UPN Not Out of the WoodsBy Amy
January 7, 2001 - 6:32 PM
While UPN president and CEO Dean Valentine told reporters at the recent gathering of the Television Critics Association in Pasadena, "The chances we won't be here (next season) are infinitesimal", the reality of the situation appears to be that the future of the struggling network UPN remains anything but certain – at least in the long term. Not only has Viacom, who now fully owns UPN, told network analysts in no uncertain terms that operations will be terminated unless results improve and the steady cash-drain on the parent company comes to a halt, but, with scant days to go until the January 15 deadline, the Chris-Craft negotiations have yet to conclude. Last year, media mogul Rupert Murdoch succeeded in purchasing the eight Christ-Craft stations that carried UPN programming, leaving the faltering network facing yet more ill-afforded loss of area coverage. Fortunately for UPN, Murdoch, a long-time rival of Viacom, proved willing to negotiate new affiliation agreements which remain crucial to the network's survival. However, the two parties have yet to agree on a number of key issues, perhaps the most important of which is the timeframe – given UPN's poor track record, Chris-Craft understandably wants to avoid entering into long-term ties, while the network needs those same ties to ensure it's long-term survival and is pushing for a five-year agreement.
With the mounting pressure to preform, UPN, which will no longer be undergoing a name-change to 'The Paramount Network', has decided to place even more emphasis on it's traditional target demographic - males aged between 18 and 34 – and has announced changes to it's program line-up. Viewers can look forward to more gore with a new sci-fi series '`All Souls', which features a doctor who uncovers strange goings-on in a haunted hospital from the Civil War era and 'Special Unit 2' where a secret team of detectives devote themselves to Buffy-the-Vampire-Slayer-esque 'missing link' hunting. More gross-out programming with be seen in the forms of both the 'When Chefs Attack : America's Filthiest Restaurants' special, which promises to confirm every diners worst nightmare with "mind-boggling, stomach-turning surveillance footage taped in restaurants the world over" , and new Stop-animation comedy 'Gary & Mike' which is touted as 'Gumby for Adults' and includes scenes of, among other things, rabbits being squashed. UPN will also be entering rather heavily into the reality TV craze with shows such as 'Manhunt' and 'Chains of Love', though they believe that their consistently best-performing show, WWF Smackdown will have 5 to 10 percent of their audience syphoned off by the sequel of the show which sparked the craze in the first place, 'Survivor', which will air on CBS.
In something of a surprise twist to the new line-up, UPN has taken up a rather sudden interest in the health of its target audience, and will be launching its first public-service campaign aimed at promoting sexual health among young people. In keeping with the network theme, however, one of the adds will feature a dachshund named Stiffy who "becomes overeager with an attractive young woman."