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UPN + WB = WTF?

Any mother can tell you: two wrongs don’t make a right. Anyone who passed basic algebra can tell you: the sum of two negatives is never a positive.

Unfortunately, it appears that executives at CBS and Warner Bros. are neither mothers nor mathematicians. They recently announced that starting this September, they’re combining their notoriously unsuccessful networks, UPN and the WB. This merger of mediocrity is like a bizarre reality show in itself. Can two very different (but equally stale) programming line-ups learn to live together under one network’s roof?

For the record, neither network has ever been financially successful. The WB got a whiff of profit in only a small handful of its 11 years, and CBS chief executive Leslie Moonves is quoted in The New York Times as saying that UPN executives were “approaching the point” where they were “getting close” to “hoping to break even.”

Maybe the new network, the CW (no, seriously: an amalgam of the letters in CBS and WB), should try approaching the point where they’re getting close to hoping to break out some quality programming. Just a suggestion.

Maybe, instead of a vapid parade of pretty teenagers, the WB can try giving those pouty lips something meaningful to say beyond Seventh Heaven’s brave preaching that racism is wrong, smoking is bad, school violence is totally uncool, and abstinence rules. (Either way, neither Seventh Heaven nor the WB will ever by forgiven by the current generation for launching the career of Ashlee Simpson.)

The point is, melodrama comes standard with the teenage years, and this is one instance when we don’t need art — The Tartan uses the term loosely — to imitate life. We really don’t need Dawson and Rory and a pubescent Clark Kent moping around along with them.

As for UPN, it deserves a modicum of credit for attempting to break the racial monotony (read: whiteness) that seems to have infected network television. UPN also deserves several modicums of discredit for doing a terrible job of developing their diverse casts into decent TV. Does UPN really think that its largely African-American audience is satisfied by cultural caricature? Isn’t it condescending to think that African-Americans are content to simply watch other African-Americans onscreen, rather than appreciate good writing and engaging characters as well?

This merger seems like a last-ditch attempt at profitability for each network, and it exemplifies the increasing trend of cable channels’ domination over network television. Cable television, for the most part, has recently had enough faith in itself and respect for its viewers to produce truly thoughtful programming, as evidenced by such award-winning shows as Sex and the City, The Shield, and Six Feet Under.

Until networks can lose the catch-phrases, caricatures, and shtick which have defined their lackluster shows for decades, they’re doomed to low ratings, meager profits, ruthless mockery, gossip, backstabbing, teenage pregnancy, and sobbing into pillows.