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Welcome Back, WB

Defunct network rises from the grave online

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When The CW launched in 2006 from the ashes of UPN and The WB, no one seemed all that concerned with the loss of the individual identities the two parent networks had cultivated. The motivation was simply to keep both struggling outlets from going under entirely, by combining their strongest, most popular programming into one entity that would reach more viewers and have more advertising power.

Two years later, ratings are down and speculation runs rampant that The CW may not even survive one more season. Meanwhile, Warner Brothers has quietly begun resurrecting the WB brand with a new website at TheWB.com that is currently in its beta phase (it launches officially August 27). As The CW aggressively markets to the former WB target audience—teen girls and 20-something women—Warner Brothers executives seem to have realized that maybe there was more affinity for the source of shows like Gilmore Girls, Dawson’s Creek and Buffy the Vampire Slayer than they previously thought.

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The meat of the current WB site is its reserve of beloved shows, including the ones mentioned above as well as WB favorites One Tree Hill and Smallville (both of which still air new episodes on The CW) and a handful of shows produced by Warner Brothers but originally aired on other networks, like The O.C and Friends. Original series are also on tap, starting with Sorority Forever, which premieres September 8. Creators including Josh Schwartz (the man behind The O.C. as well as Gossip Girl, The CW’s current beacon of ratings hope) and film director McG are among the producers of the site’s upcoming originals.

Clicking through the current beta version of the site, there isn’t quite as much to see as I had hoped. My main interest was in Gilmore Girls: I’ve been watching the show on DVDs borrowed from a friend, but her opinion is that after the fourth season it ceased to be worth the time, so when I got to that season’s finale, I started looking for a cheap and easy way to watch the rest (even Rory’s ill-advised tryst with a married Dean didn’t dissuade me from wanting to see more episodes). It isn’t available on the popular streaming-video site Hulu, nor is it for sale as a download either at iTunes or Amazon, so renting or buying the DVD myself seemed like my only legal option, until I read about the WB site.

At the moment, though, there are only five episodes of each series posted on the site, so unless I want to relive the beginning of Gilmore’s first season, I’m out of luck. Aside from the recognizable reruns, there’s a pair of Australian series posted right now, shows that haven’t been seen in the U.S. but seem tailor-made for the WB audience. Blue Water High is a bland, Disney Channel-style series about teens at a surfing academy, and it makes up in young, exposed flesh for what it lacks in plot and dialogue. Dangerous is an edgier drama (with lots of bleeped profanity) about a gang of petty criminals in Sydney. It, too, features plenty of young hotties, although it also takes on social issues in a clumsy TV way, dealing with “ram-raiding,” apparently a big criminal trend in Australia, in which groups of youths smash cars through convenience-store windows and make off with ATMs.

A couple of Australian imports and a handful of episodes of popular favorites aren’t going to turn TheWB.com into an online-TV powerhouse, let alone a competitor for The CW. But if the fully launched site allows people nostalgic for the old WB to watch the entire runs of series they loved, plus catch new shows produced in the same spirit and targeted toward the same audience, it might just do something The CW has yet to accomplish: foster genuine enthusiasm and continued brand loyalty.

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