UPN outlines new season

Nunan receives surprise promotion

UPN programming chief Tom Nunan received a surprise promotion to entertainment president at his first affiliates meeting Monday in Laguna Niguel.

Nunan has served as executive vice president of entertainment since he joined the network last October, and UPN CEO Dean Valentine called the promotion “a reflection of the vigor and vision he has brought to UPN.”

The announcement was made in front of affiliates Monday without Nunan’s knowledge.

Nunan came to UPN from NBC, where he served as senior vice president, NBC Inc. and head of NBC Studios. He also has worked as executive VP of primetime development at Fox, and he was executive director of movies-for-TV at ABC.

In his first address to the affiliates, Valentine acknowledged some of the problems the netlet is facing after a tough season.

‘In for long haul’

“I’d be lying to you if I said UPN hasn’t stumbled in its youth, changed course several times and not always defined itself to you (affils), the advertisers, the viewers and the creative community in Hollywood,” he said. “We’ve made out share of mistakes.”

Despite those missteps, “UPN is fiscally healthy, financially strong and in it for the long haul,” he said, adding that the network has increased funding for new programming 800%.

Valentine also addressed affiliate questions over why the network has not responded to “shots taken at us by our colleagues at the other emerging network.”

He said that broadcasters should be united in protecting and promoting broadcast TV, which is under attack from cable, satellite, the government and special interest groups.

“Those who choose to employ this hostile rhetoric denigrate themselves and everyone else in the network industry with this kind of public behavior,” Valentine said. “I’d hang my head in shame if I or anyone on my staff behaved that way. We want to take the high road. When we kick their ass, we’ll be gentlemen about it.”

Broad new direction

Valentine spent much of his speech outlining the broad new direction the netlet is taking, with the target audience being the American middle class –“all of those people who live between the coasts in what’s sometimes disparagingly called ‘flyover country.’ ”

“One reason why I see the network business in the state it is today is that its focus grows more narrow each year,” he said.

“I believe there is opportunity for UPN to reach all those people to whom the networks have said, ‘Go away, we don’t want you. You don’t live in the right area code, go away. You have kids, go away. You’re overweight, you’re a minority, you’re not chic, go away.’ ”

Also at the meeting, UPN announced that it will premiere later than usual next season, on Monday, Oct. 5. “Mercy Point” will debut with a two-hour episode Tuesday, Oct. 6, with its regular lead-ins, “Moesha” and “Clueless” getting their season premieres the following Tuesday. “Seven Days” will also have a two-hour premiere Wednesday, Oct. 7, with “Star Trek: Voyager” returning the following week.

Part of the reason behind the October launch is to guarantee original episodes throughout the three major sweeps periods, and he said UPN will order enough backup series programming to avoid the specials stunting that didn’t work very well last season. The October launch will sidestep the clutter of September launches for the other webs.

Good affil reaction

UPN unveiled the new fall lineup and a humorous new marketing campaign at the meeting, which features the slogan, “You’ll find yourself on UPN.” Affiliates generally reacted well to the first session of the two-day meeting.

“I like the direction the network is taking,” said Bob Jenkins, programming director at KAIL in Fresno, Calif. “The whole middle-class focus is more salable.”

“It’s a nice blend,” added Brad Moran, president of Ramar Communications. “The shows that feature mixed racial casts are very accessible to those who aren’t African American.”

Moran said “there’s definitely some questions about the (audience) flow” of Tuesday night, which features teen sitcoms “Moesha” and “Clueless” leading into a sci-fi drama, “Mercy Point.” However, “that’s part of the growing pains, and we’re moving in the right direction,” he said.

Although UPN screened only half its schedule on Monday, comedies “Guys Like Us” and ‘Diresta” received the most favorable responses.

” ‘Guys Like Us’ is unquestionably a hit,” said Mark Conrad, general manager of WJZY, Charlotte, N.C. “The show that’s taking a chance is ‘Secret Diaries if Desmond Pfeiffer.’ That’s going to be one extreme or another, but these guys have to go out and take some chances.”

Conrad added that with the cancellation of the syndie latenight strip “Vibe,” which airs on many UPN stations, affiliates are interested in exploring the possibility of a network latenight franchise, once primetime gets fixed.