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Lost & Found: Lucie Salhany

Former TV exec describes life at Net co.

NAME: Lucie Salhany

DESCRIPTION: The founding president and CEO of UPN and prexy of Paramount Domestic TV, Salhany became the first woman in history to head a broadcast net when she was named chairman of Fox Broadcasting Co. and Twentieth Television.

LAST SEEN: In Newton, Mass., where she is CEO and co-prexy of LifeFX, a developer of 3-D digital human faces for the Internet.

NEW YORK — Back when she was head of Paramount TV, Lucie Salhany boasted that she never once touched her computer.

“When I left, it was still sitting in the same place. It was so dusty, I could write my name on it,” says Salhany, whose antipathy to all things computer-related dissipated once she discovered the Internet during her tenure at Fox.

By the time she was entrenched at UPN, her colleague Len Grossi, now prexy of Columbia TriStar TV, began to worry about the hold that the Internet had on her.

“I’d be on the Internet all night long,” says Salhany. “Len said I was going to be the first patient to go to the Betty Ford Center for Internet addiction. While I’m talking to you, I’m on a free Internet slot machine. I’m addicted, really I am.”

Her post at LifeFX allows Salhany to indulge her Internet obsession full time.

The publicly held company has developed and patented technologies that create virtual human “stand-ins,” which interact with computer users. It has also patented “Facemail,” which allows users to send email with a virtual face and voice.

“We’re creating virtual people with artificial intelligence. It’s a lot like what we’ve been watching on ‘Star Trek.’ We nicknamed our most recent product HAL after ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’ ” Salhany says.

She, of all people, should know about “Star Trek.” During her tenure at Paramount, she produced and distributed “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” and while at UPN, she launched “Star Trek: Voyager.”

After more than 30 years in the TV biz, Salhany ankled UPN in fall 1997 and returned to Boston to be with her husband, a restaurateur. The couple had been commuting for 12 years and their two sons were about to enter adolescence.

“It was time I left L.A.,” says Salhany who has no regrets about giving up her high-profile post.

She formed her own consultancy and acquisition venture J.H. Media before teaming with Grossi to form LSLG Associates, a firm dedicated to investing in regional TV stations. The duo acquired a half-interest in WHPN, a UHF outlet in Madison, Wis., which they sold after Salhany joined LifeFX in January 2000.

While she occasionally misses the excitement of being in the center of the entertainment world, Salhany has little interest in returning to the TV biz.

“Television has changed from what it was,” she says. “I don’t want to be one of those people who look back and say ‘do you remember the good old days?’ ” Salhany says. “The Internet is like TV was when I started. I like startup businesses and there aren’t too many of those in TV anymore.”

Under Salhany’s guidance, LifeFX is betting that “Facemail” has wide-ranging commercial applications. Already, the company has sealed a deal with Whirlpool to develop “smart appliances,” such as refrigerators that allow family members to communicate via a voice and image on a computer screen. A partnership with Kodak will enable people to submit a photo and have their own face reading their email.

A victim of the dot-com fallout, LifeFX recently saw its stock dip to the $2 range, down from last April when it reached $15.

“Our stock price took a hit with the other tech stocks. However, from a percentage standpoint, we seem to have dropped less,” Salhany says. “I’m very optimistic about the stock’s future.”

Although LifeFX has a 15-person office in L.A. and Salhany still keeps an apartment there, she is firmly ensconced in her Bostonian lifestyle.

“My life is different because there aren’t as many glitzy parties. But I still work as many hours,” Salhany says. “Instead of looking at overnight ratings, now I look at our stock price. As long as it’s in the green, I’m happy.”

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