As the WB evolved over the past decade, rival web UPN experienced a much more tumultuous existence.
Also celebrating its 10th anniversary this month, the network has finally recovered from years of programming missteps and questions about its very survival.
Under the direction of Viacom co-COO/co-prexy Leslie Moonves and UPN Entertainment prexy Dawn Ostroff, the web entered its 10th season with some of its best reviews ever (“Kevin Hill,” “Veronica Mars”) and a bona fide reality hit (“America’s Next Top Model”).
That’s quite a change from just a few years ago, when the net was plagued by corporate drama. First, parents Chris-Craft and Viacom battled over the net, leading to a nasty divorce. Then, Viacom bought CBS, leaving it unclear whether the company would want two nets.
And if that wasn’t enough, News Corp. bought Chris-Craft’s key UPN affils in 2001 — leaving it unclear whether the conglom would stick with a net owned by a rival.
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UPN started out like the WB, having been launched by a former Fox exec (Lucie Salhany), along with a station group hungry for programming (Chris-Craft, whose United Television unit was the “U” in “UPN”) and a studio eager to get into the vertical integration business (Viacom’s Paramount).
The net had a clear advantage over the WB when both nets began. UPN had signed stronger affiliates and was offering up a new edition of the wildly successful “Star Trek” franchise. The net’s all-drama lineup also earned more critical plaudits than the Frog’s comedies.
But the dramas didn’t deliver, and UPN decided to focus on an urban comedy formula. The netlet then suffered a major blow as the Sinclair station group decided to flip several big-market stations to rival WB.
Salhany and entertainment prexy Mike Sullivan eventually left and made way for UPN’s second wave, led by CEO Dean Valentine, COO Adam Ware and entertainment topper Tom Nunan.
At that point, UPN switched to a broader target, going after blue-collar auds to mixed results. “WWE Smackdown” gave the net some new juice, and convinced Valentine and company to refocus toward a more testosterone-oriented formula.
When oversight of the net was handed to Moonves, the net’s focus changed again. Moonves brought in Ostroff, who helped grow the net’s Monday night comedy lineup while adding strong dramas and reality entries — many with a femme-centric target.
As a result, UPN once again earned the respect of critics, who stopped asking whether or not the net would survive.