UPN whacks ‘Smackdown’ crix

Netlet eyeing male demo

UPN execs went to the mat Monday to defend the netlet’s upcoming wrestling night against charges of excessive violence and sexism.

UPN topper Dean Valentine and entertainment division prexy Tom Nunan were hit with a barrage of questions about the soon-to-launch “WWF Smackdown!” block at the semiannual Television Critics Assn. press tour in Pasadena.

Toned-down ‘Smackdown’

“There’s a disconnect between (the press) and the guys who watch (wrestling),” said Valentine, who nonetheless reaffirmed that “Smackdown” would be a kinder, gentler version of WWF’s cable programs, which regularly feature adult language and sometimes intense subject matter.

“It will be rated TV-14 (and) toned down because of the timeslot,” he said. “Smackdown” will air 8-10 p.m. Thursdays.

Valentine later declared that he didn’t find WWF programming to be sexist, sticking to that assertion even after it was pointed out that the WWF has a pimp character who regularly interacts with his prostitutes.

“I’m not exactly sure why that’s sexist,” Valentine said, arguing that he’s seen pimp characters in other TV shows.

Yearning for young men

Nunan and Valentine spent much of their time with reporters outlining UPN’s plan to become must-see TV for young men, in the process conceding the mistakes of last year’s “UPS for UPN” strategy of appealing to Middle America.

“The personality of the network will be more guy-friendly,” said Nunan, adding that the netlet has tried to lead off every night it programs with an established series to minimize the confusion that comes with mass changes to a network sked. In addition, UPN will roll out its new sked over seven-weeks starting in August (Daily Variety, July 19), using a series of specs to help promote awareness of frosh contenders.

“You’ll see a UPN of stability, not chaos — a schedule that makes much more sense,” said Nunan, pointing to recent advertising industry forecasts predicting that UPN could experience double-digit growth off of last season’s dismal Nielsen numbers.

As has become standard practice for UPN exec sessions, Valentine was asked the expected question about whether Viacom and Chris-Craft will feel the need to pull the plug on the netlet if ratings don’t improve soon. His response, once again, was that the two congloms’ need for programming for their respective stations groups helped assure UPN’s survival.

“It’s why we exist, and why we’re never going away,” he said.

Earlier in the day, “Moesha” star Brandy Norwood said no decision has been made yet as to whether her show will return after this season. She hinted that she and the producers may need to see more coin to be persuaded to return.

“Show us the money,” she quipped. “We need to do more shows.”