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UPN forges identity, befriends ‘Everybody’

Net declares independence with new show

UPN may be the younger sibling of CBS — but don’t call it a farm team for the Eye, weblet topper Dawn Ostroff admonished critics Thursday.

Speaking to reporters at UPN’s portion of the TV Critics Assn. summer press tour, Ostroff pointed out that the net was “our own vibrant network with a distinct target audience.”

Ostroff’s declaration of independence came after critics earlier this week hounded CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler for not picking up UPN’s buzz-driven comedy “Everybody Hates Chris.” Both nets report to CBS leader Leslie Moonves.

“We have our own development team, and they’re a very talented one at that,” Ostroff stressed. “Believe me, we’re thrilled that all of you like the show enough and think it’s good enough to put on the No. 1 network. But we got it, we produced it, and we are broadcasting it … The two networks have two separate and independent pipelines to feed their respective networks.”

CBS visits ‘Mars’

But even as it develops programming autonomously, UPN has found ways to take advantage of its relationship with CBS, such as the Eye’s plan to air four episodes of “Veronica Mars” beginning next Friday (Daily Variety, July 21).

“We’re doing everything in our power to get more people into this wonderful show,” Ostroff said. “The ‘Veronica Mars’ broadcasts on CBS represent a positive way in which the divisions under Leslie can work together to support each other.”

Still, CBS and UPN remain very selective when it comes to cross-pollination, particularly after early attempts to air Eye series on the weblet fell flat. For now UPN has no plans to run any CBS programming, and beyond “Mars” it’s unlikely any UPN skeins will wind up on the Eye.

But Ostroff stopped short of proclaiming that “Chris” would never show up on CBS.

“We don’t have any plans to do that right now,” she said. “I can’t say we would never see if we could expose the show on CBS. (But) our goal is to launch the show on UPN, and hopefully it will thrive on UPN.”

“Everybody Hates Chris” was actually first developed at Fox, which let its option on the script expire last December. That’s when Ostroff and her team swooped in and picked up the project, co-created by Ali LeRoi and comedian Chris Rock (and based on Rock’s childhood).

“Chris” has topped several critics’ lists of their fave frosh entries this fall.

Altering perceptions

Ostroff said shows like “Chris,” “America’s Next Top Model” and “Veronica Mars” have helped alter any lingering low-rent perceptions of UPN.

“People are starting to see that we can produce quality shows on our own,” she said. “Every year we change (UPN’s old) impression.”

UPN also finished last year up in female demos, including a 13% leap among women 18-34.

“Who would have thought that in just a few years, UPN would be within one-tenth of a ratings point of the WB in the women demos?” she asked.

In other UPN news:

  • After a lengthy search, UPN has found its Shannen Doherty replacement on new laffer “Love, Inc.”: Busy Phillips (“White Chicks,” “Freaks and Geeks”) has joined the cast opposite Holly Robinson Peete.

  • Expansion to a sixth night still isn’t on UPN’s drawing boards: “We just want to make sure we’re strong, we’re focused, we have our direction before we expand too fast and too big,” Ostroff said.

  • Netlet has no plans to air a sequel to “Amish in the City,” the controversial reality show that ultimately proved too tame for viewers.

“I’m going to say no, but I don’t know if anyone’s going to believe me,” Ostroff said.

  • UPN will kick off the fall by moving “WWE Smackdown” to Fridays on Sept. 9. Net’s Monday night sked launches on Sept. 19, Wednesdays on Sept. 21 and Thursdays on Sept. 22.

UPN will air the live finale of “R U the Girl With T-Boz and Chilli” on Sept. 20, during premiere week, pushing the launch of Tuesday’s lineup to Sept. 27.

  • “Chris,” “Mars,” “Girlfriends,” “Eve,” “One on One,” “All of Us,” “Half & Half,” “Cuts,” “Love, Inc.” and “Sex, Love & Secrets” will all broadcast in high definition this season. Sked reps UPN’s largest HDTV slate to date.

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