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NEW YORK — UPN will inject another dose of testosterone into its primetime lineup with World Wrestling Federation’s XFL. The Viacom-owned net has sealed a deal to bring the extreme football league to Sundays next midseason.
With all of its affiliates on board, UPN will jump onto the night with live games at 7 p.m. EDT (4 p.m. PDT) beginning in February 2001. UPN has rights to 10 regular season games and one playoff game.
UPN’s coverage will be produced by the XFL in tandem with NBC’s Saturday night games. The Peacock co-owns and co-operates the football league with the World Wrestling Federation. As it does with “Smackdown,” the WWF will handle all ad sales for UPN’s XFL coverage.
“It’s great to be able to feed the Sunday habit of millions of football fans,” said UPN chief operating officer Adam Ware.
The weblet announced the deal at its affiliates meeting and again at its fall upfront presentation Thursday morning. UPN CEO Dean Valentine said the XFL deal was independent of any talks to renew the WWF on UPN. The weblet’s pact with the Rock and friends expires after next season.
“We don’t think it has any effect (on negotiations),” Valentine said.
Making for strange bedfellows, UPN and NBC will cross-promote their XFL coverage during primetime. NBC’s Saturday-night XFL games will get a plug during UPN’s Thursday-night “WWF Smackdown” coverage, while UPN’s Sunday-night games will get a shout-out during NBC’s XFL coverage.
“It’s clear (XFL co-owners NBC and WWF) want both platforms to be equal,” Ware said.
Although network-cable cross-promotion has become increasingly common — much to the chagrin of most network affiliates — it’s still rare to find two broadcast webs steering viewers to one another. Ware said he didn’t think UPN affils, which have benefited from cross-promotion on USA’s “Monday Night Raw” in the past, would protest too much.
“Affiliates see the benefit of cross-promotion,” Ware said.
Affils were also soothed when told that Sundays will revert back to stations after the 11 weeks of the XFL. The web said it has no plans to expand to a sixth night just yet.
“We made a decision we want to go slow,” Valentine said. “To launch a new night is a big deal.”
Meanwhile, Monday looks to be an especially strong night for the web, with returning hits “Moesha” and “The Parkers” leading into “The Hughleys” — which UPN imported from ABC — and new femme-skewing laffer “Girlfriends.”
Media buyers were optimistic that “The Hughleys” could bring a new audience to UPN. “‘The Hughleys’ is a show with a following,” said Stacy Lynn Koerner, VP of broadcast research at TN Media. The comedy was doing an 11 share on ABC, Koerner pointed out: “Can you imagine if UPN can get an 11 share?”
The show’s star, D.L. Hughley, joked that he was “just glad to have a job. It could have been worse: I was about to call BET.”
According to UPN research, “The Parkers” is the highest-rated show on TV among African-Americans. It’s also the only sitcom launched by the weblet last season to return this year.
Fridays look to be more risky for the net, which will launch two one-hour action dramas: Joel Silver’s “Freedom” and “Level 9.” Few young males watch TV on Friday nights, and there are too many dramas vying for them.
“They’re going to have problems,” said Koerner. “CBS looks to be a front-runner with ‘The Fugitive.’ It’ll be hard enough for Fox to compete, let alone UPN.” Both “Freedom” and “The Fugitive” come from Warner Bros. Television.
UPN prexy of entertainment Tom Nunan said the net is hoping to draw in men who aren’t watching TV.
By moving its Blockbuster-sponsored movie night from Fridays to Tuesdays, however, UPN could effectively counter-program.
“With the vast resources of the Paramount film library, our original films, plus a variety of other motion picture titles, we will be able to improve our performance on this very competitive night,” said Nunan.
WWF chairman Vince McMahon assured the audience of advertisers that this year viewers will see “a kinder, gentler ‘Smackdown!’ Never again will there be issues over content. It worked well for Oprah, it will work for the WWF.” Of course, he was joking.