Bob Bibb & Lewis Goldstein

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The Superman saga is an oft-told tale, but under the marketing guidance of the WB executives, it's found new life in "Smallville," becoming the TV network's top-rated hit and expanding its core audience.

From the start, "Smallville's" take on the Superman story was different: Built around the superhero's adolescence, "Smallville" had a credo of "no tights, no flights." It would focus its characters' typical teen problems all through the lens of Superman. Instead of some muscular bruiser, a lanky pretty boy with a face made for a Tiger Beat cover, Tom Welling, was cast as the young Clark Kent.

Selling the show would not be a snap, despite the built-in recognition of the franchise, which has captivated TV viewers since "Adventures of Superman" debuted in the early `50s .

In focus groups, the WB's co-presidents of marketing-Bob Bibb, 46, and Lewis Goldstein, 50-learned that contemporary youth saw the square-jawed Clark Kent/Superman as an insipid Goody Two-Shoes. The AOL Time Warner-owned network hoped "Smallville" would hook males, but it didn't want to turn off its young female core audience. "The challenge was to sell the show without uttering the words "Clark Kent" or "Man of Steel," Mr. Goldstein says.

The WB bought billboards and took out ads spotlighting the handsome Mr. Welling (and his abs of steel) for its fall 2001 debut, and "Smallville" immediately became a hit. But the show lost ground during season one, veering into a noisy pattern of introducing a new super-bad guy every week.

This season, "Smallville" got back on track creatively, managing to blend stories of emotion with elements of action and special effects. Messrs. Bibb and Goldstein whipped up excitement with on-air promos aimed at the show's two distinct audiences: some, aimed at women, playing up a romantic triangle; and others focusing on action.

The WB also tried a few novel creative tactics-giving away life-size posters of "Smallville" stars, some embedded with secret messages, on the network's Web site and releasing a "Smallville" soundtrack on the Elektra label. ("Smallville" CD buyers can unlock online access to the first DC Comics "Smallville" comic book, and preview chapters from "Smallville" novelizations.

The WB uses Grey Global Group's Grey Worldwide, Los Angeles, as its media buyer, with in-house planners; creative is in-house.

"Smallville" averages 7.5 million viewers each week, a 29% jump over year one. Its nearly 2 million male viewers represent twice as many guys as any other show on the WB. "By attracting men to `Smallville,' we opened up the network to a whole new demographic," Mr. Bibb says.

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