Moonves, Ostroff Tout a Strengthening UPN

Jul 20, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Thanks to some aspiring models and Will Smith from last season, plus some new promising faces for this season, Viacom Co-President and Co-Chief Operating Officer Leslie Moonves had something positive to say about the once-struggling UPN at Television Critics Association press tour on Monday.

“I’ve heard from a number of you and from a number of people around town the best development of the year has come from UPN,” he said. “How many of you would have guessed [those words] would have been uttered by anybody a couple years ago?”

Mr. Moonves in particular touted the Touchstone Television/Icon Productions drama “Kevin Hill” as a crucial piece of programming for the network, and as a logical pairing with UPN’s returning reality hit “America’s Next Top Model.”

“A lot of the buyers and analysts call ‘Kevin Hill’ the best pilot on any net of this entire year,” Mr. Moonves said. “We’ve employed the strategy we used at CBS with “Survivor” and ‘CSI,’ and this has the potential right now to make Wednesday an extremely big night on UPN.”

Appearing with Mr. Moonves was UPN Entertainment President Dawn Ostroff, who described the UPN schedule of two years ago as suffering from “multiple personality disorder.” But for the upcoming season Ms. Ostroff said the network has “a clear, cohesive identity” with a focus on Women 18-34.

But Mr. Moonves and Ms. Ostroff couldn’t escape fielding several questions about UPN’s summer reality show “Amish in the City,” which has been questioned by critics, politicians and media watchers as exploitative. One reporter asked if that was why UPN has engaged in a “stealth attack” in terms of marketing the show.

“Calling it a stealth attack is a little extreme,” Mr. Moonves said, “however there is no question that judging from past history the idea of announcing this with a six month lead time wouldn’t have done the show any good, and would have created a great controversy.”

Mr. Moonves seemed to be referring to the controversy CBS generated over its “Beverly Hillbillies” reality project, which became a media firestorm and continues to languish in development. Despite requests from a local affiliate and even a member of Congress to see “Amish,” Mr. Moonves said Viacom was not in the business of allowing elected officials and local stations to pre-screen network content.

There were also questions about “Star Trek: Enterprise,” which doesn’t seem to fit the young female model the network is pursuing. Mr. Moonves noted that Paramount’s offer to lower the show’s license fee made it an easier decision to keep the once-powerful but now diminished franchise on UPN’s air.

“Paramount came to us–that was before Paramount was reporting to me, so now I’m negotiating with myself,” he joked. “And they made a very attractive offer to UPN to bring the show back.”

Ms. Ostroff also announced the network’s fall premiere dates, where the new dramas “Kevin Hill and “Veronica Mars” would both get the benefit of “Top Model” lead ins. “Veronica Mars” gets a special preview on Wednesday, Sept. 22, following the 8p.m. premiere of “Top Model.” It moves into its regular Tuesday 9p.m. lineup on Sept. 28. The next Wednesday, Sept. 29, “Kevin Hill” premieres in its 9p.m. time slot after the season’s second episode of “Top Model.” The returning Monday night comedy lineup, including the new sitcom “Second Time Around,” premieres Sept. 20. “All of Us” and “Eve” premiere Tuesday, Sept. 21. The fourth season of “Star Trek: Enterprise” begins Friday, Oct. 8.