September 16, 1999
By Franklin Harris
Imagine my surprise Sunday when I tuned to Chicago-based superstation WGN for my fix of "Batman Beyond" and "Animaniacs" only to find "Full House" reruns instead.
Is it a sign of the Apocalypse? Not quite, but it is the first step in a programming move that will likely see Tennessee Valley television viewers deprived of some of the best shows on TV.
The Kids WB cartoons were the first to go, as WGN began phasing out its broadcast of programs from The WB network, which is home to shows like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Charmed," "Dawson's Creek" and "7th Heaven."
As an upstart broadcaster, The WB has relied until recently on WGN to reach areas of the country where it doesn't have local broadcast affiliates -- areas like the Tennessee Valley.
That was a good deal for The WB, but it was a bad one for those local WB affiliates who found themselves competing with WGN.
Now that The WB has established itself, the network wants to keep its affiliate stations happy. So, as of this fall, WGN is dropping its WB programming.
WGN will air its last WB shows on Oct. 6.
Locally, that means goodbye to "Buffy," "Charmed" and the rest. If you were looking forward to the Buffy spin-off series, "Angel," forget it.
It also means no more "Pokémon," as the cartoon sensation is exclusive to The WB as of this fall.
Still, even though WGN is dropping The WB and we have no local WB station, there may be a way to keep WB programming alive in the Valley.
For areas without local WB affiliates, The WB has established The WB Network, which all cable companies have the option of offering their subscribers. So, if your favorite program is about to be replaced by "Full House" or "Webster" reruns, you can call your cable company and request they carry The WB Network.
Also, Dish Network subscribers can still see WB programming via satellite.
For more information on the WGN/WB shakeup, call (888) 474-WBWB, or see www.thewb.com.
Meanwhile, things are looking bad for the nation's other upstart broadcaster, UPN.
Viacom, which owns half of the struggling UPN network, is seeking to merge with CBS. If federal antitrust officials approve the merger, however, Viacom will have to sell its part of UPN or else run afoul of Federal Communications Commission regulations.
According to published reports, Viacom has informed the FCC that it has no financial interest in maintaining its stake in UPN.
UPN, which has been a financial basket case since it began broadcasting five years ago, has only two notable programs on its schedule, "Star Trek: Voyager" and "Dilbert." Even the network's weekend morning lineup is padded with cartoon leftovers from the early '80s.
Without Viacom's financial support, UPN is almost certain to collapse, and it's unlikely that anyone will be interested in stepping into Viacom's role as sugar daddy.
UPN's troubles can't be welcome news for Florence broadcast station WHDF-TV 15, formerly WOWL, as it prepares to broadcast across the Tennessee Valley as a UPN affiliate.
For years WOWL has been an NBC affiliate, serving the Shoals area with a signal that just inched as far East as parts of Limestone County. But with its new, more-powerful transmitter, the revamped WHDT must drop its NBC affiliation to avoid competing with NBC's other area affiliate, WAFF-TV 48.
Still, WHDF's bad luck could be our good luck. If UPN goes under, "Star Trek: Voyager" and "Dilbert" will likely find homes elsewhere. Meanwhile, WHDF will be free to affiliate with The WB, thus giving us back "Buffy" and "Pokémon" and "Batman Beyond."
And we'll all be able to watch TV happily ever after.