualties in these kinds of mergers,” said one top agent. “A lot of (writers) will lose their development. Needs will change. Something that’s hot is now not.”

That same agent, however, describes the changes as “short-term discomfort.” And in fact, Hollywood’s initial take on the marriage is surprisingly positive.

“Big picture, you’re creating a better asset for everyone to make money with,” Endeavor partner Paul Haas said.

Gary Newman and Dana Walden, prexies of 20th Century Fox TV, said their studio will be better off with one strong fifth net.

“This is great news for suppliers (because) it’s another viable network, another place to bring our shows,” Walden said, noting 20th and some other studios often found it tough to set up shows at the WB and UPN.

“Both of these networks had difficulty helping shows create the appropriate perception of long-term value,” Newman added. “If this is a stronger network, and it’s indisputable that it is, that’s great for us.”

Lionsgate TV prexy Kevin Beggs, who has a pair of projects set up at UPN for fall consideration, agreed.

“I would rather take my chances on a strong fifth network than risk the uncertainty associated with a sixth network whose future is in doubt,” he said.

Peter Johnson, president of Wonderland Sound & Vision, said he’s not worried about how the merger impacts the chances that his WB skein “Supernatural” will be back next season, noting the press release for the new CW pointed to the show as one of its assets. He also thinks new entertainment prexy Dawn Ostroff won’t view WB skeins less favorably than UPN product.

“I have to trust that there will be a pretty coherent and single vision applied to this new place,” he said.

Still, the CW will need fewer pilots this development season than the old combo of the WB and UPN.

It doesn’t help that, per CBS Par Group topper Nancy Tellem, UPN has quietly worked out a deal to keep WWE’s “Friday Night Smackdown” on the air for at least two more seasons.

CBS Corp. supremo Leslie Moonves said he wanted to get the merger deal done before most pilots were ordered so there wouldn’t be as much waste.

Expect plenty of lobbying from producers, agents and studio chiefs who will woo Ostroff into thinking their projects merit a greenlight. Ostroff said she’ll show no bias.

“There’s no ego involved here,” she said. “A good project is a good project. There’s going to be a lot less new product, but we will have some needs.”

Observers note Ostroff greenlit “Everybody Hates Chris,” even though the show was originally developed by 20th for Fox Broadcasting.

Somewhat minimizing the pain is the fact that the new net will program around 30 hours in total (including daytime, syndie fare and Sunday repeats). Frog was already keeping a tight lid on its development, dramatically scaling back on the number of projects it had in the works.

“Fox developed about 110 comedy scripts; the WB did maybe 15,” said UTA partner Sue Naegle, who said she thinks “the strength of this combined network could give the other nets a run for their money.”

Other industry insiders aren’t so sure.

One rival exec noted the WB and UPN both had only a couple of major hits, and that even shows like “America’s Next Top Model” or “Gilmore Girls” don’t pose a major threat to the Big Four.

“They’ll be lucky if they get 85% of the ad revenue the two networks would have earned separately,” one said. Moonves responded by noting operating costs for the CW will be much lower and that the new net will be better off financially than the old UPN.

Asked whether the CW will turn a profit its first year, Moonves answered with one word: “Yes.”

Not so lucky will be the programmers and developers who will soon lose their jobs. WB already laid off some key staffers last year, while NBC recently lost some bodies as well.

“It’s raining execs out there,” one wag said.

Speculation on who will stay and who will go is just that.

WB marketing chiefs Bob Bibb and Lou Goldstein have been asked to stay, insiders said, but they haven’t yet agreed to do so.

The Frog’s David Janollari has already left the network. Boss Garth Ancier, who’s opted not to stay with the new company, will oversee the dismantling of the WB and help with the transition to the CW. Ancier, who helped build the WB and Fox, said he’s planning to get more involved in the new-media world.

“I’ve done this for 20 years,” he said, referring to the business of building networks. “I don’t think there’s much in it for me emotionally anymore. I need some fresh challenges.”

All development from both UPN and the WB will now report to Ostroff, per Ancier.

One big challenge for Ostroff will be finding a coherent identity for the CW. Despite spin to the contrary, most industry insiders believe the Frog and UPN no longer had clear brands.

Lifetime chief Susanne Daniels, a WB alum, thinks Ostroff has a chance to finally create a solid fifth network.

“Rebranding for CW would be a good opportunity for both networks to make a strong choice about what the new network can do to position (itself) effectively,” she said.

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Topic Studios

    Layoffs Hit Topic Studios as TV Division Relocates to West Coast (EXCLUSIVE)

    A small round of layoffs has hit Topic Studios this week in the television division, insiders familiar with the company told Variety. One of the insiders said three executives at the New York-based producer and distributor are out: senior vice president of scripted programming and Viacom alum Lisa Leingang, vice president of development Mona Panchal [...]

  • Peter Weber and Mike Johnson

    'The Bachelor's' Mike Johnson on Diversity and New Leading Man Peter Weber

    ABC named its newest star of “The Bachelor” this week, officially making Peter Weber the leading man for Season 24 of the long-running dating show. Social media backlash ensued following the announcement due to ABC’s selection lacking diversity, yet again. Since the dating franchise began in 2002, there has been only one “Bachelorette” of color [...]

  • ABC Studios Logo

    ABC Studios Head of Alternative Fernando Hernandez Exits

    ABC Studios’ head of alternative Fernando Hernandez has departed from his post at the Disney-owned television studio, a source familiar with the situation told Variety. The Hollywood Reporter first reported the news. Hernandez’s exit follows an executive shuffling at the top in recent months that has included the departure of Amy Hartwick, ABC Studio’s head [...]

  • Rob Cowan, Greg Silverman'The Conjuring 2'

    Greg Silverman’s Stampede, School of Rock Team for Unscripted Series (EXCLUSIVE)

    Former president of Warner Bros. Pictures Greg Silverman is partnering with School of Rock through his content creation company Stampede. The collaboration with the music school will create exclusive content, starting with the development of an unscripted series.  School of Rock operates a network of performance-based education franchises that offer students of all ages guidance [...]

  • TV Roundup: Erica Durance Reprises 'Smallville'

    TV News Roundup: Erica Durance Reprises 'Smallville' Role in 'Arrowverse' Crossover

    In today’s TV news roundup, Erica Durance reprises her “Smallville” role in the CW’s annual “Arrowverse” crossover, and Showtime shares with Variety an exclusive sneak peek at the return of “The Circus.” FIRST LOOKS “2020 is the most important election of our lifetime,” Alex Wagner says in a new trailer for the fourth season of [...]

  • Patrick Whitesell and Ari Emanuel WME

    Endeavor Targets Sept. 27 for Stock Debut, IPO Video Tells Company's Origin Story

    After years of preparation, Endeavor is set to make its formal Wall Street debut on Sept. 27, when its stock will begin trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Endeavor has targeted Sept. 26 for the final pricing of its shares. The stock will trade publicly the following day. Earlier this week, Endeavor said its [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content