UPN, WB announce network merger

Someone should throw Michigan J. Frog a retirement party.

The amphibian mascot of the WB will hang up his top hat this September when the network joins forces with UPN to become “The CW.”

Both channels, so-called “baby networks,” formed in 1995 and found unique but relatively small programming niches.

UPN is usually associated with the otherwise underrepresented African-American demographic; by my count, there are nine current network shows starring black characters, and eight are on UPN.

The WB shifted its focus to youth (and guilty-pleasure-loving older viewers) following its success with shows like “7th Heaven,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Dawson’s Creek.”

But the WB’s highest-rated show pulls in about 3.5 million Nielsen viewers a week, slightly more than UPN, compared to the over 25 million viewers who tune into CBS’ “CSI” or FOX’s “American Idol.”

In fact, it’s often been the case that the lowest-rated shows on a channel like NBC still rank higher than almost every show on the WB or UPN.

At least part of this gap is caused by the fact that not all local affiliates carry both stations, and some carry neither.

This is meant to change next fall, as spokespersons announced on Jan. 24. Dawn Ostroff, the former head of UPN, was named the CW’s entertainment president, overseeing a 50/50 staff pulled together from both networks.

By bringing together their most valuable assets, the networks hope to follow in the footsteps of FOX in the 1990s and become credible ratings competition.

The merge leaves some current programs facing an uncertain future, but the CW has already announced its adoption of several key WB and UPN shows next season, including hits like “Smallville,” “Gilmore Girls” and “America’s Next Top Model,” as well as less-appreciated critical favorites like the teen-noir “Veronica Mars” and Chris Rock’s autobiographical sitcom “Everybody Hates Chris.”

Also likely to survive the move are the Ashton Kutcher-produced reality series “Beauty and the Geek” and UPN’s pro-wrestling staple “WWE Smackdown.”

Space is being saved for a few new shows, such as a new drama from “Dawson’s Creek” creator Kevin Williamson and a “Smallville” spinoff based on the comic book hero “Aquaman.”

And for those wondering about the name – CW stands for the two networks’ parent companies, CBS Corp. and Warner Brothers, not “could work,” as some have joked.

The new channel does not yet have an official logo, but that dancing frog is still looking for work.