‘Chris’ puts UPN on the board

Net finally reaping the fruits of a creative turnaround

For UPN, the road to recognition is paved with milestones like a Golden Globe nomination.

This year’s nod for “Everybody Hates Chris” in the comedy category reps a major breakthrough for the oft-maligned weblet — its first big nom in a major awards presentation.

“We really believe ‘Chris’ is a quality comedy show — the production values and quality of the writing is first-rate,” says UPN Entertainment prexy Dawn Ostroff. “To see it recognized for us is tremendous — and for the network to be taken seriously is so gratifying.”

It’s been a long journey from punchline to respectability, but UPN — once the network of “The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer” and “Shasta McNasty” (which did, granted, earn a People’s Choice nom in 1999) — is finally reaping the fruits of a creative turnaround.

In one week last month, UPN landed on the AFI list of 2005’s 10 best shows (for “Veronica Mars”), and scored a Writers Guild Award nomination as well as a Peoples Choice Award nod, for “Chris.” The Globe nom capped it.

“When we first got here, the joke was the network couldn’t even develop its own shows,” Ostroff says. “For us having a homegrown series get nominated is really catapulting us to the next level.”

Ostroff also believes the barrier for entry is finally being torn down. Where awards shows refused to even acknowledge the weblets a few years ago, the success of cable nets in scoring noms has helped erase the stigma of a show’s broadcaster. “A couple of cable networks came up with great programming, and it made people look at the shows, and not base it on the network it’s coming from,” she says. “It’s a great opportunity. When UPN has shows that are worth everybody’s attention, and when the critics get behind the shows, it’s an open field.

“Every step for us is an important one,” Ostroff adds.

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