As I watch the final hours of the WB whisker away with glimpses of its glory days, I can’t help but be transported back to a time when the network so amply echoed my youth.
I imagine I was one of many discomfited teenagers who watched with wide eyes as the WB began forwarding its brand of youth-empowered programming in the mid-nineties. At the time, television was starved for good teen TV, coming out of an age of repetitive Spelling productions that no longer captured the challenges and astuteness of adolescents accurately. Here was a network that validated youth for the immensely impressionable time that it is, a network that believed that the universe was literally at the hands of the forceful and stubborn generation that it catered to. When no one else gave the awkwardness of youth a blink of an eye, WB stepped in and hit a niche with programming like the ever-praised Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dawson’s Creek and Felicity that glorified the formative years as blueprints that define the future.
That being said, there’s no doubt that WB’s youth-oriented prowess fell flat over the years. In an act of irony, it seems the network took its own blueprint philosophy to heart. Instead of expanding its program palette, the WB chose to soak in their adolescent glory, ditching some of the lower-rated fortes for new shows that were thinly-veiled replicas of old hits. In essence, the network copied itself and did a rather bad job of it. The result was a series of shows–some of which still exist, that aren’t nearly as compelling as their original counterparts and lack their new-fangled excitement.
As a Buffy fan, I can wholeheartedly attest to the feeling of watching used goods when tuning in for an episode of Smallville, right down to the very actors actually, as this year would indicate. Did this cause the ultimate downfall of the WB? Probably not. A host of new generation WBers, who were most likely relaxing in their single-digit-aged years when the original Dubba campaign first came out, were probably feeding the ever-fledgling network with viewership these past few years. But those of us who truly grew up with the station– whose formative years were shaped around the network’s own, have grown older, wiser, and maybe just a little more adult. Many of us have flocked off to more Ã¢â‚¬Ëœmature’ TV tastes, others to the equally faltering UPN which grabbed WB’s goods some seasons ago when it stood idly by as classics like Buffy and Roswell flew silently away.
The curse of the network then was never its inability at grasping the teenage audience, but instead growing with it. This was a network that began its life at 13, peaked at 19 and stayed that way. For some, this isn’t a problem. The thought of eternal youth is a dizzying drug and getting it in doses of network TV can be doubly effective. But growing up, embracing life as an adult–that’s a reality that was never truly mastered by The Frog. It seems rather unbelievable if you think about it; this was a network that lived through the strongest stream of technological advances, societal changes, and outbreaks of teenage violence in recent history. You’d think growing up would come easy. But still it stands motionless.
I guess I can’t help but be a little jealous. Time has weathered me and my TV choices, but WB, somewhere in its idealism, always remained young.
A decade later, I imagine I, like many other discomfited twenty-something-year-olds am still watching wide-eyed, as a network that helped us find our footing as adolescents, is leaving us to go it alone as adults.
Fare thee well WB. Hopefully we can do it without you.
Sir Linksalot: Television News