Exec, Viacom hammer out exit deal as UPN topper ends reign

HOLLYWOOD — Dean Valentine’s oft-tumultuous four-year run as prexy and CEO of UPN came to an end Friday, with the exec saying he had “no regrets” about his tenure at the Viacom-owned netlet.

Exec’s departure was no surprise. Once Kerry McCluggage exited as Paramount TV Group topper last month, and CBS topper Leslie Moonves took control of UPN, it was clear that Valentine wouldn’t be sticking around too much longer (Daily Variety, Dec. 10).

Even before Moonves entered the picture, the clock was ticking on Valentine. His September $22 million lawsuit against Viacom, claiming breach of contract over bonuses he felt he was owed, sent a clear signal that Valentine wasn’t planning on a career as a UPN lifer.

In recent weeks, reps for Valentine and Viacom had been trying to hammer out an exit agreement that would resolve both Valentine’s lawsuit and the remainder of his contract, which was set to expire this fall. While the two sides had been making significant progress, some last-minute hitches caused Viacom to officially terminate Valentine on Friday afternoon.

Some industry insiders believe the sudden termination came about because Viacom execs were nervous Valentine might show up at UPN’s sesh with reporters at the semiannual Television Critics Assn. press tour today. Viacom insiders, however, said that legal issues were behind Friday’s move.

Whatever the case, both camps described the separation as “amicable” and still expect a settlement to be worked out.

Valentine said it would be “hard to leave” UPN because he’d have to part company with people he’s grown close to over the years. Nonetheless, he believes he accomplished much of what he set out to do when he joined the netlet in September 1997.

“In four years, this network has been turned around,” Valentine told Daily Variety. “It’s doing incredibly well this year in terms of quality and finances. And I know Les and his team will continue to build on the momentum that’s been established.”

Valentine’s chief contribution to UPN will likely be remembered as a pair of acquisitions: World Wrestling Federation action and former WB signature skein “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Both gave UPN much-needed ratings jolts — though the “Buffy” buy cost the netlet a ton of coin.

Developing successful shows from scratch proved more difficult for Valentine and former entertainment prexy Tom Nunan. While laffer “Girlfriends” has turned into a success for UPN, the net’s other hits — “The Parkers,” “Enterprise” and the now-canceled “Moesha” — were spinoffs, acquisitions or projects developed externally.

Valentine and his staff were hampered by small development budgets and, until recently, squabbles between Paramount and former UPN partner Chris-Craft.

Though Valentine said he has “no regrets really” about his UPN run, he was surprised at how tough turning around the netlet proved to be.

“I underestimated how bad of shape the network was in and how hard it would be to fight my way out of the foxhole,” Valentine said. “There’s still lots of room for financial improvement, but there’s no more questions about whether (UPN) will survive.”

Moonves last week said it was too soon to announce concrete changes at UPN. Industry insiders believe Moonves will install a new entertainment prexy at UPN rather than a CEO.

Former Sony and ATG exec Eric Tannenbaum has been mentioned as a possible candidate, as have several current CBS staffers. For now, Moonves will have day-to-day control of UPN.

Viacom prexy-chief operating officer Mel Karmazin issued a statement thanking Valentine for “all of efforts in building UPN” and said he believed that the “talented UPN team already in place can significantly improve the network’s creative and financial performance.”

Valentine said his immediate plans include a lengthy vacation and more time with his wife, 2½-year-old daughter and 2-month-old son.

After that, “I hope whatever I do the next time affords me the same joy that got me into the business in the first place,” he said. “I don’t know what that’s going to be, but the nice thing is, I don’t have to worry about it.”

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more