WB; Melissa Hebeler / E! Illustration
WB; Melissa Hebeler / E! Illustration
The WB didn't show up in our TV Guide until 1995 and the network only lasted for 11 years before joining forces with UPN and becoming The CW.
Yet at the same time, The WB has never gone away—not least because 360 more minutes of Gilmore Girls are going to magically appear at the crack of midnight after this Thanksgiving on Netflix and most people still refer to Joshua Jackson in conversation as Pacey.
What is easily forgettable is that the home of so many shows that helped shape the TV-watching experience—and therefore the lives—of millions of millennials was such a fleeting thing. It only was around for half of the 1990s—and yet it helped define the 1990s!
Chances are, at least one show on The WB—if not many of them—meant something to you.
Whether it was Dawson's Creek and its quick-witted yet emotionally tortured teens, Sarah Michelle Gellar's stake-driving angst and undead-boyfriend troubles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer or 7th Heaven's wholesome yet never too saccharine Camden family, there was a drama that spoke to the teen girl or boy in all of us, whether you were watching in your childhood bedroom, the family living room, your dorm room or your starter apartment.
What, you don't think you would have ever given up Stanford to follow a guy to NYU and eventually cut off all your long Carrie Bradshaw hair? Without Felicity, the concept of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend would sound even crazier.
It gets a little hazy remembering what aired when and which show started where, especially since The WB was both a launching pad and a receiving ground for series that bounced around among networks before becoming another network entirely, bringing some shows with it (like 7th Heaven) and cutting others loose.
But briefly, The WB launched on Jan. 11, 1995, with a comedy block that for years was anchored by The Wayans Bros., considered the network's very first sitcom because it aired at 8 p.m. on Jan. 11, Unhappily Ever After, The Parent 'Hood (which premiered a week later) and the short-lived Muscle.
Also beefing up the lineup during that first season were cartoons—most memorably the Emmy-winning Animaniacs spin-off Pinky & the Brain.
So, what do you want to do tonight?
For the first few years of its existence, half-hour sitcoms were The WB's bread and butter. They picked up Sister, Sister, starring still-beloved twins Tia and Tamera Mowry, in September 1995 after it was canceled by ABC and, as a replacement for Muscle, it lived happily on Wednesdays for four seasons.
The Steve Harvey Show and The Jamie Foxx Show joined The WB family in 1996—and we're certainly still talking about both of those titular stars today, too.
Plenty of shows were trotted out and didn't hit—Cleghorne, Kirk, or First Time Out, anybody? Anybody…?
But in 1996, with teen-centric shows all the rage thanks to Fox's Beverly Hills 90210, and the cult classics in the making on Nickelodeon and The Disney Channel, The WB got into the game with 7th Heaven.
While certainly not what one might consider a quirky show, and parents were heavily involved rather than absent from the kids' lives , the wholesome-with-many-identifiable-bumps-in-the-road drama about the five (and later seven) Camden kids, their devoted mom and pastor dad became The WB's most-watched series ever.
(Side note: We're just focusing on what the show was and what it meant at the time, but we acknowledge its since-tarnished legacy.)
Nineteen of the network's 20 most-watched hours involved 7th Heaven and it was one of only seven shows that carried over from The WB to The CW—and it was by far the oldest. Even if nothing resonated from that show other than it being our first real contact with Jessica Biel, it would've been a moment for the pop culture books, but instead the drama offered up a perspective on pretty much every adolescent-and-beyond conundrum, from training bras and first periods to teen pregnancy, bullying and domestic abuse.
But a network's teen-targeted programming can't subsist on wholesomeness alone.
Courtesy Warner Brothers
Enter Buffy the Vampire Slayer in 1997, the greatest show based on a fairly terrible movie perhaps ever. One of those cult-favorite and critically adored shows that mystifyingly was perennially underappreciated come Emmy time (a precursor, if you will, to The Wire being woefully ignored year after year), the saga of Buffy, Willow, Xander, Giles, Angel, Spike, Dawn, the hell that high school can be and the hell mouth that Sunnydale actually was gave us a super-human yet realistically flawed heroine in a time still devoted to heroes and made Sarah Michelle Gellar the poster girl for almighty badassery.
Finding your way in a new town after not fitting in at yet another school? Figuring out how to save the world one more time—but with feeling?! Cloaked in self-loathing after your friends bring you back from the dead? And when Angel and Buffy finally consummate and he loses his soul? An all-too-familiar nightmare for all girls come to life.
And because Joss Wheedon—he went on to do a few things after creating Buffy, so we've heard—determined that Buffy needed someone who could bring her into the light, David Boreanaz's Angel got his own cloaked-in-darkness show on The WB as well.
The weirdness that was The WB letting Buffy move to UPN in 2001 when contract negotiations fell apart was just one of those examples of business not reflecting the will of the eternally devoted people.
Buffy was The WB's third-most-watched show when its third season premiered in 1998, but that year would also bring the trifecta of programming that hit all the boxes on the list of elements we'd grown to need in our weekly TV schedules: romance; angst; precocious banter among the sophomore set; a touch of the supernatural; and very good-looking people.
Jan. 20, 1998, enter the trials and travails of Dawson Leery, Joey Potter, Pacey Witter and Jen Lindley, bound to bond with, suffer over, lust after and betray each other at any given time over six seasons. The drama, which took the central foursome and those they met along the way through high school and college, also turned the usual girl-wants-boy, boy-finally-notices, girl-gets-boy, boy-screws-it-up-but-eventually-makes-it-right trope on its head (and not in a stupid way, like Beverly Hills 90210 did, Dylan).
Better yet, hidden under their "I Don't Want to Wait" personae, James Van Der Beek, Katie Holmes, Joshua Jackson and Michelle Williams—in order from proficient to powerhouse—were quite the actors who went on to bigger things.
The show was also right in the thick of the "as heard on tonight's episode" trend, with Paula Cole's theme song joining Jessica Simpson, Sixpence None the Richer, Heaver Nova and Sophie B. Hawkins on Songs From Dawson's Creek in 1999.
But perhaps Dawson's persistence in not understanding women was a little juvenile for you?
After that sweet, sweet spring of 1998, Felicity arrived, just in time for school, on Sept. 29.
Felicity Porter, who might have been insufferable had she not been played by Kerri Russell, decided to follow her crush, Ben, to "University of New York" because he wrote something nice in her yearbook. So long, Stanford!
Really, who hasn't done that? (Or wanted to do that when you were 17, at least?)
No Skype or FaceTime, but Felicity had her tape recorder to exchange messages with Sally Reardon (Janeane Garofalo's always-enjoyable voice) and, when things didn't take right off with hunky Ben (Scott Speedman), there was resident advisor Noel (also hunky Scott Foley) to pique her interest.
The WB/ Richard Cartwright
Though devoid of smoke monsters and Others, Felicity was co-created by J.J. Abrams, who would go on to bring us Lost, bring back Star Trek and Star Wars, and otherwise own 2006 to now in the hearts of fanboys and girls everywhere.
Moreover, Russell is now a downright tour de force as an '80s-era Soviet spy on The Americans. We sensed that Felicity seethed with a certain fierceness…
Speaking of which, a week after Felicity registered at The WB, Shannen Doherty made her hotly anticipated return to series TV in Charmed, sort of a Gilmore Girls meets Supernatural, only neither of those shows existed yet.
Doherty joined fellow former teen stars Alyssa Milano and Holly Marie Combs as Prue, Phoebe and Piper Halliwell—the most powerful good witches of all time—as they took on the forces of darkness in San Francisco.
Not as snappy as Buffy but particularly entertaining when Doherty's Prue was still around, Charmed was the first primetime series about witches and it helped pave the way for today's glut of supernatural fare.
"I think, really, it's due to the success of Charmed and the fact that it had so much success even after it was done, meaning that people looked for it, people searched it out and watched those episodes over and over," Milano told E! News in 2013. The Charmed fans are the greatest fans on the planet and the most loyal fans on the planet. I feel like networks are trying to replicate that."
Moreover, it became The WB's second-longest-running drama, after 7th Heaven. Which is funny since 7th Heaven was about a minister's family and Charmed was about a coven.
Memorable yet relatively short-lived series such as Roswell and Popular popped up in 1999, the year that also saw the end of The Wayans Bros., Unhappily Ever After, The Parent 'Hood and Sister, Sister—the original comedy block that helped The WB get off the ground—as the network became the go-to destination for adolescent-friendly pop culture touchstones. (And yes, The WB was culpable in the white-washing of TV that was occurring at the time among broadcast networks, as chronicled in the 1999 book Color by Fox.)
Never mind that the 1990s were technically over, but the spirit lived on in Gilmore Girls, which premiered in 2000, and Smallville, which arrived in 2001, Tom Welling's Clark Kent unwittingly opening the flood gate on the only genre that's surpassing the supernatural on TV these days.
That would be the superhero genre, of course, and The CW is leading the way with Arrow, The Flash, DC's Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl.
And so, 10 years after it signed off, the impact of The WB lives on, in what we watch now, in the celebrities we still talk about and the small-screen couples we still argue over.
From Dawson's crying face to the rapid-fire banter between Lorelai and Rory to the eternal question that is Angel vs. Spike, those shows subtly shaped what we think about when we think about what gave millennials all the feelings.