Season Finale: The Unexpected Rise & Fall Of The WB And UPN
I wanted to do a rare thing on this blog: a book review. I briefly mentioned once or twice before that I was reading this book called Season Finale. I had picked it up while browsing the media/entertainment section at Borders a little more than a month ago, looking for something to get with a 40% off any book coupon I had to burn off. I stumbled upon Season Finale on shelf and only a paragraph or two into reading the inside flap of the book jacket was already walking towards the register with a copy. Well, I just finished reading the book tonight. The verdict? Absolutely spectacular. This book is THE historical record of the 12 year battle between the two start-up broadcast networks, giving the steps along the way from the perspective of both networks. The book is co-written by Suzanne Daniels (the charter president of entertainment for The WB who was there for the majority of the run, and involved right up to the end) and Variety deputy editor Cynthia Littleton.
For those who don’t know, I was a fan of The WB from the beginning, and for most of its run considered it to be the best network on TV. As a male in his twenties, I didn’t fit squarely into their targeted demographic (teen females), but I recognized the overall creative output of the network which featured some of my all-time favorite shows during their run. However, despite being a Star Trek fan, I despised the UPN network, right up until it’s final couple years. Star Trek: Voyager, which basically launched the network, was the worst Star Trek will ever get (fingers crossed). I hated the show. Enterprise would be an improvement later in the life of the network. But during the run of UPN, other than Enterprise, there would be only two show I would truly like. The first was the animated series Dilbert, which was a given since I’m a big fan of the comic strip. The second came in the 11th hour of the network, which was Veronica Mars, one of the greatest series in TV history.
As a TV nerd, I was pretty well versed in the ongoing struggle between the two rival start-up networks as it happened during their 12 year struggle against each other. Yet as I read Season Finale, I was endlessly enthralled by what REALLY went on behind closed doors. The corporate politics involved on both sides of the story are worthy of a TV series of its own. Both sides went through excruciatingly brutal growing pains, as the result of a great many things. And as different as their situations were, it was very much a shared experience. It’s clear that The WB was a far more sentimental affair for all involved, which comes as no great surprise, so it’s all the better that the book is written directly from their perspective. UPN’s struggles were much more cold and corporate in nature, featuring a larger number of rotating staffers involved, so it’s a bit more clinical in nature. Through it all, the book goes into wonderful details and never fails to represent the perspectives of all involved. It helps out by pointing out the long histories of many of the players involved in the sagas, and their great many ties and interactions together over their decades in the industry. To put it simply, this is THE account of the battle to be the fifth broadcast network, which ended in something of a draw as the entertainment landscape shifted under their feet to no longer care about who was a broadcast network anymore.
To anyone with a passing interest in reading about the behind the scenes goings-on of a pair of such mamoth undertakings, pitted directly against each other for more than a decade of struggles, not to mention buyouts and restructures, I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s one of the most fascinating reads I’ve had in years.