UPN to kick off 4th night in 1st qtr. ’98

The United Paramount Network will launch its fourth night of programming in the first quarter of 1998, CEO Lucie Salhany said Sunday.

Having gotten a boost of confidence from Viacom’s decision last month to exercise its 50% ownership option in the fledging network, UPN execs said they will roll out their fourth night as well as continue to expand in their kids and afternoon programming.

Salhany, speaking at the semi-annual Television Critics Assn. press tour, would not say which night UPN would go for next. The netlet currently programs two hours a night from 8-10 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. If the pattern continues, that would likely make Thursday night the netlet’s next building block. Salhany indicated that the next night would probably be comedy driven.

UPN and its netlet rival, the WB, have tried to counterprogram rival webs by going with an urban focus in their comedies. Fox, which used to rule that arena, has been easing out of it as News Corp. topper Rupert Murdoch wants expand Fox’s audience.

However, Thursday still remains a key urban night for Fox, with “Martin,” “Living Single” and the drama “New York Undercover.”

Salhany said Viacom’s decision to invest $160 million in UPN last month and become official partners with Chris-Craft means the netlet can “be more aggressive.”

As for Salhany’s relationship with Viacom’s studio Paramount, she acknowledged there was friction when the netlet decided to cancel some comedies from the studio last year.

At UPN to stay

However, she emphasized that when it came to her leadership at UPN, there was no friction between her and Paramount Television Group chairman Kerry McCluggage. Salhany’s future with UPN has been subject to constant speculation over the last year. She made it clear that she is there to stay.

UPN will debrief its affiliates on its programming expansion plans next week at the National Assn. of Television Program Executives confab.

On an amusing programming note, Salhany acknowledged that it was a legal battle between Paramount and Walt Disney Television that led to the quick hook of actor James Doohan from the netlet’s sitcom “Home Boys in Outer Space.”

Last-minute addition

Doohan was a last-minute addition to the show, playing a role that to Paramount appeared to be spoofing his portrayal of “Scotty” on the original “Star Trek” series. Disney, which produces the show, engaged in some legal discussions over Doohan’s portrayal with Paramount and decided it best to have the actor exit.

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