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UPN revs monster trucks

Gearfest to focus on personalities

With WWF wrestling working wonders for UPN’s Thursday sked, execs at the weblet think they’ve found their next big young male magnet: monster truck racing.

UPN has inked a deal with Transworld Intl. to produce “The Great Monster Truck Race,” a one-hour February sweeps spec which will pit the drivers of a dozen gargantuan trucks against one another in a series of competitions modeled loosely after those that take place at arenas and motor tracks all over the country.

Skedded to air Feb. 29 at 9 p.m.– that’s a Tuessssday! Tuessssday! Tuessssday! — the special will serve as a backdoor pilot for a possible fall 2000 weekly skein similar to “WWF Smackdown!”

Unlike monster truck showdowns aired by cablers TNN and ESPN2, UPN’s gearfest will focus less on the actual races and more on the personalities involved in the competish. Producers plan to establish rivalries and backstories for drivers, much as the WWF does for its grapplers.

“We’re looking for any sort of soap operatic emotion we can build,” said UPN Entertainment prexy Tom Nunan. “We want to bring to life elements of the sport no one has ever explored before.”

Cameras and microphones will be placed in the cabs of the megatrucks, allowing drivers to talk to announcers — and bully their competitors — as the races unfold. While UPN and Transworld will try to pump up the glam factor, the outcome of races is not expected to be predetermined, as appears to be the case with the WWF.

“We won’t know who’s going to win,” said Nunan, adding that neither the monster truck spec nor the upcoming Bruce Nash-produced hour “I Dare You” really qualify as what he calls “traditional reality series.”

“We’re selling them (to advertisers) as sports specials,” he said. “This is adrenaline sports. It’s not watching cops chase criminals or people getting busted doing bad things at work.”

“Smackdown!” has been a huge success for UPN: The netlet’s season-to-date Nielsen average is up 35%, with most of that increase directly attributable to wrestling. And just as the WB has become a powerhouse with young women, UPN is quickly becoming a similar giant with the Maxim crowd.

In addition to “Smackdown” and the pending monster truck spec, UPN is working hard to find other programming with appeal to guys under 35.

“I Dare You,” for example, will include a monster truck jump seg in an episode slated to run in late January.

Also in development is “Kar Kulture,” a one-hour actioner from Warner Bros. Intl. about an elite group of special agents who target the criminals involved in high-speed car chases.

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