”Felicity” fans looking for their favorite curly haired college student Wednesday night at 9 p.m. shouldn’t fear. The series is on hiatus to make room for the return of ”Jack & Jill,” which has 13 weeks to prove itself to the WB. The network decided to give both romantic dramas a shot at the prime post- ”Dawson’s Creek” timeslot – a programming move borrowed from HBO’s winning strategy of alternating three month runs of ”The Sopranos,” ”Sex and the City,” and ”Oz.”
While both ”Felicity” and ”Jack & Jill” struggled on Sunday nights last season, Keri Russell and company reclaimed their status as a WB hit when the show was moved to Wednesdays in the fall: ”Felicity” averaged 3.9 million viewers over the 11 week run, a 26 percent jump from the previous season. (Last month’s cliffhanger episode will be resolved in April, when six more ”Felicity” episodes are scheduled to air.) Now the WB will see whether ”Jack & Jill” – starring Amanda Peet and Ivan Sergei as mixed up lovers – can also grab an extra million fans. ”I hate to not have an excuse if we don’t do well,” says Mike Pavone, ”Jack & Jill”’s executive producer. ”But we’ve been given everything a show could ask for, and now it’s up to the audience.”
Aside from the desirable lead in by ”Dawson” – the WB’s fourth highest rated program – ”Jack & Jill” has another major asset: Amanda Peet. Since her TV debut as neurotic news producer Jacqueline ”Jack” Barrett, Peet, 28, has become a busy film actress, appearing in seven movies – most notably her critically approved role as an aspiring hitwoman in ”The Whole Nine Yards,” opposite Bruce Willis. ”Amanda’s hotter than she ever has been, and she’s growing a very loyal fan base,” Pavone says. ”That only helps our visibility.”
The WB is banking so much on Peet power that producers tailored the show’s shooting schedule to accommodate her film projects, which include ”Saving Silverman,” a comedy with Jason Biggs and Steve Zahn due out Feb. 16, ”High Crimes,” an upcoming thriller opposite Ashley Judd, and ”Changing Lines,” a road rage flick with Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson. ”The bigger she is, the bigger the show is, and vice versa,” Pavone says.
Even with Peet becoming a recognizable star, ”Jack & Jill” faces stiff competition that ”Felicity” managed to escape. Also debuting Jan. 10 is ”Temptation Island,” Fox’s controversial new ”reality” show about four couples stranded on a tropical isle with an eager group of gorgeous singles. TV analyst Marc Berman says the reality series will tempt the WB audience to Fox. ”If ‘Temptation Island’ scores with younger viewers, that will make tonight a disappointment for ‘Jack & Jill.”’ Pavone, however, remains optimistic that ”Dawson” fans won’t surf on over to the ”Island.” ”People who are interested in ‘Dawson’ will want to know what life’s going to be like after college,” he says. ”That’s exactly what we offer [on ‘Jack & Jill’].” And for those hankering for ”Temptation”’s sexy skin shots? Pavone again recommends his series: ”It’s the WB, so everyone on our show is amazingly attractive. Even our grips have to be former models.”
Berman predicts that despite the buzz about the Fox reality show, ”Jack & Jill” is poised for a comeback similar to ”Felicity”’s. ”A lot of people will sample ‘Temptation Island’ once and then go back to ‘Jack & Jill,”’ Berman says. But if the WB’s sought after 12 to 34 year old crowd does prefer an island retreat, the Wed. 9 p.m. slot goes to ”Felicity” for good – and it’s back to the drawing board for Pavone. ”If we can’t deliver with so much going for us,” he says, ”we just don’t deserve to succeed on the air.”