Oh, What a Primetime Party: The Night is Young on the WB

Curator's Note

This lengthy, two-and-a-half minute spot, which first aired in September 2000, creates the sense that The WB network was a destination. But unlike NBC’s “Come on Home” promotional series, The WB is not luring viewers home for a night of family viewing, rather here the network narrows in on the youth market inviting them—not onto the couch—but rather into the party already in progress every night during primetime on The WB. This type of network campaign pushes the envelope on “Come on Home” or even ABC’s “Still the 1” promos by building cross-series interaction between characters. The stars of Buffy, Charmed, Roswell, Popular, Dawson’s Creek, The Jamie Foxx Show, 7th Heaven, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch all intermingle, gathering together for (oh, what a) night of fun-filled, high-energy, non-alcohol clubbing. (This cross-series promo strategy was digitally replicated a few years later by HBO, and was used this past season for a series of 30 second spots on the USA Network.) As they wander through the club, the actors are somewhat isolated by age. Interesting, while the 7th Heaven tweens (and therefore tween audiences) get to play with the teens, the adult actors are separated out. Needless to say, while teen Buffy might be in love with a vampire seventeen times her age on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in this world adults like Shannon Doherty and David Boreanaz only play with adults. Unless, of course, you happen to be Jamie Foxx. The WB’s popular “urban” night of programming seems to create trouble for this promo. Jamie Foxx sits alone—clearly too old, and perhaps too black?—for this under-age, virtually all-white party. Not everyone is invited; nor is everyone eager to join, or enter, the club. This, in many ways seems to speak to Joseph Turow’s notion in his book Breaking up America of “electronic gated communities.” Single adults may come, but as the tag-line says, the night is young: no parents are allowed. And for some adults watching this promo, while they might recognize the song, they might feel similarly uninvited, and uninterested in joining the party. While most of the promo offers an image of a sanitized, insular space where kids play dominos, spray seltzer on each other, and dance in large groups, the song tells a much more provocative tale. “December 1963,” (here remixed by pop star Vitamin C to “December 1993”) speaks of a young man’s first sexual experience, and in this way, the idea of a youthful seduction plays right into The WB’s hope that they can attract their audiences. The final series of close-up shots of the most networks most popular stars plays into this sexualized enticement. And for its core audience—those of us who loved the best of what The WB offered—the seduction worked. In fact, it still does. Oh yes, I still remember September 2000.


Really interesting piece, Miranda. I also remember this promo well and felt very affected by it at the time for several of the reasons you identify. What also grabbed me was how the shared party atmosphere really linked multiple series together spatially. Many of these series had party spots where their teen protagonists hung out. This space is so reminiscent of the Bronze from Buffy meets Piper’s bar from Charmed, and likely also incorporates other spaces from other series as well. The effect for me was the construction of an illusionary shared hang-out spot (The WB) where stars/characters (here purposely blurred -- As a Buffy watcher, for instance, it is easy to recognize Sarah Michelle Geller and David Boreanaz essentially re-enacting certain character moments from The Bronze [Buffy parties, Angel lurks uncomfortably in the corner]) hung out together before and after heading off on their individual adventurings. Though preliminary, this seemed like an early gesture at creating a WB brand premised on both star and character interactions across entities, essentially as inhabiting the same story world (so that it is easy to red Boreanaz and Shannon Doherty's shared glance as flirtatious or in recognition of their shared generational position, but also as a logical extension of their shared generic and narrative histories as vampire and witch respectively who both hunt down their own kind). As you point out, though, this was often an uneasy sell given the generic, thematic and tonal distinctions across series. Thus, the party atmosphere is both fun and youth friendly but also lit darkly, seductively to keep with the darker/ more adult elements that many of these series dealt with. In this case, the remix version of “Oh, What a Night” seems an appropriate choice given the mixed messages contained in the spot about the type of party the WB offered its viewers.

Great piece, Miranda! And I think this piece adds another dimension to Joshua's piece about nationalizing shows - do you think it's possible to read this promo as an attempt to render WB's youth programming "odorless" enough for other predominantly white TV markets? All Ten Network has to do is suggest to australian youth that they are invited to this party as well...

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