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As two networks pair up, it's time to get real

Lots of shows and just one schedule, so which ones will make the cut? By Jon Bonné and Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
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With CBS and Warner Bros. shutting down their two also-ran networks, UPN and The WB, it's safe to say there will be a lot of TV shows left orphaned.

The two parent companies plan to forge a new network, The CW, out of the ashes. (At least they're not calling it "The WC.")

As for just where you'll watch the new network, there are more than enough affiliates to go around. Both companies are leaning heavily on broadcast partner Tribune Company, which will convert 16 of 19 WB-affiliated stations to air CW shows. CBS is chipping in another 12 UPN affiliates (it owns 15, plus one WB affiliate), for coverage of 20 out of 25 top TV markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Detroit.

What's less clear is how the affiliate situation will shake out in major markets that have both WB and UPN affiliates. One of two stations is likely to be left standing when the music stops. In Tampa, for instance, CBS-owned WTOG will convert over from its UPN affiliation, but what will happen to WB affiliate WTTA?

And what about the shows? Tuesday's announcement said that the WC network will retain the 30-hour "current scheduling model" of the WB: five weeknights of 8-10 in prime time, plus Sunday prime time from 7-10 p.m., early Sunday evenings and animation on Saturday mornings and weekday afternoons.

Not mentioned is just how those 30 hours will be filled.  Aside from the WB's long-popular animation offerings, which are sticking around, anything could happen.  UPN President Dawn Ostroff is in charge of the new network; while that means dark days for WB staffers, the WB has solid offerings and it's Ostroff's current network that may be struggling for space on the board.

Ostroff has a curious grab bag to choose from. Despite such critical hits as "Everybody Hates Chris" and "Veronica Mars," and shows with loyal fan bases like "7th Heaven," neither network ever found the large mainstream audiences they were seeking — though UPN's "Smackdown" wrestling franchise was a perfect counterprogramming move for the black hole of Friday nights. While each found some success in narrowcasting to specific audiences (teens, cartoon-hungry kids, the perennially underserved African-American market), results were uneven and tailored to appointment viewing.

Prime-time shuffleAnd despite some serious cross-promotion ("Top Model" winner Naima guest-starring on "Veronica Mars") it was a stretch to think that viewers who tuned in for one show would stick around through the top of the hour. How many "Gilmore Girls" viewers would really hang in to watch "Supernatural"? Despite UPN's faith in the so-called "urban" demographic, was it fair to think “Chris” and "Love, Inc." would draw the same crowd?

A few fortuitous pairings might yet appear, though.  "Gilmore Girls" and "Veronica Mars" have similar characters and audiences, and the two would make for a compelling two-hour prime-time block. A sitcom night to battle NBC's attempted Thursday revival also makes sense.

Warner Bros. also might opt to find space for its self-produced shows ("Related,” “One Tree Hill,” “Supernatural,” for instance) on other Time Warner networks. And CBS could shift certain shows to its mainline network or to Showtime.

But “Chris” aside, the comedies are both networks' most vulnerable properties.  "Living with Fran" mostly serves as a reminder of "The Nanny's" bulletproof status; "Love, Inc." has little to offer besides an integrated cast (UPN's strong suit) that struggles to salvage some screechingly bad jokes; and “Twins” is just flat-out embarrassing. Among the personality-driven offerings, “Eve” and “Reba” might survive, but only on the basis of having built-in (if very different) fan bases.

And while neither network leaned too heavily on the reality-TV railing, their grab bag of offerings (“Top Model,” “Beauty and the Geek”) doesn't fit together in a neat package.

Our best-guess predictions:

"Everybody Hates Chris" (UPN): As UPN's one unqualified hit, there's no way either parent would do away with "Chris." The bigger question is where it will land. “Chris” currently competes against "Smallville" on WB, and while “Chris” is the more successful show, "Smallville" is custom-tailored to the WB's teen-friendly demographic for the timeslot. Best option might be for CBS to grab it for its own prime-time lineup — a family-friendly breakout hit with a largely black cast would be a very smart addition in the midst of all those "CSI" spinoffs. Odds of survival: 10 out of 10.

“Gilmore Girls” (WB): The girls Gilmore, who helm the highest-rated show between the two networks, aren’t going anywhere, although there are rumors that writing team and real-life husband and wife Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino are developing another show and thus may not return. Even if the writers should change, the show’s devoted, overwhelmingly female audience loves the “Girls,” and the WB knows it. Rest easy, fans. Odds of survival: 9.9 out of 10.

"Friday Night Smackdown" (UPN): The two parent companies would only say that WWE is "expected to play a role," but ... well, duh. Here's an iron-clad performer with a built-in audience on a night that's easy to dominate. It's cheap to produce and fills up the evening's entire programming block, so cross Fridays off the list. Odds of survival: 9 out of 10.

“Supernatural” (WB): The merger was announced just days after this smart horror series was written up in the New York Times as the WB’s “only new hit of the fall season.” It has two studly brothers, creepy monsters-of-the-week that often play off old-school urban legends, and a nicely mysterious backstory involving the death of the boys’ mother and the disappearance of their father. Gruesome horror plus eye candy is one thing, but it’s even better when backed by a “Lost”-esque history. Odds of survival: 8 out of 10.

"America's Next Top Model" (UPN): This reality stalwart, now preparing for its sixth season, has never scored in the ratings department but has loyal viewership, unbeatable product tie-ins (that means you, Cover Girl) and lots of promotion potential, especially with host Tyra Banks expanding her own personal brand. The time slot might be tweaked a bit — since "Lost" and "American Idol" have made Wednesdays such a hot property — but it's likely to find a home, unless Tyra decides she'd rather stick to daytime. Odds of survival: 8 out of 10.

“Smallville” (WB): Faster than a speeding bullet, the drama about teen Superman is as safe as Lois Lane is in persistent peril. The Washington Post quoted WB CEO Garth Ancier as saying “what would be the point of owning this network if you weren’t going to have ‘Smallville,’ ” going on to note that the show brings in hundreds of millions of dollars via syndication, overseas and other deals. Perhaps the show will be paired with “Supernatural” for a sci-fi-horror themed night of programming. Odds of survival: 8 out of 10.

“Veronica Mars” (UPN): While the teen detective’s future isn’t as solid as that of “Gilmore,” it was mentioned repeatedly in all the fanfare about the merger. UPN hasn’t officially renewed it as of press time, but it hasn’t officially renewed anything except “Top Model,” so don’t take it personally, Veronica. The show is critically acclaimed, its fans are fanatical, and its buzz only continues to grow. UPN president Dawn Ostroff, who’ll be leading the merged network, has expressed support for “Mars” in the past, so expect it to get at least one season on the CW. Odds of survival: 7 out of 10.

“Beauty and the Geek” (WB): Ashton Kutcher spearheaded this reality concept, in which brilliant, socially inept male nerds are paired with gorgeous, vacuous women. Just a week ago, Kutcher announced that the WB had agreed to flip the genders and try a third season of the show, with smart but socially klutzy women and hot but dumb men. That show was tentatively scheduled for the 2006-2007 TV season, but whether it will still rate a spot after the merger is unknown. Kutcher might just have enough pull to get it done, and he does know a little something about hot but dumb men. Odds of survival: 7 out of 10.

“Everwood” (WB): It’s anybody’s guess, but devotees of this long-running family small-town drama have much to keep them hopeful. Though it’s costly to produce, it’s not losing money for the network. Although its ratings on Thursdays are not as good as it previously earned on Monday nights, WB president David Janollari recently told critics he thinks the show is “hitting a stride well beyond any of its previous years.” Yet that was when there were two networks, and then there was one. “Everwood” has a lot going for it, but it may have to fight for space. Odds of survival: 6 out of 10.

“Charmed” (WB): A less cost-effective beast than it used to be, and long without the tumultuous charms of Shannen Doherty, but this dramedy about a trio of young (and sexy, it being the WB) witches remains a decent Sunday-night performer. It could well remain as a Sunday staple, or find a demographic-friendly partner like “Mars.” Odds of survival: 5 out of 10.

“One Tree Hill” (WB): Things don’t look good for this cult favorite. Business Week notes that ratings for “One Tree” fell 43 percent in its third season. Though the show successfully hawks its musical soundtracks, the new network is going to need more than music to keep the show around. It would have benefited from a tiny fraction of the critical acclaim given to “Veronica Mars,” but when’s the last time you heard anyone raving about a great episode of “One Tree Hill”? Odds of survival: 4 out of 10.

“What I Like About You” (WB): This above-average comedy about the two mismatched Tyler sisters' adventures in New York is the quintessential WB show — an urbane (vs. urban) sitcom-plus with demographic pull and lots of family squabbling. But even with its fun cast, it might be one teen dramedy too many for the new lineup, and Warner TV might try to sell it elsewhere. Odds of survival: 4 out of 10.

"7th Heaven" (WB): Speculation rumbled about a revival last week after the network announced last week it would axe this popular but red-tape-generating show. Assuming that the newly created CW cuts operating costs more or less in half by slimming two networks to one, "7th Heaven" might yet find a new life. Odds of survival: 2 out of 10.

"Love, Inc." (UPN): This mess of a sitcom was such a stinker that they couldn't fit Shannen Doherty into the gaggle of yakky dating-firm coworkers that make up the cast. It's long been near the top of our cancellation office pool, so now is as good a time as ever to drop the hammer. Of course, if Fox let "The War at Home" survive, never say never. Odds of survival: 1.5 out of 10.

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper is's television editor. Jon Bonné is's lifestyle editor.