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Tuned In: UPN announces name change, celebrates ratings

Wednesday, July 26, 2000

PASADENA, Calif. -- Come Jan. 1, UPN is history. Not the network, just its name. At the dawn of 2001, UPN will be known as Paramount Network, to better reflect its ownership now that the network is wholly owned by the Viacom-CBS empire, which includes the Paramount studios.

"UPN always felt, frankly, a little bit like an awkward name," said UPN president Dean Valentine. "It was a compromise formed of the United Chris-Craft stations and Paramount. Chris-Craft is no long part of the network, so it makes sense for our name to reflect that. A lot of our affiliates from the very beginning felt there was tremendous equity in the Paramount name."

Paramount executives could also brag about tremendous ratings gains, especially in their core young male demographic. Household ratings were up 37 percent this past season, and among men ages 18 to 34, ratings were up 111 percent, said programming president Tom Nunan.

"Certainly, wrestling is what powered much of our schedule," Valentine said. "It's an engine that drives a lot of our viewership, but it's not the whole network."

Valentine, who considers "WWF Smackdown!" a reality show, said he wants to add more reality to UPN, but the network didn't have the budget to do it this summer. Valentine and Nunan are still developing shows for the future, but he had no details about them.

So far only UPN and Fox have announced fall premiere dates, and only UPN is willing to premiere any new series before October. Most networks are trying to avoid NBC's Olympics coverage. UPN's "Moesha" and "The Hughleys" (acquired from ABC) premiere Sept. 4, and the new sitcom "Girlfriends" premieres Sept. 11 with the return of "The Parkers." UPN's Friday night dramas, "Freedom" and "Level 9," don't premiere until Oct. 27.

Howard Stern's animated comedy "Doomsday" has been delayed until fall 2001. The next "Star Trek" series will likely premiere at the same time, but there's no guarantee it will air on Paramount Network. It could go the syndicated route or even end up on sister-network CBS, but Valentine said he's confident he'll retain the "Star Trek" franchise.

One show viewers won't be seeing is "I-Spike," which the network developed for this fall but opted not to pick up. It was about women who are pro beach volleyball players by day, undercover FBI agents by night.

"I can't b.s. you. It was just bad," Valentine said. "Nobody would have been happier to announce 'I-Spike' as a successful show. Alas, it fell short of our standards."

Knowing how low UPN's standards are, that's really saying something.

ACCOLADES: Last week, Tyne Daly received her 10th Emmy nomination, for her role as Maxine Gray on "Judging Amy," meaning she's been nominated for acting in every television series she's appeared in throughout her career.

"The Emmys are at my mom's house on a shelf," Daly said. "And she took them off the piano because they annoyed my siblings so much."

Daly's Emmy nominations include one for CBS's short-lived "Christy," which will return as a series of movies on Pax TV, but without Daly as Miss Alice.

"I was interested, because I'd love to complete the ideas that I had about Miss Alice," Daly said. "I really did love her and I loved the project" but she couldn't juggle both series.

Beyond the "Judging Amy" season premiere, she's as in the dark as viewers are.

"That's the interesting thing about series television -- it's a little like life, you don't know what's going to happen next," Daly said.

"Last year, my daughter was threatened by a maniac in my own garage, my son was shot by somebody, and at the end of the season he was blown up by a nutburger," Daly said. "So we start the season and Amy says, 'We're starting the season with a lot of grief.' I said, 'You bet your life we are.' These folks are trying to incorporate how to live and love each other and get on in a world that seems fraught with danger and fateful occurrences that are uncontrollable."

Daly said Maxine's romance will continue, and Amy will get a new friend.

"Her first friend died of cancer, but we didn't get to investigate that very deeply because she got cut for time," Daly said, stubbing out her cigarette. "It's a wicked business."

Daly described Amy's new friend as a seemingly perfect mother who stays at home with her kids.

"She has a life of being domestic and maternal that Amy kind of envies, and at the same time [the new friend] envies Amy being in the 'real world' and working," Daly said. "So there's a dynamic set up between the two of them in terms of the choices they've made as women in their 30s."

"ANGELS" REVAMPED: CBS's "City of Angels" gets a makeover both on screen and behind the scenes this fall. On camera, Vivica Fox is gone and Robert Morse will only appear on a recurring basis. Behind the scenes, executive producer Paris Barclay abruptly bolted the show this summer, leaving Steven Bochco to hire director Kevin Hooks as his replacement.

Bochco said replacing Fox, who garnered pretty scathing reviews for her role as a hospital administrator, had nothing to do with her talent, but that her character was too experienced for her age and didn't "function pivotally in the series."

"We never conceptualized a character that any of us were really happy with," Bochco said. "It's not a role we're really replacing with another actress."

The show's set has been redesigned. The lighting has been improved. The music will be different. And the drama will be more, well, dramatic.

"One of the problems I think we had last season is we had Blair's [Underwood] character and a bunch of residents who kind of followed him around," Bochco said. "And it didn't really provide enough opportunity for legitimate dramatic conflict within the confines of the hospital with a peer group."

But "City of Angels" will fight an uphill battle. Although the show received heaps of press when it premiered in January because it was the first drama with a predominantly minority cast, it now faces a tough time slot, 9 p.m. Thursdays. That means taking on NBC's "Will & Grace" and "Just Shoot Me" and ABC's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."

"I don't think anybody is naive enough to feel that our time slot is a great time slot. It's not," Bochco said. "Somebody has to go there, and given the alternative, I'm glad it's us. Our job clearly is to make this show so much better than it was, that it enthuses the network that we're making it for to the extent that they'll say, 'There's nothing we can put here that's going to be better than this.'"

FINAL WORD ON REALITY SHOWS: Author and journalist Norman Mailer said viewer interest in "Survivor" and "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" originates in America's wealth.

"Whenever people have more money than average, there's a tendency to start taking themselves seriously and wondering about themselves, and they start thinking and looking for how they would act in existential situations," Mailer said. "Situations where they don't control it, situations where the end is unforeseen."

What remains unforeseeable is the future of reality TV.

Jamie Kellner, chief executive officer of The WB, criticized the TV industry for always glomming onto a hit with a "me, too" mentality.

"I'm not going to say that the reality form is going to burn out," he said. "It's come and gone many times before. The better ones will succeed, but the ones that aren't up to that cut are going to come and go really fast, and the audience is going to reject them quickly."

The network that launched "The Real World" has become wary of the mainstream success of voyeuristic TV. MTV programming president Brian Graden said it's currently his No. 1 concern.

"It's really been sort of the bread-and-butter mainstay for the last five or 10 years," he said. "On a more esoteric level, it's been so important to MTV because I think it set us apart, because we showed the real faces of our viewers."

Graden said the decision of broadcasters to go with reality programming full-throttle will diminish MTV's interest in the genre, pushing them instead to pursue more interactive programming that utilizes the Internet.

Veteran producer Dick Wolf ("Law & Order") questioned the long-term viability of "Survivor" imitators. He offered what may be the most realistic take on the future of reality shows.

"I hate to burst any bubbles, but they're going to run out of deserted islands on 'Survivor,'" Wolf said. "Send in the clones, you know. The original is still the greatest. Every time something happens, then everybody wants to imitate it. And the one thing that I've seen time and time again is that unless you're first, there's no sense in doing it."

Post-Gazette TV Editor Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour.

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