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The WB Television Network Turns 25 This Year

By Brian Richards | TV | February 1, 2020 |

By Brian Richards | TV | February 1, 2020 |


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We are now eight hundred fifteen days into the year 2020 (or at least it feels that way with how the month of January has been making many of us feel) and if someone were to tell you that another network/streaming service is about to be created and make its debut so that we have yet another viewing option to pay money for, we’d just shrug our shoulders and keep it moving as this really is the new normal for us when it comes to our options for entertainment. But in 1994, when both Warner Bros. and Paramount Pictures announced that they would each be creating two new networks to air alongside ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX (which was still experiencing its own growing pains), people stopped in their tracks and wanted to know what these two new networks had planned and what they were going to bring to the table.

And on January 11, 1995, the WB Television Network made its nationwide debut for all (with actual access to the network, as it wasn’t airing everywhere on all affiliates just yet) to see.

The first shows to air on the WB when it premiered were Unhappily Ever After, which was co-created by Ron Leavitt (who also co-created Married…With Children) and starred Geoff Pierson, Stephanie Hodge, a pre-Entourage Kevin Conroy, Nikki Cox, and the voice of Bobcat Goldthwait.

Muscle, which attempted to follow in the footsteps of Soap as a sitcom/soap opera, but failed to provide enough laughter during its first and only season.

And The Wayans Bros., starring Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans, and the late, great John Witherspoon.

Other sitcoms to air on The WB as it took its first steps included Kirk starring Kirk Cameron, Simon starring Jason Bateman and Harland Williams, Nick Freno: Licensed Teacher starring the late Mitch Mullany, Christina Vidal, and Malinda Williams, none of which remained on the air for very long.

The WB did have slightly better success with sitcoms such as The Parent ‘Hood starring Robert Townsend and Reagan Gomez-Preston, The Jamie Foxx Show starring Jamie Foxx before he won all of the awards for playing Ray Charles and would have the audience at every awards show do callbacks with him before he’d start his acceptance speeches, Sister Sister starring Tia and Tamera Mowry, Jackée Harry, Marques “Go Home, Roger!” Houston, and Tim Reid, What I Like About You starring Amanda Bynes and Jennie Garth, The Steve Harvey Show starring Steve Harvey and Cedric The Entertainer, and Reba starring Reba McIntyre.

It was with many of these shows that The WB found much success and grabbed the attention of the entertainment industry. Starting with Buffy The Vampire Slayer, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alyson Hannigan, and Anthony Stewart Head. During its first season, it was mostly known as the television adaptation of a poorly-reviewed 1992 horror-comedy starring Kristy Swanson and the late Luke Perry that was determined to fully embrace its roots in horror. But when Buffy began its second season, it took a monumental leap forward in quality that made the show nearly impossible to ignore. So much so that when Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly named the best shows on television for his year-end list in 1998, his number-one choice was Buffy. And this was right before The Sopranos debuted the following year to forever change the television landscape while seemingly convincing many a critic and viewer that there was no such thing as excellence and quality in television until The Sopranos first arrived.

Angel, which was a spin-off of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and starred David Boreanaz and Charisma Carpenter, took three of the show’s familiar faces (Angel, Cordelia Chase, Wesley Wyndham-Pryce) from Sunnydale to Los Angeles as they went from battling the demons (both figurative and literal) that come with adolescence to the demons that come with being an adult. And despite the fact that there are still debates as to whether Buffy or Angel was the better show, it’s simply hard to go wrong with watching either one.

(The less said about nearly all of Season 6 of Buffy and about Cordelia and Connor hooking up on Angel, the better. And the more that is said about how Joss Whedon was completely dickish towards Cordelia Chase and the actress who portrayed her for many years, by firing Charisma during Angel’s fourth season because of her pregnancy and then killing off Cordelia offscreen when Charisma agreed to make a guest appearance the following season, the better.)

Dawson. Jen. Joey. Pacey. Stupid Dawson Crying Face. “How often do you walk your dog, Dawson?” “You bought me a wall?” “I remember everything.” “I’ll see you soon, child.” “I Don’t Want To Wait” sung by Paula Cole. “I Don’t Want To Wait” sung by Samuel L. Jackson. If you were looking for an hour-long drama with sexually charged teenagers whose knowledge of pop-culture and grasp of the English language would make even the characters from The West Wing raise an eyebrow, then Dawson’s Creek was the show for you.

In 1947, a flying aircraft from outer space crash-landed in Roswell, New Mexico. Forty years later, the inhabitants of that flying object (Max, Isabel, and Michael) awakened from their stasis and grew up as normal kids with no one being the wiser about their true identities as aliens. That is until a young waitress named Liz Parker is accidentally shot while at work and Max immediately jumps into action to use his abilities in order to heal her gunshot wound and save her life. And from that point on, secrets will be revealed and nothing will ever be the same again, in the sci-fi drama known as Roswell, with the incredibly catchy theme song known as “Here With Me” by Dido.

Before his addictive and polarizing work on Alias, Lost, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, J.J. Abrams (with the help of co-creator Matt Reeves, long before he was hired to direct and co-write The Batman) grabbed people’s attention with Felicity, starring Keri Russell, Scott Speedman, Scott Foley, Amy Jo Johnson, and Tangi Miller. The show caused many viewers to take sides on whether they were #TeamBen or #TeamNoel, while also causing those same viewers to completely lose their shit when Felicity decided to cut her hair and go for a shorter cut, which The WB saw as an actual reason for its ratings decline.

What happens when three young women who are also sisters find out that they are actually witches? You get Charmed, starring Shannen Doherty (who would later be replaced by Rose McGowan), Holly Marie Combs, and Alyssa Milano.

Arrow deserves plenty of credit for the many other superhero shows that have followed in its wake (The Flash, Legends Of Tomorrow, Supergirl, Black Lightning), but it’s always good to remember that the show that really made it possible for live-action DC Comics characters to be seen every week on television screens and entertain millions of fans was Smallville, starring Tom Welling, Erica Durance (who is considered by many fans to be the best version of Lois Lane right after Margot Kidder, and considering how long she has played the character, it’s not that hard to believe), Kristin Kreuk, Michael Rosenbaum, Allison Mack, John Glover, Annette O’Toole, and John Schneider.

Two brothers driving cross-country, blasting classic rock while doing so, and fighting demons and monsters of all kinds (and even Satan himself) while doing so? Supernatural, starring Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki. (There’s a lot to be said about the show’s incredibly problematic treatment of female characters, and that’s exactly what the Comments section is for.)

Gilmore Girls introduced the world to Lorelai and Rory Gilmore (Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel), the fast-talking, coffee-obsessed, pop-culture-obsessed mother and daughter who acted a lot more like best friends than mother and child. And if you thought that choosing between #TeamBen and #TeamNoel for Felicity was rough, try dealing with choosing between #TeamDean, #TeamJess, and #TeamLogan. (Then again, there are those who would see no point in only choosing just one, and would simply respond with “Choo-choooooooo!” For reasons. Very family-friendly reasons.)

I’ll be honest: I’ve never watched a single episode of One Tree Hill, and all I know about it is that it was on for a very long time, Chad Michael Murray was a massive douchecanoe, and Sophia Bush deserved much better than him and his bullsh*t.

For viewers of The WB looking for something more wholesome and family-friendly, 7th Heaven, the show about a minister and his family living their lives and learning important lessons while doing so) was the show for them. Granted, the show would go on to spark more discussion for what happened offscreen than onscreen (Jessica Biel being fired for appearing topless on the cover of a magazine, Stephen Collins admitting to his sexual abuse of three underage girls), but it was one of the network’s longest-running shows, especially considering that its season-finale-that-was-supposed-to-be-a-series-finale got very high ratings. Which resulted in 7th Heaven’s cancellation being postponed so it could be brought back, and also resulted in the following show being cancelled instead…

A much better family drama that most people expected, Everwood starred Treat Williams, Gregory Smith, Emily VanCamp and Chris Pratt, and was about a widowed doctor who brings his two children to the fictional small town of Everwood, Colorado to get a fresh start. Its well-written and beautifully-acted storylines caused many a viewer to yell “Damn you, Greg Berlanti” due to so many tears being shed and so many hearts being broken.

There were many other shows that aired on The WB that didn’t stay on the air for very long but still hold a special place in the hearts of many, including Zoe, Duncan, Jack, and Jane

Popular

Jack & Jill

Jack & Bobby

Hyperion Bay (I’m convinced that these opening credits from the second season are a fan-edit, but this is all I could find on YouTube, other than several of the episodes that have been uploaded)…

The Jamie Kennedy Experiment

Young Americans

Savannah

And Birds Of Prey, the version that doesn’t star Margot Robbie, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead…

The WB also took advantage of the fact that many of its stars in their increasingly popular shows were appearing in movie theaters as well, and created three of the most memorable ad campaigns in network history. Which mostly just revolved on showing their actors behind the scenes relaxing, having a good time, and reminding us of how stunning they all are.

There was “Faces I Remember.”

Along with “Oh, What A Night.”

And then there was “Dubba-Dubba WB,” which was also memorable but more so for being not all that great and for being annoying as hell.

The fact that several actress from The WB appeared in this photo spread for Entertainment Weekly and were written about after being selected for their Entertainers Of The Year list certainly didn’t hurt, either.

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The WB was also the target for many a parody, from Mad TV taking shots at both Felicity

And at the rest of its entire lineup with the memorable skit “Pretty White Kids With Problems,” accompanied by Lisa Loeb performing the theme song.

(This one in particular was to be expected, especially considering that The WB went the same route that FOX did when it first started, in that it aired lots of programming to appeal to African-American audiences when starting out, and once the network would grow more in popularity and profitability, there would be less and less diversity to be found in its shows.)

Dave Chappelle got in on the fun as well, with this skit that aired during the first season of Chappelle’s Show, and made it very clear that he was not a fan of the network mascot, Michigan J. Frog.

And he wasn’t any more merciful when talking about the skit after it finished.

As the ratings for its shows kept declining and profits kept decreasing, The WB as well as United Paramount Network a.k.a. UPN a.k.a. the other upstart network that made it debut in January of 1995) which was also suffering from these same problems, eventually reached the conclusion that both networks should permanently shut down operations and combine their resources to create one network to take their place: The CW. Which definitely didn’t have the same ring to it as The WB, but at this point, Warner Bros. and Paramount was primarily concerned with pulling themselves out of the freefall that they were in.

The news of The WB shutting down for good wasn’t easy news for many fans to accept, and the network’s final night of broadcasting didn’t make it much easier, as The WB aired the pilot episodes for Buffy, Angel, Felicity, and Dawson’s Creek while airing commercials in between that paid tribute to the network and its famous faces.

And on September 17, 2006, The WB said thank you and goodbye, and The CW took its place.

The WB helped launch the careers of so many people both in front of and behind the cameras, with its impact still being felt throughout the programming that currently airs on The CW and throughout the rest of Hollywood. It helped introduce us to and increase the fame of not just dozens of actors, but of writers/producers/directors like Joss Whedon, J.J. Abrams, Matt Reeves, Kevin Williamson, Rob Thomas (who was allegedly fired by Williamson from the writing staff of Dawson’s Creek when he talked sh*t about Williamson and his “bag of trick”), Amy Sherman-Palladino, Julie Plec, Eric Kripke, Alfred Gough & Miles Millar, Greg Berlanti, Rina Mimoun, Ryan Murphy, and many others.

Earlier this month, Ira Madison III, former writer for Buzzfeed and MTV News now working as a screenwriter, posted these tweets:

To the very cynical, this was Ira lamenting the fact that his Netflix series that he wrote for, Daybreak, was canceled after one season. But to most others, this was Ira making clear how much he loves and appreciates television as an art form for all the things that, when done right, it can accomplish that few other art forms can. And to the millions of people who grew up watching shows on The WB, this was their introduction to television as an art form and what it was capable of accomplishing in terms of long-form storytelling and character development. From Angel losing his soul after sleeping with Buffy and all of the pain, heartbreak, and death that occurred afterward, to Felicity watching Todd Mulcahy get hit by a bus, to Pacey and Joey slowly falling in love with each other, to the first time that we saw Clark Kent taking flight, to Buffy dealing with the sudden death of her mother from causes that had nothing to do with the supernatural, to Julie being sexually assaulted and turning to Felicity and the rest of her friends for support, it gave viewers reasons to tune in week after week and geek out with one another both in person and through online Internet forums and message boards like Mighty Big TV (which would go on to be called Television Without Pity). And it allowed viewers to show their appreciation for both The WB and for all things regarding television, whether it’s through writing about television for outlets like Entertainment Weekly, Zap2It, Vulture, and also Pajiba, or through breaking into the industry itself and writing actual television shows for others to watch and geek out over.

And as much as we now talk about how television as a whole would be better with more limited series that wrap up after one year and have less than twelve episodes a season, it would also be good for us to be reminded that television is television and that it’s not movies or books or “novels for television” or “X Amount Of Hour-Long Movies” or whatever showrunners like to say when describing their television shows in ways that don’t make them sound like television shows, and as if television is an art form that needs to be elevated or transcended. From 1995 to 2006, The WB taught and reminded many people that television is not a bad thing, and that it’s not something that should be scoffed at or disrespected. And it also taught them to love and enjoy what they were seeing onscreen and to appreciate all of the hard work and ingenuity that made so much of it possible.

Which is one hell of a legacy for any network to leave behind. And why The WB was, is, and probably always will still be missed after all these years.

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Brian Richards is a Staff Contributor. You can follow him on Twitter.



Header Image Source: Warner Bros.