In the mid-1990s, two major Hollywood studios, Warner Bros. and Paramount Pictures, each launched their own broadcast television network with the hope of becoming the fifth major player in an industry long dominated by ABC, CBS, NBC, and, more recently, Fox. Despite the odds against them, the WB and UPN went on to alter the landscape of primetime television, only to then merge as the CW network in 2006—each a casualty of conflicting personalities, relentless competition, and a basic failure to anticipate the future of the entertainment business.
Unfolding amid this backdrop of high-stakes business ventures, fanatical creative struggles, and corporate power plays, Season Finale traces the parallel stories of the WB and UPN from their prosperous beginnings to their precipitous demise. Following the big money, big egos, and big risks of network television, Susanne Daniels, a television executive with the WB for most of its life, and Cynthia Littleton, a longtime television reporter for Variety, expose the difficult reality of trying to launch not one but two traditional broadcast networks at the moment when cable television and the Internet were ending the dominance of network television.
Through in-depth reportage and firsthand accounts, Daniels and Littleton expertly re-create the creative and business climate that gave birth to the WB and UPN, illustrating how the race to find suitable programming spawned a heated rivalry between the two but also created shows that became icons of American youth culture. Offering insider stories and never-before-published details about shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dawson's Creek, 7th Heaven, Gilmore Girls, Smallville, Felicity, Girlfriends, Everybody Hates Chris, and America's Next Top Model, Daniels and Littleton provide an exhaustive account of the two creative teams that ushered these groundbreaking programs into the hearts, minds, and living rooms of Americans across the country.
But in spite of these successes, the WB and UPN unraveled, and here the authors elucidate the corporate miscalculations that led to their undoing, examining the management missteps and industry upheaval that brought about their rapid decline and the surprising teamwork that united them as the CW. The result is a cautionary and compelling entertainment saga that skillfully captures a precarious moment in television history, when the dramatic transformation of the broadcast networks signaled an inevitable shift for all pop culture.
This predictable look at the "unpredictable business" of television tells the tale of upstart networks the WB and UPN, whose eventual failures were both "symptom" and "byproduct" of "an industry in transition" amid "a broader business environment gone bananas." A former executive at the WB, Daniels recounts the 11-year history of the "netlet" and its main competitor, UPN, in exacting detail. Daniels and her co-writer Littleton (of Variety magazine) bring what gossip they have-noting, for instance, that Katie Holmes nearly passed on Dawson's Creek for the lead in her high school musical-but the majority of the writing is strictly business. Unfortunately, neither Daniels nor Littleton have the knack for developing characters; the majority of the large cast (listed helpfully up front) are introduced with lazy cliches (screenwriter Kevin Williamson "was all youthful exuberance that day, sporting a sweet grin, tousled sandy blonde hair and deep-blue eyes"), drawing life from behind-the-scenes discussion of deals, partnerships, creative development and ratings wars. This chronicle should appeal to future network executives, but fans will probably be happier watching Buffy reruns-or even Star Trek: Voyager.