From the mid-1990s to 2005, The WB was the premier destination for soapy melodramas. Whether you preferred family dysfunction, high school politics or supernatural romance, there was something on the channel for you.
It was the place where several of your favorite prime-time TV favorites and movie actors got their start. Before Scott Foley was getting steamy on “Scandal,” he was a WB star. Same with Zac Efron and Jay Baruchel. Oh, and don’t forget three-time Academy Award nominee Michelle Williams. She was there too.
Sunday (Jan. 11) marks the 20th anniversary of The WB, and in honor of that landmark, Zap2it has gone through each of the network’s 32 dramas and ranked them from the positively awful to legendary.
32. ‘Safe Harbor’ (1999)
Brenda Hampton knows how to write a soaparific hit, as seen by her success with “7th Heaven” (which will be seen later on this list) and “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” — but “Safe Harbor” missed the mark by a lot. Despite having future stars like Chyler Leigh (“Grey’s Anatomy”) and Disney star Orlando Brown, this “My Three Sons” ripoff only lasted a few weeks before getting the plug pulled.
31. ‘Rescue 77’ (1999)
“Rescue 77” was The WB’s attempt at an “ER”-type drama, but it just didn’t take with the network’s core audience. It lacked impact and the good relationship drama that The WB was famous for. It didn’t make it a full two months on the air before flatlining.
30. ‘Dead Last’ (2001)
Rock stars by day, spirit soothers by night was the premise of this early 2000s comedy drama. Unfortunately, the title “Dead Last” seemed to only apply to the ratings, which sent the show to an early grave.
29. ‘Vampire High’ (2001-2002)
“Vampire High” tried to cash in on the vampire craze created by “Buffy,” but was a little too “Twilight” before Stephenie Meyer made that a global hit. If the show had shown up five years later it could have worked out well, a la “The Vampire Diaries.”
28. ‘Three’ (1998)
Imagine Robin Hood-like thieves (including one played by future “Modern Family” star Julie Bowen) captured by the American government and coerced into becoming secret agents. It sounds cool, but the premise didn’t take and “Three” was only able to steal eight episodes before getting the axe.
27. ‘D.C.’ (2000)
This very short-lived drama wasn’t able to cash in on Mark-Paul Gosselaar’s sizable “Saved By the Bell” fame or the loyal fan base of “Hyperion Bay” to make the political coming-of-age story connect. It petered out after a meager seven episodes, lacking the tense relationship drama that made other WB shows effective.
In 2003, The WB tried to give the tale of Tarzan the teen soap twist, with disastrous results. It gets points because it managed to snag Xena herself, Lucy Lawless, but otherwise this is one of those shows you remember happened and immediately cringe. Title star Travis Fimmel has had better luck with “Vikings.”
25. ‘Glory Days’ (2002)
This mystery series had all the ingredients to make it a huge success — Kevin Williamson (“Dawson’s Creek”) as creator, pre-“Everwood” Emily VanCamp as one of its stars and the Weinstein brothers as executive producers. Williamson may have gotten a bit too dark for his WB audience, because it flopped only nine episodes in.
24. ‘Birds of Prey’ (2002-2003)
“Birds of Prey” may have suffered from being ahead of its time. The female-driven, “Batman”-adjacent series could be a bona fide hit in today’s current comic book-heavy television landscape. Despite starting strong, the series wasn’t able to hold viewer attention and was let go after its first season.
23. ‘Savannah’ (1996-1997)
“Savannah” was a Southern soap from the king of prime-time soaps, Aaron Spelling. The first season revolved around a murder mystery in the Georgia town. However, the show was unable to sustain its pace past a second season and became one of Spelling’s lesser titles.
22. ‘The Mountain’ (2004-2005)
One of Oliver Hudson’s first post-“Dawson’s Creek” stops was on this short-lived series about a family that runs a ski resort. The family drama fell flat, but at least the show featured a pre-“Gossip Girl” Penn Badgley.
21. ‘Just Legal’ (2005-2006)
This is not a drill. Jay Baruchel and Don Johnson once co-starred in a legal drama on The WB. While the weirdness of that combination pushed it up several notches on this ranking system, that same weirdness is why it wasn’t successful on the network.
20. ‘Related’ (2005-2006)
“Related” was sort of like a mash-up of “Gilmore Girls” with “Charmed,” but without the magic, which really takes the fun out of it. Despite coming from “Friends” co-creator Marta Kauffman, the show didn’t have enough oomph to survive The WB’s transformation into The CW. That’s probably for the best, so Lizzy Caplan could go on to do much better things.
19. ‘The Bedford Diaries’ (2006)
“The Bedford Diaries” was an ill-fated attempt for The WB to have a “Cruel Intentions”-esque show. The problem is with a network show, you can’t have the same level of sex appeal and scandal and still be able to air it on television. So “The Bedford Diaries” became less appealing the more it talked about sex rather than showing it. Still, another Penn Badgley appearance and Milo Ventimiglia scores it major points for the attempt.
18. ‘Jack & Jill’ (1999-2001)
The problem with “Jack & Jill” is that the couple you wanted together got together way too quickly. Sure, they had their other romantic attachments in the beginning, but once even they knew they belonged together, it took the angst out of the show, and it couldn’t stay afloat past Season 2.
17. ‘Summerland’ (2004-2005)
The Lori Loughlin-led drama is a staple on any guilty-pleasure viewing list. It also starred Jesse McCartney, when he was a thing, and featured a host of highly quotable temper tantrums. Ryan Kwanten and Zac Efron both have “Summerland” on their early career resumes.
16. ‘Young Americans’ (2000)
“Young Americans” lasted only eight episoes, but it’s memorable thanks to being a “Dawson’s Creek” spinoff. Will Krudski and Kate Bosworth’s Bella Banks left lasting impressions as they tried to escape their sleepy North Carolina hometown.
15. ‘Popular’ (1999-2001)
It’s shocking to remember that “Popular” only had two seasons, because it seems like it was around forever. While at first it came off as a shallow, popular-vs.-underdogs high school sort of show, in its short run “Popular” covered the gamut of hot-button issues, including coming out, abuse and eating disorders. It was also wickedly funny. Infuriatingly, it ended with a car-accident cliffhanger that fans are still wondering about.
14. ‘Jack & Bobby’ (2004-2005)
“Jack & Bobby’s” weird flash-forward structure made it unique, but maybe hard to understand for a lot of The WB audience. Commentary from the future told you that Bobby (Logan Lerman) would eventually be president, even though in present-day 2004, his older brother Jack (Matt Long) holds all the charisma. By revealing their adult futures, however, the show squandered a lot of its drama potential. It’s definitely one of the most underrated WB shows, but that kept it from being one of the greats.
13. ‘Hyperion Bay’ (1998-1999)
“Hyperion Bay” succeeded where “D.C.” wasn’t able to by making a Mark-Paul Gosselaar vehicle work. While The WB primarily thrived in teen dramas, “Hyperion Bay” was one of its better-crafted family shows. Gosselaar and Dylan Neal’s dysfunctional brother relationship had a very “Party of Five” feel that made it lovable to the few fans it had, but sadly it wasn’t able to keep it up.
12. ‘7th Heaven’ (1996-2006)
Behold Brenda Hampton’s flagship show. It doesn’t matter if you were raised as a devout Christian or have never been to church — most everyone has an episode of “7th Heaven” they remember. The show often was over the top with its preachiness, but the Camden family definitely created their own space within the pop-culture zeitgeist.
11. ‘Supernatural’ (2005-2006)
Disclaimer: As this is a ranking of WB shows, only “Supernatural’s” first season was eligible for consideration since Season 2 and onward have aired on The CW. That being said, Season 1 of the Winchester adventures was a solid season of television. It filled the paranormal hole in the schedule with after “Angel” was canceled and while “Charmed” was waning.
10. ‘Roswell’ (1999-2001)
Vampires and witches are great, but The WB really hit something special with the alien romance “Roswell.” It had all the angst ingredients of a classic WB drama, but its sci-fi element made it stand out from the crowd. Unfortunately, The WB didn’t recognize the show’s full potential and ended it after three seasons, but it was able to find new life over at UPN.
9. ‘Charmed’ (1998-2006)
Which sister were you? Everyone had a “Charmed” sister spirit animal. “Charmed” was part of The WB’s supernatural golden era with “Buffy” and “Angel,” though it also blended in family drama that the former two didn’t have. Later seasons played fast and loose with its own universe rules and flip-floppy characters. It’s still a classic WB series, but it went out on a low note.
8. ‘Everwood’ (2002-2006)
Having to leave New York City for the quiet Colorado town of Everwood may have seemed like the worst thing to happen to Gregory Smith’s character Ephram, but it was one of the best things to happen to The WB. “Everwood” is one of those shows that only becomes more beloved over time, and it still holds up. And you want to talk about star power? Gregory Smith was the big teen name of the show when it aired, but the cast also included a young Emily VanCamp and Chris Pratt — as siblings, no less. It just aged a little too quickly and lost its steam at the end.
7. ‘One Tree Hill’ (2003-2006)
“One Tree Hill” was originally commissioned to be the teen drama to fill the “Dawson’s Creek” void once it went off the air. It very quickly became an icon in its own right. From the Lucas-Peyton-Brooke love triangle to Haley and Nathan’s high school marriage and the never-ending depravity of Dan Scott, “One Tree Hill” was must-watch TV for its fans. It was sexy and romantic, but eventually got too soapy for its own good. After the time jump in Season 5, psychotic nannies and home-wrecking suicidal models started showing up to create a drastically different show from the one fans originally fell in love with. Luckily, the show’s initial seasons were epic enough to push it up the list despite the insanity of its latter half.
6. ‘Smallville’ (2001-2006)
“Smallville” is another series that instantly stamped itself as a signature WB series, only to flounder in its last few seasons. Though everyone knows that Clark Kent eventually grows up to be Superman, watching him as an awkward teenager slowly discover his abilities made for awesome television. It’s only when “Smallville” started to ignore its own universe rules, with time-jumpy storylines and out-of-canon moments, that it started to lose the credibility it had gained in the beginning. It ran for five more seasons on The CW.
5. ‘Angel’ (1999-2004)
Not all spinoffs manage to maintain what made their predecessors successful, but “Angel” managed to do it. It helps that the show took many of the familiar faces from “Buffy” as well as the show’s creator, Joss Whedon, with it. Its only demerits are that it was impossible to have more “Buffy” on the show (though the crossover episode was beautifully done) and that weird time where Cordelia and Angel were a thing.
4. ‘Felicity’ (1998-2002)
“Felicity” could have gone down as a stereotypical college romance drama if it weren’t for the fact that it was helmed by “Lost” creator J.J. Abrams. Though “Felicity” contained all of the love triangles and hookup drama you want from a young adult soap, it became special for its oddities. Remember the weird time travel episode? Classic Abrams. Felicity (Keri Russell) herself was even too quirky for your run-of-the-mill, girl-next-door protagonist — she did, after all, switch colleges and coasts just to follow her high-school crush — and is the only TV heroine in recent memory to set off a national crisis by getting a haircut. There are friendships still today that can be shaken by the wrong answer to the most important question: Team Ben or Team Noel?
3. ‘Gilmore Girls’ (2000-2006)
Surely the enthusiasm the Internet showed when it was announced the complete series of “Gilmore Girls” was heading to Netflix explains why it ranks so high on this list. Lorelei (Lauren Graham) and Rory’s (Alexis Bledel) high-speed banter and witty jokes are iconic. Almost a decade after it went off the air, debates are still raging over who was Rory’s best boyfriend. Yet those are still nothing compared to the fervor of the Luke (Scott Patterson) and Lorelei shippers. The most important love, of course, rests between Lorelei and Rory, who taught audiences it’s important to speak your mind, never go anywhere without a cup of coffee and always have a snappy pop-culture reference handy for every occasion.
2. ‘Dawson’s Creek’ (1998-2003)
Yes, The WB mastered the teen soap genre, but only one of them can reign supreme. “Dawson’s Creek” has become the quintessential teen soap and a permanent fixture in the ’90s/early 2000s pop-culture zeitgeist. Not only did it provide a weekly abundance of teen sexual frustration and melodrama, but it also significantly improved the vocabulary of its audience due to verbose dialogue. Most importantly, Pacey Witter (Joshua Jackson) set the ultimate standard for fictional boyfriends. The series may have started about an ambitious boy who lived on a “Creek,” but it became standard to which all subsequent teen dramas have been compared.
1. ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ (1997-2001)
In the end there could only be one, and doesn’t it make sense its The Chosen One? Joss Whedon reinvented his early-’90s film into a high-octane, darkly funny drama about a high school girl chosen to defend the world from vampires and fellow creatures of hell. With the help of her “Scooby gang” friends, Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) fought countless monsters and demons while rocking halter tops, leather pants and platform boots. The show had romance on top of butt-kicking and dialogue that still influences TV writing today. Of all the iconic shows The WB produced, “Buffy” represents the best the network ever had to offer.