On Tuesday, executives at CBS and Warner Bros. announced plans to fold their respective struggling television networks, UPN and WB, and, from the pieces, create a single mega teen-friendly network to be called CW.
“The news of the teenage wedding between UPN and WB, those two fledgling youth networks, had a shotgun quality,” wrote Virginia Heffernan in the New York Times. “But it might be a glorious match, really, and the old folks in control now have a great deal riding on making the marriage work.”
Of course, the extended family of American media is nothing if not large and incestuous. As a result, many of the news outlets subsequently reporting on the merger were also faced with the tricky task of explaining their own blood ties to the wedding party.
Prior to the deal, for instance, a chunk of the WB was owned by Tribune Co., which also owns an array of newspapers across the country. On Wednesday, at least two of those papers, the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, published stories about the merger.
In both cases, the reporters did a good job of spelling out their parent company’s role in the arrangement. Full disclosures were immediately forthcoming. “Tribune Co., publisher of the Los Angeles Times, owns a stake in the WB,” reported the Times. “[T]he company said Tuesday that it would carry CW programming on its stations but would not be an owner.”
But not everyone was quite so transparent. On Tuesday evening, Fox News reported on the merger during a segment of The Big Story With John Gibson.
“Two money-losing networks that really haven’t made much of an impact since they were started a little less than 10 years ago,” reported correspondent Terry Keenan. “They’re going to combine. Now, UPN is owned by CBS. And Time Warner owns the WB, of course. So they’ve decided to come with this catchy name. And they’re going to call the new network the CW. I guess they couldn’t call it the WC.”
What Keenan failed to mention amid the perfunctory WC jokes was that Fox’s parent company, the News Corp., had potentially lost out in the deal.
For years, News Corp. distributed UPN content through a handful of its local stations in major markets across the country, including Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington. As virtually everyone except Fox was reporting, News Corp. had been excluded from the merger — a development that had left many of its local stations with gaping holes in their future programming.
Yesterday, Fox News once again reported on the nascent networks’ formation and once again failed to mention News Corp.’s resulting predicament.
“Tribune said its 16 UPN broadcast stations signed 10-year affiliate agreements with the new network,” Fox News reported on its Web site. “Similarly, CBS said its 12 UPN stations signed 10-year affiliate deals. The two station groups reach 48 percent of the country. The companies expect the remainder of the affiliates to come from a combination of WB and UPN stations.”
Felix Gillette writes about the media for The New York Observer.
And what of News Corp.’s former UPN-affiliated stations? At least for the time being, the future programming at those stations — like Fox News’ reporting — is still full of holes.