22nd Sep2006

My Tribute To UPN & The WB

by Will

“The Warrant!”

So, I have to say, watching the final clip of The WB gets me all choked up. C’mon, Michigan J. takes a bow for the last time! I mean, it’s easy to talk trash about that network, but it truly DID define a generation. It may not have been YOUR generation, nor particularly one that you liked, but it’s branding power was unsurpassed. I mean, this is shown by the fact that it officially went off the air. It had a mission to say farewell to its “creations”, for lack of a better word. What did UPN do? Nothing. They shipped “Smackdown” over to the CW affiliates, and quietly shut their doors. Why? Because UPN never formed an identity. There was a time when it wanted to be “The Star Trek Network”, but it found itself, instead, being the “Crappy Trek Spin-Off Network”. I mean, anytime a network has to cancel Star Trek, in THIS day and age, a franchise that can survive in SYNDICATION, there is a problem.

Sure, The WB bounced around to find its place. There were the early days when it was The Wayans Bros Network, and every show was black except for 7th Heaven. Man, I would LOVE to have been a fly on the wall at those initial launch parties. I’ll bet it was like when a White family accidentally wanders into the ghetto. You’ve got a young Beverly Mitchell & a surpringly-simian Jessica Biel being sized up by John Witherspoon and that guy who played Nick Freno.

After awhile, though, UPN said, “Wait, we want some Black people, too!”. And our buddies at The Frog said, “Good riddance, you can have ’em!”. And that’s how we ended up in the situation where UPN’s biggest shows were Girlfriends and Smackdown, while The WB was a STARMAKER. No, don’t laugh. That network simply MADE stars. You might not’ve thought much of them when you first saw them. I remember thinking, “Man, those Wayans’ll never be as famous as Keenan Ivory.” Or “Man, I really wish Jamie Foxx would get as famous as he deserves to be.” Or even “I really think, with some work, that girl who plays ‘Mary Camden’ could be kinda hot.” And it was like the WB read my heart, heard my wishes, and made them a reality. Need further proof? Watch that final clip (it’s all over youtube), and you’ll notice a familiar celebrity right before Michigan bows: Jamie Foxx. Say what you will (especially you, ‘Diz), but this network helped that man get an Oscar. It kept him working and making the connections that got him in Any Given Sunday, which led to Ali, which led to Ray. Sure, he was on “In Living Color”, but he didn’t get movies back then. That changed with The WB.

Sure, it was the Abercrombie & Fitch of networks, but that was its thing! You want an Aaron Sorkin show to succeed, you take it to NBC. You got a show that’s loose on plot, but full of pretty kids, you take it to The WB. For instance, I LOVE One Tree Hill. I mean, I actually bought the season sets. But that show has no real plot whatsoever. I feel like I’m watching “Swans Crossing” all over again. What would’ve made an above-average afterschool special about the effects of teen pregnancy and the pressures of high school baseketball on affluent white kids, is now entering it’s fourth season! That’s syndication level right there, and that’s where the real money comes in. It’s The WB, baby. It could do no wrong.

Sure, there were a lot of misses. A LOT of misses. But you know what’s weird? The WB ONLY knew how to make stars. It didn’t know how to resurrect has-beens, nor did it know what to do with people who had achieved some level of stardom. Remember “Kirk”? I do. There was no way, especially since he started evangelizing, they were gonna revive Kirk Cameron’s career. Robert Townshend’s “The Parent’hood”? That pale attempt at The Cosby Show trudged along for a couple of seasons, but Townshend, surprisingly, had too big of a name. If a show had any cast member that you’d EVER heard of prior to the show, The WB had problems promoting it.

BUT, you get a show, cast a busty chick named Nikki Cox, whose previously acting was “the blind girl” on a couple episodes of California Dreams, you had a hit. Who cared if it was “Married…with Children: the Remix”. That show lasted 11 years, so surely this would last half of that. And it did. Make a show about some REALLY old looking 15 yr old in Cape Cod, who wants to direct films. Hire a bunch of cute kids who talk about big things. You have a hit. Hell, completley rip off the X-Files and cast a bunch of Abercrombie models. You have a hit.

The WB also learned the value of “keeping it in the family”. The Disney Channel does the same thing. Say you have a guest star, who’s really charamatic and the audience seems to love him. Well, cast him in his own show. We already know the people love him. Who cares what the shows’s about. We need a pilot shot, and we need it yesterday!

Plus, I’ve got a secret for you: I always wanted to be a cast member of a WB show. Why The WB? Because of the friggin’ backlot! It was always a party. In every promo, Keri Russell might be leaving the “Felicity” set and grab coffee with Allyson Hannigan from “Buffy”. It seemed like such a communal atmosphere. They let us into their world, but it also gave off the impression that they were people too, who were young, cool, and loved interracting with each other. I mean, who WOULDN’T love the idea of hitting on Soleil Moon Frye after she came off a long shoot on “Sabrina”? When those kids weren’t working, it seemed like there was always a party, and a singing cartoon frog to boot! Oh, man, I’m about to say “Dubba, dubba, dubba, dubba, dubba, dubba, double-yoo-bee, YEAH!”

For these reasons, and many others, I will miss the WB. Aside from what you saw on the screen, there was a lot of magic in the process that so many people take for granted. Whether or not you liked what it did, you still have to admit that it did “it”, whatever that might be, well. Now, looking at its metamorphosis, “The CW”, I don’t feel that much is going to change. In all honesty, it’s still The WB, just with Black Sunday. Kinda like in the old days. So, I hope that it continues to be a starmaker and I hope that we are simply closing a chapter on a story rather than the entire book. Until next time, take care of yourselves, and each other.