Barring a last-minute change of heart by any of the principals, UPN is expected this week to name Disney TV veteran Dean Valentine as the successor to the netlet’s departing president and CEO, Lucie Salhany.

Valentine, president of Walt Disney Television and Walt Disney Television Animation, is said to be eager to take on the challenge of running a fledgling network after spending the past decade on the production side with the Mouse House.

UPN partners Viacom/Paramount and United Television/Chris Craft Industries are understood to have rallied behind Valentine after disagreeing on other candidates.

Valentine’s name only surfaced as the leading candidate for the UPN post early last week, but by Friday, buzz was building on who would fill his shoes at Disney.

Sources said Charles Hirschhorn, president of Disney Telefilms, was in line to take over Valentine’s duties on the TV animation side. David Neuman, president of Walt Disney TV, is likely to consolidate responsibility for the network TV division.

While talk around the studio of Valentine’s replacement was viewed as a positive sign, it was still unclear over the weekend if Disney chief Michael Eisner had signed off on Valentine’s move to UPN. Valentine is understood to have about three years remaining on his contract with the studio.

Sources close to the situation say they don’t expect Eisner to throw up a major roadblock, although Valentine’s exit agreement may well involve a tradeoff of pilot or series commitments from UPN. UPN has been searching for a new leader since May, when Salhany confirmed plans to step down in September.

Valentine is a well-regarded industry veteran who is expected to bring marketing muscle and programming savvy to the netlet. His track record at Disney includes overseeing the development and production of such series as “Home Improvement,” “Ellen,” “Boy Meets World” and “Soul Man.”

Valentine also is credited with broadening the scope of Walt Disney Television Animation’s output for the network, syndication and homevideo markets.

Before joining Walt Disney TV in 1988 as director of development, Valentine worked at NBC as director of current comedy programming.

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