Like the Winkies who knelt before Dorothy when she pulled that water trick on the Wicked Witch of the West, TV critics bowed down Wednesday before new WB Chairman Garth Ancier when he announced that the whole youth obsession thing was dead and the network would now care about people old enough to run for president.

TV critics -- mostly middle-aged men -- didn't actually get up and dance the happy dance when Ancier made this stunning announcement, but they were clearly elated. For years they had sat through WB founder Jamie Kellner's oppressive press-tour lectures about how WB is about 12-to-34-year-olds, after which they had to sit in an airless ballroom for hours listening to the network's latest crop of beautiful 16-year-old stars explain how they had honed their craft and this was the culmination of all their hard work. It was torture.

Wednesday, at WB's portion of Summer TV Press Tour 2004, critics actually got to interview Christine Lahti and her husband, Tommy Schlamme -- both of whom were actually alive when JFK was president -- about their new WB drama series, "Jackie & Bobby," in which a brilliant single-mom prof names her kids after Jack and Bobby Kennedy, and one of them really does grow up to be president in the 2040s. (The two young men playing Jack and Bobby as teens said they knew nothing of, and had not bothered to learn anything about, JFK and RFK because they didn't think it mattered.) The critics also got to chat up Drew Carey about his new WB sketch comedy show, and even listened to the comic currently known as Larry the Cable Guy regale them with stories about growing up on a pig farm.

"What's changed in the last year that's changed your mind about this stuff?" one incredulous critic asked Ancier, who was in on the founding of WB as entertainment division president.

"Actually, nothing has changed; that's how I've always felt about it," Ancier responded.

"You're in charge now -- I mean is it just that you're in charge now?" the critic continued, skeptically, like a Winkie who wants to make absolutely certain the witch has melted. "Just because you can't monetize those viewers doesn't mean you shouldn't invite them to be part of who watches your network," Ancier explained. Translation: They still sell the 12-to-34 demographic to advertisers, but will try to create programming that will also attract older fans.

"Let's just say some of us didn't feel all that welcome before," the critic said.

"I'm sorry . . . I really am sorry about that," Ancier responded.

It was like one of those huggy moments on "The Ricki Lake Show" -- a show Ancier created, by the way.

He drew critics' attention to the posters of WB stars lining the walls of the Westin Century Plaza ballroom where the Q&A session was being held.

"It's a very conscious decision of who's up there. Instead of seeing all faces in the teens and twenties who all sort of look alike, you're seeing a lot of our more adult actor and actresses, like Jeff Foxworthy and Christine Lahti, and people who we're very very proud of, along with the Chad Michael Murrays who are our young hot stars. And I think to the degree that we have presented ourselves as just a teenage network, that's a very large mistake on our part."

WB Chairman Garth Ancier says his network's youth obsession is a thing of the 12-to-34-year-old past.