DAR TV Retrospective: The WB Network

There are some networks that truly make a wave in the history of television and we don't even realize the importance of it at the time. In essence, the WB Network is exactly like that. While compared to bigger networks, The WB isn't necessarily a landmark station, but considering black culture and the sitcoms that permeated our households and television, it is pretty vital to the viewing experience over its 11 year history. Today, Speed and True combine to talk the WB Network. Was it good? Was it bad? What about the network worked and what didn't? We examine. Let's get into it.

The 1990s By @TrueGodImmortal
-I love the 90's. That goes without saying. I love the music. The movies. The television shows. The channel that sticks out the most to me in the 90's is likely the WB Network. Sure, I enjoyed Fox and UPN at times, and Fox is responsible for the greatest sitcom ever IMO in Martin, but the WB was the most consistent network for black shows in general. Debuting in 1995, the network seemed to target a majority black audience at first, likely due to the success of the aforementioned Martin on Fox and Fresh Prince of Bel Air on NBC. They were able to create a line of original programming to captivate an audience and started off the network with the inaugural episode of The Wayans Bros. Now, the Wayans Bros show wasn't a huge ratings hit at first, but it had steady enough ratings to pique the interest of the world. While there was a big emphasis on late night adult centered comedies and sitcoms upon inception of the network, the network would not be limited to just that. Dramas, teen centered shows, and a WB Kids block on the weekend made this network much more diverse than you'd expect. However, let's not get too ahead of ourselves. Let's look at the first year and the first few sitcoms on the network.

Married With Children was over, but sure enough, the WB would try to capture the spirit of the show with the strange but crass Unhappily Ever After. The show wasn't very memorable to me, aside from the oft appearance of Nikki Cox, who was positioned on this show as a hotter version of Kelly Bundy. The show really copied the format of Married With Children, but was much much darker than anything we had seen before. The main characters Jack and Stephanie had a horrible marriage, as Stephanie essentially turned Jack into a cuckold until Jack decided to venture out with other women, which Stephanie didn't like. If that confuses you just reading it, imagine how it felt  watching it. The show just really went to the depths and beyond what we wanted to see. If you paid attention, you'd see the show was one of the darkest sitcoms possible and a risky move that netted 5 seasons regardless. A successful albeit odd show that was a part of the original lineup of WB shows.

The same could be said for Sister, Sister, which was canceled on ABC, but found new life on the WB and lasted much longer. The Tia and Tamera Mowry vehicle was essentially more at home on the WB and ended up lasting much longer on that network than it could have on ABC. They changed a bit about the show, but this was the first big acquisition by the network from another network though it wouldn't be the last. Sister, Sister set a tone, and The Parenthood would continue that tone in some way as the Robert Townsend led program provided another look into the world of middle class black families and homes. These programs rounded out the beginning of the WB, and they would set the tone for the next round of programming that would elevate the network even more. The following season would see my two favorite sitcoms from the network debut, with Jamie Foxx and Steve Harvey bringing their comedic genius to the channel.

The Jamie Foxx Show was one of my favorites, as is the Steve Harvey Show, and both shows would become modest hits for the network. Both provided a brand of comedy that the Wayans, Sister Sister and Parenthood could not, and with this, they helped round out the black sitcoms for the network. If my best memory of the network is Jamie Foxx and Steve Harvey for the adults, what would be my best memory as a younger child? Well the Kids WB block of programming spawned some greatness in itself, with Animaniacs and Pinky and The Brain being my two favorite things to watch on the network in general. The Kids WB managed to bridge the gap, something bigger networks didn't seem to do. Where NBC and CBS might have had some minimal programming for kids, it wasn't enough. WB specialized in tapping into every demographic necessary to maintain some success, as they would captivate the black audience with a ton of sitcoms that felt more genuine and honest, capture the younger audience with Kids WB, go for the teenage audience with Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Felicity, and Dawson's Creek, and even go for a more conservative religious audience with the popular long running hit show 7th Heaven.

Shows like Buffy, Dawson's, and 7th Heaven managed to blur the lines on appeal, as the "good old fashioned" values prevalent in 7th Heaven could still endear families of all races and still delight the traditional white community it was geared towards. Buffy and Dawson's were mostly for the teenage crowd, but in reality, adults and kids (who probably shouldn't have been watching) alike enjoy and remember each show. Now, everything about the WB was not all good in the 90's, but I've always thought that it was the strongest network personally during the end of the decade. There were some failed shows, like the Joey Lawrence and family vehicle Brotherly Love, which failed equally on NBC before coming to WB and failing again. First Time Out, Kirk, Kelly Kelly, Nick Freno: Licensed Teacher, Savannah, Rescue 77, and a gang of other mostly forgettable shows came and went, but one show that seemingly remained strong until the WB folded, was the all female lead cast in Charmed. I never really watched the show, but it carried strong ratings and was a fan favorite on the network. Debuting in 1998, the show stuck around until the end of the WB in 2006. I'd like to consider this show one of the biggest in the history of the network and for the 90's, it was certainly vital to television.

So, in the 90's, what's the legacy of the WB Network? For my money, I'd give credit to The Jamie Foxx Show, The Steve Harvey Show, The Wayans Bros, Felicity, Dawson's Creek, 7th Heaven, Charmed, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer for carrying the network for years and into the 2000s. Those are the shows that instantly come to mind when I hear the WB Network and think of the decade in particular. Speaking of the decade, the next decade would be interesting for the WB and not so successful.... I'll let "Mr. WIRTB" Speed take it from here.... the floor is yours.

The 2000s By @SpeedOnTheBeat
-As mentioned in True's WIRTB Review for SOTB on UPN's 2000s run, I've been tasked with dealing with The WB (2000s). I'd be lying if I said I faithfully watched anything on The WB in the 2000s like that. I mean, most shows never lasted more than a season, plus they did the Wayans dirty. But, what I do remember is this: most of it was bad.

See, The WB in the 2000s had the same stifling growing pains that UPN did. Lots of holdovers from the 1990s were quickly fading. Shows like Dawson's Creek, Felicity, Sister, Sister, and The Jamie Foxx Show, all considered lynchpins in their respective lineups, were either ending or had ended before the clock struck 2000, zero zero, party's over, oops out of time. We got to see the resolution of the romance between Steve Hightower and Regina. Spoiler alert, it didn't end all that well (also, RIP Merlin Santana). So, essentially, what made WB stand out (it was pretty much how Fox started out, but a bit more family-friendly), it was gone.

How did The WB respond?

We got shows like All About The Andersons and Raising Dad. Damn you, True, for making me do this. Let's not even talk about All About The Andersons and accept that Anthony Anderson on TV wasn't good until he started appearing on The Bernie Mac Show and black-ish. It wasn't that he sucked. It's just that people didn't know how to write for him other than to be like "oh, hey. He's a fat guy. Fat guys are funny. Let's have him do fat guy stuff, but BLACK IT UP!"

Raising Dad, however, was just awful. For starters, it's pretty much Full House with Meagan Good in the role of Tahj Mowry and Kat Dennings before she was a Broke Girl (another series for another time). It wasn't bad because it was bad. It was bad because it was just boring and underdeveloped. Having Bob Saget play Danny Tanner only works when he's actually being Danny Tanner. Otherwise, especially in the 2000s (when we all knew he was a foul-mouthed SOB offscreen), it fell flat because we had these notions of what a Bob Saget TV character should be. It didn't help that the writing was just as bad as the notion of doing an updated Full House was--oh, wait...

The WB also, in addition to schlocky family comedies (Reba worked, somehow, because it was like Roseanne in some ways), recently cancelled ABC sitcoms (hi Sabrina), and so on, tried their hand at primetime variety shows and reality shows. I mean, it was the 2000s. Everyone was trying to reinvent the wheel. Two of these stick out in my mind: Blue Collar TV and The Jamie Kennedy Experiment.

One was Jeff Foxworthy and Larry, The Cable Guy reveling in their "redneck" roots. It was a show of somewhat inoffensive musings about the stereotypes of the lifestyle. It gave us Larry, The Cable Guy, but its crimes against humanity were usually harmless. Aside from Larry, though. That character can go die a hundred deaths by firing squad.

JKX, on the other hand, it featured Jamie Kennedy as B-Rad, an upper-class white guy appropriating gangsta rap tropes that was all the bad parts of Ali G and all the bad parts of that one white friend who wants to say "nigga" in every rap song because he feels it includes him in the conversation. The show itself was equal parts Candid Camera and Jackass, but the B-Rad character should be drug out into the street and shot.

And, in the spinoff movie, Malibu's Most Wanted, we almost got our wish. Ugh. That movie was...yeah. I think I smell another WIRTB coming on, so I'll leave it alone for a bit. Just know that, spoiler alert, it was that bad.

The WB never delved into sports like, oh, I don't know, every other network. I mean, even UPN had Smackdown! while WB had nothing in this arena really. Could sports have saved the network from being merged with UPN? Eh, probably not. But, it could've given a bit more variety in the way of programming.

The WB succeeded with shows like Smallville, Grosse Pointe, and Gilmore Girls, mainly because people had low expectations and these shows surpassed them incredibly (even if GP was canceled before its time). I mean, I watched Smallville because it was about Superman. I got a decent look into the makings of a superhero experimenting with becoming a hero or nah.

But, for every Smallville, there's a school shooting episode of One Tree Hill. Now, OTH was a decent show in its heyday. I wasn't a big fan of this North Carolina-based teen drama having, like, three black people in its school. But, it worked in a way that Degrassi worked: it was usually honest in its portrayal of so-called "teen issues."

But, the school shooting episode sucked. If you've seen it, you know why. It wasn't handled as realistically or with as much respect as it should've been. See, when Rick shot Drake--I mean, Jimmy--you had some realism to the whole series of events. OTH just felt like "hey, let's do a school shooting episode. Oh, and on top of that, let's try to kill off some important characters because soap opera!!!"

All in all, though? Again, I'll be honest. The WB didn't hit for me like other networks did at the time. Its attempts to broaden its audience felt forced a lot of the time. Its attempts to be inclusive felt flat in comparison to its earlier attempts. On top of that, many of its shows were just done better by other networks. But, as a whole, was it as bad as UPN's 2000s run? Eh, yes and no. It had its stinkers and slews of "canceled before it should've been" series. But, at least The WB didn't have Cuts.

Seriously, screw Cuts.

-The WB over the years had its ups and downs. What started off as a promising network had a very steep decline and fall, but regardless, the legacy of the WB Network is forever solidified in television history. And for that, we'll always appreciate and remember the WB. Including the frog. Actually, no. Fuck that frog. Every time I think of it, I see Chappelle going "welcome back ni**ers, to the WB, I like chicken". So fuck that frog, but I do appreciate the programming the network provided us with and some of my all time favorite sitcoms came from this network, so the love is always there. It's a shame we don't have networks with such a strong amount of diverse programming like the WB had. Maybe it's a sign of the times. Maybe it's something deeper. Who knows.



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