UPN: Despite low ratings, 'We're not in trouble'
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From Correspondent Paul Vercammen
PASADENA, California (CNN) -- What if someone started started up a network and nobody watched?
At times, that's how they must feel at the United Paramount Network, which has some of the lowest-rated shows on television.
"I think UPN has some real problems," says David Zurawik, TV critic for the Baltimore Sun. "Couple that with the distribution problems in cities like Baltimore, where they lost their affiliation to a WB network in 1998. This is a network in trouble."
"The fact that they are so small and have lost viewership does not bode well for them," says Jonathan Storm, the Philadelphia Enquirer's TV critic.
So what's wrong with UPN?
Wanting for affiliates
The sixth network -- behind CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox and WB -- is lacking affiliates in key markets, notably St. Louis. And it's hemorrhaging the viewers that once tuned in: Overall ratings hit an all-time low last fall.
UPN's stumblings have been embarrassing, too. The network cancelled "The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer," about a black man working for President Abraham Lincoln, in October amid charges it was racist and stupid.
Lincolnesque stovepipe hat in hand, UPN's leader spoke on the show's cancellation at a recent press tour.
"Four score and 15 days ago, UPN brought forth on this nation a new sitcom, conceived in silliness, and dedicated to the proposition that a television show about the Lincoln White House was created equal. We were wrong and you guys were right," joked Dean Valentine, president and CEO of UPN.
But UPN isn't giving up the ship. It's currently striving for an identity, and young male viewers, pinning future hopes on "Dilbert" and "Home Movies," while giving total support to reliable shows like "Star Trek: Voyager."
"No, we're not in trouble," says Valentine. "We're in the business of trying stuff, putting it in front of an audience and seeing if it works. Some of it will and some of it won't."
But the other fledgling network -- WB -- is flourishing with hits such as "Dawson's Creek."
UPN suffers from comparison.
"The real difficulty here is (that) the ad community may not support a sixth network right now," says Mike Duffy of the Detroit Free Press.
Still, the network's management stresses that any predictions of the death of UPN are greatly exaggerated.
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