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'Voyager' producers tight-lipped on finale

Saturday, January 06, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

PASADENA, Calif. -- The cast and executive producers of "Star Trek: Voyager" won't say much about the show's two-hour finale, but they will say this: It airs May 23 from 8 to 10 p.m.

But ask them whether the lost-in-space ship and its crew will get home to Earth, and here's the answer from executive producer Rick Berman: "I'm not gonna tell you."

Rephrase the question any other way and the answer remains: "I'm not gonna tell you."

I'm not looking to have the whole plot spelled out, but if they won't say anything, why hold a press conference?

Cast members haven't been told the finale's plot either, but series star Kate Mulgrew said she'd like to see the ship return home.

"It's time," she said, "time to land."

Berman said the finale needs to resolve the question of whether Voyager makes it home, and it must have "grandeur" and convey "a sense of humanity."

A "Voyager" retrospective will air May 22, followed by the fans' choice of a favorite episode (no word yet on how fans can cast their vote).

Another "Star Trek" series could be ready for fall 2001, but Berman wouldn't discuss its premise.

Of course he wouldn't.

A UPN BY ANY OTHER NAME: Six months ago UPN executives announced their network would be rechristened the Paramount Network on Jan. 1, 2001. But we're in the new year, and the logo is still UPN.

"Well, you know, we started on that journey, and there's been a couple detours," said UPN president Dean Valentine. "We are the United Paramount Network. For now we're UPN."

"But that doesn't mean at one point we may go to the Paramount Network as the name," said UPN entertainment president Tom Nunan.

Valentine and Nunan were cryptic about the reason for not changing the network's name, but it likely has to do with Fox buying UPN affiliates from Chris-Craft, which helped launch UPN with Paramount. Valentine said UPN is close to signing an affiliation agreement with those stations, necessary for UPN to survive, but it's not yet a done deal.

In other UPN news, Nunan said the proposed animated comedy being executive produced by Howard Stern is still in development. Nunan said "Doomsday" has gone through one set of writers, and now another writer has been brought in to work on the show. No air date has been set.

Taking a cue from local TV news, UPN announced plans for a reality special titled "When Chefs Attack: America's Filthiest Restaurants," which features "grotesque food tampering by miscreant chefs, waiters and kitchen help," according to UPN's press release.

UPN also will air a series of bawdy public service announcements on sexual health issues created in partnership with the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. One spot features a guy dressed in a crab costume warning of the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases. Another spot, titled "Jimmy & Stiffy," features a teen-ager and his excitable dachshund, and he encourages guys to "Control your dog."

Midseason series on UPN include:

"All Souls" (date and time to be announced) -- I haven't been excited by anything on UPN since "The Beat" last spring, but this cross between "ER" and "Dark Shadows" might hook me. Its odd mix of medicine and mythological horror intrigues me (the show also has a touch of the NBC daytime soap "Passions" thrown in). Dr. Mitchell Grace (Grayson McCouch) practices medicine at All Souls Hospital, where his father once worked as a janitor. Soon he discovers unauthorized medical experiments are being done on unsuspecting patients. Oh, and there are ghosts in the basement.

"Gary & Mike" (previews 9:30 p.m. Thursday, regular time period premiere 8 p.m. Friday) -- Two odd couple slackers cause trouble wherever they go in this stop-motion animation road trip comedy. It's crude and filled with innuendo, sort of like Comedy Central's "South Park." But comparing "Gary & Mike" to "South Park" gives "Gary & Mike" too much credit. It's neither as outrageous nor as funny.

"Special Unit 2" (date and time to be announced) -- Remember a short-lived ABC drama called "Prey," about a new species of human? Remember "Men in Black"? The creators of UPN's "Special Unit 2" took both of those predecessors, dropped them in a blender and punched the puree button. Officer Kate Benson (Alexondra Lee) gets reassigned to the top secret unit after she asks too many questions about strange phenomena. She's partnered with Nick O'Malley (Michael Landes), who frequently rides the beat with a kleptomaniac gnome (Danny Woodburn) in tow.

PAX TV: Pax TV still hasn't gotten on the air in Pittsburgh, and there's no movement toward the network gaining cable carriage. You'll recall the family-friendly channel almost got onto AT&T cable systems last summer, but to make room for it, AT&T was going to drop WQEX, which simulcasts WQED. WQED/WQEX executives objected and had FCC rules on their side. (Pax TV is available to Pittsburghers via satellite TV services.)

Pax TV president Jeff Sagansky said he's still trying to get cable carriage for Pax in Pittsburgh.

"We're talking to all the cable companies. We're trying desperately to get there," Sagansky said. "It's the only major market we're not in. It's like we're cursed there. Tell everybody in Pittsburgh we're going to distribute individual cassettes until we can get on the air."

He's kidding about sending out the tapes.

Ratings for Pax TV are on the rise, with an average of 1.3 million viewers watching Pax in prime time, up from 1 million viewers a year ago. Pax has renewed "Mysterious Ways" for a second season. Pax shares the show with NBC, which owns a stake in Pax.

Pax already aired a new "Christy" movie this fall (based on the Catherine Marshall novel and 1994-1995 CBS series) and a four-hour miniseries will air May 13 and 14. Actress Lauren Lee Smith replaced Kellie Martin, who starred in the CBS series.

Country music star Billy Ray Cyrus attempts a transition into acting with "Doc," a fish-out-of-water medical drama that sends a country doc to Manhattan. The series premieres March 18.

Pax announced several new series for next fall, including "The Ponderosa," a prequel to the old Western "Bonanza." "The Ponderosa" was created by Beth Sullivan ("Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman"), and the creator of "Bonanza" is on board as a consultant for the new series.

Pax also will produce a TV series taken from novels in the "Left Behind" book series, which are based on Biblical prophecy.

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

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