WB's frog no longer has a leg to stand on

July 23, 2005|By Scott Collins | Scott Collins,LOS ANGELES TIMES

HOLLYWOOD - The frog is dead - killed by the bosses at the WB Network.

Michigan J. Frog, the dancing, singing cartoon amphibian brought to life half a century ago by legendary animator Chuck Jones, has been booted as the corporate mascot at WB, which is struggling to shed its teeny-bopper image.

"The frog is dead and buried," WB Chairman Garth Ancier told reporters yesterday morning at the semiannual Television Critics Association media tour in Beverly Hills.

Ancier broke the news of the frog's demise incidentally, in response to a question about a new network logo featuring a green-and-blue splash-paint design.

He seemed surprised when reporters began peppering him and WB Entertainment President David Janollari with questions about the top hat-wearing frog.

Ancier then joked that the network had received permission from a federal court to remove the frog's feeding tube. Michigan J. Frog made his first appearance in Jones' 1955 cartoon One Froggy Evening. (He's an amphibian whose song-and-dance routines have his owner seeing dollar signs. His refusal to perform in public, however, soon leaves the man broke.)

The death of the mascot might seem trivial, but the reasons behind it are not.

WB suffered a bruising season this year, as highly praised series such as Jack & Bobby sank in the ratings.

Janollari called Jack & Bobby's collapse "the most heartbreaking experience this network went through in the last year," but added that cancellation became inevitable when ratings showed no sign of improvement.

The situation is worrisome because one top competitor, UPN, has generated enormous buzz for Chris Rock's fall sitcom, Everybody Hates Chris.

WB's new series - including the drama Just Legal with Don Johnson and Related, a comedy-drama about four sisters - have not received nearly as much attention.

(WB is partly owned by the Tribune Co., publisher of the Los Angeles Times and The Sun.)

Executives partly blame the poor performance on a lingering perception that, as the former home of youth dramas such as Felicity and Dawson's Creek, the network is intended solely for teenagers.

The network now wants to convince viewers in their 20s and 30s that it's "reflecting the lives they're living as well," Janollari said.

The frog, network officials believe, might have underscored the teens-only reputation.

"That's not the image we wanted to perpetuate," Janollari explained.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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