Sunday, January 11, 2015

20 Years Ago Tonight...

...The WB Television Network premiered. The opening lineup that Wednesday night was the sitcoms The Wayans Bros., The Parent 'Hood, Unhappily Ever After, and Muscle. The competing United Paramount Network (UPN) would debut five days later.

The network was organized in response to the FCC repealing the Financial Interest and Syndication Rules (commonly known as "fin-syn") that prohibited networks from owning their primetime programming and from syndicating programs they produced. Other factors were the success of the Fox network (which had launched in October 1986) and the decreasing ratings of independent TV stations. Network owner Time Warner had operated a programming service called the Prime Time Entertainment Network since September 1993 with the Chris-Craft group of TV stations (also known as United Television, hence the "United" part of UPN's name, and which was coincidentally once owned by 20th Century Fox), who would be a part of the UPN network until being bought out by the News Corporation, owners of Fox, in 2000.

The Tribune Company held a minority interest in the network from day one and as a result, affiliated almost all of its stations, including WPIX in New York, KTLA in Los Angeles, and company flagship WGN-TV in Chicago, and all of which were independents, with the network (WGNX, now WGCL-TV, in Atlanta was the lone holdout; it became a CBS affiliate after New World-owned WAGA-TV dropped it for Fox as part of that group's affiliation deal, and later, WGNO in New Orleans joined ABC in January 1996 after longtime ABC affiliate WVUE-TV switched to Fox under a similar agreement). None of these stations were ever considered owned-and-operated by the network, since Tribune held only a minority stake.

Much like Fox and later, UPN, The WB had a limited launch, with programming one night a week. It soon expanded to Sunday night and Saturday morning with the Kids' WB block.

Both The WB and UPN came to an end in September 2006, when their parent companies decided to close their networks and merge their programming into a new split venture called "The CW. "

My memories of The WB were mostly of Kids' WB. I watched such shows as Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain (still a fan today, and if you don't know what those are, click on their names to read about them on Wikipedia). Several of the shows had started on Fox Kids (like the aforementioned Animaniacs and Batman: The Animated Series, although the latter didn't move until 1997 and in re-runs only, as the series had ended in two years prior) before moving to Kids' WB at its launch in September 1995. As later kids may remember, it was home to that smash hit known as Pokémon and that other series known as Yu-Gi-Oh! (both of which I never got into). Kids' WB continued two years into The CW's existence, when it was closed and the airtime sold to 4Kids Entertainment, who launched "The CW4Kids" in its place.

Want to read more about the network's history? Wikipedia is your friend.

Here are some clips from The WB's launch night:

Friday, January 2, 2015

20 Years Ago Today...

...the Westinghouse/Group W-owned TV stations WJZ-TV in Baltimore and WBZ-TV in Boston switched to CBS, dumping their longtime affiliations with ABC and NBC, respectively.

It all started in 1993. After acquiring the rights to the NFC from CBS, Fox sought to upgrade their affiliate lineup through station group deals, most notably with New World Communications, a company who owned mostly CBS affiliates (inherited from Storer Broadcasting) in key NFC markets. This led to more group deals involving such companies as Scripps and most notably, Group W (Westinghouse), who ended up purchasing CBS the next year. This major shakeup elevated Fox to the position of the fourth major TV network in the U.S. and sustained the growth of Fox Sports. The first of the New World stations (WJW-TV in Cleveland and WDAF-TV in Kansas City) switched on September 12, 1994, with the majority of the others switching on December 11 and 12.

After New World announced their deal, CBS began wooing longtime ABC affiliates WXYZ-TV (channel 7) in Detroit (originally an ABC owned-and-operated station, or "O&O," from its sign-on in 1948 until 1986) and WEWS (channel 5) in Cleveland to replace New World-owned WJBK-TV (channel 2) and WJW-TV (channel 8) in their respective markets. Both are owned by the E.W. Scripps Company, and as part of the renewal of their ABC affiliations, Scripps agreed to switch some of its other network affiliates. Included were KNXV-TV in Phoenix, WFTS-TV in Tampa (both were losing Fox to New World stations in their markets), and WMAR-TV in Baltimore, which would displace WJZ-TV.

Westinghouse felt betrayed by ABC after over 45 years of loyalty. They had been shopping around for a groupwide affiliation deal, but the Scripps/ABC deal pushed them proceed faster. Eventually, Group W struck a deal with CBS to switch all five of its TV stations. Existing affiliates KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh and KPIX in San Francisco began carrying CBS network programming in full in the fall of 1994 (Group W had been known for preempting network programming for local shows). KYW-TV in Philadelphia had to wait until September, however, and I'll explain why when the time comes.

In Cleveland, WJW-TV on channel 8 simply swapped affiliations with WOIO on channel 19. However, in Detroit, CBS struggled to find a new affiliate. Former Fox-outlet WKBD (channel 50) was out of consideration, since it was owned by Viacom and slated to become a charter O&O of the upcoming UPN network. CBS couldn't come to a deal with NBC-affiliate WDIV (channel 4), and the other major independent stations did not want to join the network, either. CBS had negotiated with WADL (channel 38), but walked out after its owner began to make unreasonable demands. With the date for WJBK's switch quickly approaching, CBS ended up purchasing low-rated WGPR-TV on channel 62 from a group of African-American Masons, changing the its call letters to WWJ-TV (the former calls of WDIV until 1978, since both had been co-owned with WWJ radio sometime during their history). The sale was met with controversy, however. WGPR is commonly acknowledged to be the first American TV station ever owned by African-Americans, therefore, a minority-owned group sued to block CBS' purchase of the station. A judge ruled on behalf of CBS in 1996 and the deal proceeded. Channel 62 had the weakest signal of any station in Detroit, but CBS significantly upgraded its facilities to become the strongest signal in Detroit. However, this and an advertising campaign featuring Bill Cosby didn't help the network's ratings in the city, which plunged as part of the switch, and WWJ-TV remains the lowest-rated of the major network stations in Detroit.

Read more about the network affiliation switches on the Encyclopedia Anyone Can Edit (Wikipedia).