Big six overview: UPN

Space emerges as Par net's final frontier

No pressure, but it’s do-or-die time at UPN this fall.

If ever there was ever a season when the beleaguered netlet could reverse its fortunes, this is it. The acquisition of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Roswell,” as well as the new “Star Trek” installment, “Enterprise,” has suddenly given UPN a stable of popular, franchise series.

Based on that immediate bench strength, UPN CEO Dean Valentine made a bold prediction this summer: UPN expects to beat the WB among adults 18 to 34, 18 to 49 and total viewers on four of the five nights the networks compete.

Of course, landing some respectability doesn’t come cheap. As part of its two-year, 44-episode order, UPN will pay 20th Century Fox around $2.33 million per seg for “Buffy.”

That’s a steep price at any time. Throw in a weak economy and soft ad market, and it’s still unclear whether “Buffy” was a financially sound buy for UPN.

“Buffy” could perform as a loss leader for UPN. After all, despite its steep cost, the net desperately needed “Buffy.” The show remains a strong performer among young viewers and brings a critically acclaimed franchise to a netlet not known for quality series.

“We don’t make as much money on ‘Buffy’ as we spend on it,” Valentine says. “But it decreases our losses enormously.”

Along with the “Buffy” acquisition, UPN was able to ensure security by extending its pact with News Corp. to keep its newly acquired Chris-Craft stations as jockstrap net affils.

By pairing “Buffy” with “Roswell,” which WB didn’t renew, UPN will go after their rival’s New Tuesday with a few series Frog fans may know.

Otherwise, the net’s lineup remains fairly stable. On Mondays, urban entry “One on One” replaces outgoing “Moesha,” while Wednesdays “Enterprise” takes over for “Star Trek: Voyager.”

“We’re pleased that Paramount has entrusted the continued success of the ‘Star Trek’ franchise, a 35-year institutions, a multibillion-dollar revenue stream and the pillar and heart of the studio to UPN,” Valentine says. “I think it’s going to be one of the sleepers of the fall season.”

Media buyer Paul Schulman, president of Advanswers PHD’s New York office, applauds UPN’s scheduling strategy.

“Everything has a purpose, each night has a direction,” he says. “I’m impressed with what they did.”

According to UPN chief operating officer Adam Ware, the netlet will spend heavily on outdoor, radio, cable and other buys to get the “Buffy” word out.

The jockstrap net will also look to work with cabler FX, which premieres the off-net run of “Buffy” this fall, as well as tap the resources of parent Viacom. Already hoping to work more closely with cable cousin MTV, UPN preempted “WWF Smackdown!” on Sept. 6 opposite the MTV Video Music Awards.

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