Viacom Sibs Sort Synergy

Jul 25, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Even if everybody loves UPN comedy “Everybody Hates Chris,” the show won’t budge from its Viacom-owned network home, executives said last week during the Television Critics Association summer press tour.

Critics questioned how a market leader like Viacom-owned CBS would let its smaller corporate cousin UPN program the highly touted new comedy.

“The script was submitted to them. They bid on it. In that regard, it’s just another network trying to get their hands on good material,” CBS President of Entertainment Nina Tassler said of the show, which is produced by another Viacom company, Paramount Network Television.

If “Chris” turns out to be a breakout hit for UPN, the show would not switch to the higher-profile CBS, said Nancy Tellem, president of CBS Paramount Network Television Entertainment Group, who oversees both networks. “There’s no way that would happen,” she told TelevisionWeek. “We don’t cherry-pick.”

Ms. Tassler said she does not discuss development with UPN, and that she does not sit in on UPN scheduling meetings.

At her network’s TCA executive session last Thursday, Dawn Ostroff, president of UPN, said she’s certain that the show will remain on the UPN schedule, no matter what.

“I want to be perfectly clear that UPN is not a farm system for CBS,” Ms. Ostroff said. “We are our own vibrant network.”

Synergy is not totally out of the question, however, since Ms. Ostroff used her executive session to announce that four episodes from the debut season of the UPN drama “Veronica Mars” will run on CBS three consecutive Fridays starting this week. The pilot of “Veronica” and a second episode will air on CBS July 29 starting at 8 p.m. (ET). Single episodes will air Aug. 5 and Aug. 12 at 8 p.m.

She said the four episodes of “Veronica Mars” airing on CBS during the summer represent a “positive way” for the networks to work together in terms of providing a larger sampling audience to the critically acclaimed but still ratings-challenged UPN show. But she added, “The two networks have two separate and individual development pipelines to feed their respective networks.”

Viacom co-Chief Operating Officer Leslie Moonves, during a CBS TCA event last Wednesday, also dismissed any notion that UPN is inferior to CBS or any other broadcast network.

“It’s not a minor league ballpark,” he said of UPN to a group of reporters. “It’s smaller; it may be an expansion ball club, but it’s not minor league.”

CBS and UPN executives also trumpeted the resurgence of broadcast programming during last week’s press tour. Aside from touting her network’s own “CSI” and “Survivor,” CBS’s Ms. Tassler applauded ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost” and Fox’s “American Idol” for “reclaiming control of the water cooler from cable.”

“These are the shows people are talking about,” she said at CBS’s presentation last Tuesday, which marked CBS’s first press tour in 10 years without Mr. Moonves leading the network’s executive session.

Despite Mr. Moonves’ responsibilities as the head of Viacom’s newly formed CBS Corp., Ms. Tassler said, he would remain involved with the network.

“He is as involved as ever,” she said. “CBS is the jewel in his crown.”

CBS and UPN kicked off the commercial broadcast network portion of the tour. “Broadcast is back” is expected to be the continued mantra as the rest of the tour rolls out. The WB held its press tour event Friday (See story, Page 8), while NBC was scheduled to present Sunday, and ABC and Fox are scheduled this week.

Highlights of the CBS and UPN portions of the press tour:

  • During UPN’s session, Ms. Ostroff confirmed comedian Chris Rock will narrate every episode of “Chris,” which is a semi-autobiographical look at Mr. Rock’s early teenage years in 1980s Brooklyn.

    “Chris has been involved in the stories, and he’s executive producer of the show,” she said.

    Mr. Rock addressed the issue himself in his show’s TCA session when he noted he is “going through all the scripts, making sure I like all the jokes, trying to be there for pretty much all the tapings,” and said he will continue with the show for the rest of the season.

    “I don’t think I’ve done things and ever walked out,” he said. “My name is ‘Rock,’ not ‘Chappelle.'”

    Mr. Moonves on Wednesday refused to speculate on how well “Chris” will do once it premieres in its competitive Thursday 8 p.m. time slot Sept. 22.

    “I have never made a prediction on what a success is in my life,” Mr. Moonves said to reporters. “It’s got to be a creative success. I’m not going to give you a number. I think the show is going to do well. … You want me to give a prediction and then you’re gonna go to [NBC Universal Television Group President] Jeff Zucker and say, ‘Moonves says “Chris” is going to beat “Joey.”‘”

  • UPN late Thursday night finalized a deal for Busy Phillips to replace Shannen Doherty as the lead on its upcoming series “Love, Inc.” Ms. Ostroff said earlier in the week that the network wanted “to go in a different direction” with the character.

  • Former “America’s Next Top Model” judge Janice Dickinson will return to the show next season for at least some of the episodes. “Janice is going to appear in the show, but in a different way,” Ms. Ostroff said. And in a nod to network cross-promotion, the most recent “Model” winner, Naima Mora, will appear in the first episode of the second season of “Veronica.”

  • Ms. Tassler said during her executive session that CBS is considering a series pickup of its drama pilot “Love Monkey.” She called the Sony Pictures TV/Paramount Network Television production “a strong possibility for midseason.” “Monkey,” based on Kyle Smith’s book about a music executive who gets fired and then dumped by his girlfriend, had been in contention for the fall 2005-06 schedule but was not announced as a pickup at CBS’s May upfront presentation for advertisers.

  • Ms. Tassler announced that for its second season “CSI: NY” will get a new cast member and some changes in tone, with the show appearing “more vibrant” and incorporating “more elements of humor.”

    “We’re upbeat about our continuing evolution of ‘CSI: NY,'” she said, noting that the “CSI: NY” offices will move out from underground to a midtown high-rise and that series regular Hill Harper will leave the morgue and transition to the field to create more interaction with the show’s other characters.

  • Ms. Tassler said she was “pleased with the quality” of the network’s new reality series “Rock Star: INXS,” which has been a solid performer but not a breakout hit like ABC’s summer reality offering “Dancing With the Stars.”

    “It’s not a broad-based ratings success,” she said of the show, “but it’s done OK with younger viewers.”

    She compared “Rock Star” to “Big Brother,” which she said became one of CBS’s core reality franchises over the course of several seasons.

    “We’re going to give it some time,” Ms. Tassler said of “Rock Star.”

  • Numerous questions about the cancellation of family drama “Joan of Arcadia” prompted Ms. Tassler to admit the decision to pull the Friday night show from CBS’s schedule was “a big disappointment” to the network and to her personally.

    Though it was on the air two seasons, Ms. Tassler said, the show lost 24 percent of its audience halfway through its first season.

    “No matter what we did. they didn’t come back,” she said of “Joan’s” initial viewers.

    Melissa Grego contributed to this report.