We watch... so you don't have to.

UPN: The Case Against

I'm here today to talk to you about the new fall schedule announced by the UPN television network last week.

Wait a minute... come back here! Dammit, at least hear me out before you surf away. Come on, this is important.

All right then. For UPN -- hey, buddy, I see you fingering that mouse! -- this isn't exactly the best of times. Born into this oft-cruel world at the same time as the WB, UPN has watched as its fellow netlet has flourished into a nearly full-fledged network, pulling in young viewers with a lineup of shows that feature people more attractive than you and me. At the same time, UPN has floundered, a cobbled-together collection of mismatched, ill-conceived programming kept afloat only by obstinacy and a rapidly decaying "Star Trek" franchise.

How bad have things gotten for UPN? Of the six shows that debuted last fall, only 7 Days is back for a sophomore season. Bonus points to you if you even knew the show was on the air to begin with. The mid-season replacement Dilbert -- a smashing success in UPN's universe of diminished expectations -- has failed to generate the kind of excitement that creatively superior animated cohorts have produce over at Fox. In fact, UPN's only tangible mark on the past season has been the network's most spectacular failure -- the incalculably awful Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer.

So how does UPN rid itself of the stink of failure? By cleaning house, apparently. Gone are rookie shows Pfeiffer, Guys Like Us, Mercy Point, Legacy and DiResta (as in "DiResta our shows are this lame, too..."). Also being used for kindling are the tattered remains of Clueless, Love Boat: The Next Wave, and The Sentinel -- that last cancellation ensuring that TeeVee will be drowning in form letters urging us to "join the campaign to save The Sentinel well nigh into the next millennium.

No, UPN is shifting its focus to breathe life into its moribund schedule. Gone are those hackneyed sitcoms and club-footed dramas that appealed to dimwitted Middle Americans. In their place: hackneyed sitcoms and club-footed dramas that appeal to 18- to 34-year-old males -- clearly a demographic that, if anything, needs to be watching more TV.

Like the WB, Fox and, well, exactly every other broadcast network on the planet, UPN is turning its focus to "youth-oriented programming." Among TV networks, this is code for "Check your brain at the door." After all, if you can't suck in the masses with a retread version of The Love Boat, where else can you turn?

To pro wrestling, apparently.

Yes, wrestling, in the form of WWF Smackdown!, will consume a two-hour block of UPN's schedule on Thursdays. So if the antics of Ross and Rachel are as tiresome as you as they are to me, we can always turn our attention to more enlightening fare -- Stone Cold Steve Austin attacking The Undertaker with a lead pipe, for instance.

The sad news? That's probably the highlight of UPN's lineup. Star Trek: Voyager and 7 Days are back on Wednesdays, giving the Dungeons & Dragons crowd all the silly sci-fi they can handle in one convenient sitting. Monday nights will see grizzled UPN veterans Moesha and Malcolm and Eddie joined by newcomers The Grown Ups and Mo'Nique. The latter show is a spin-off of Moesha, and if you're wondering when exactly America started clamoring for more Moesha-related programming, well, join the club.

Dilbert leads off Tuesdays, followed by some sort of atrocity called Shasta McNasty. Then, it's a hour of Secret Agent Man, which may or may not be a spy parody. I don't really feel like checking. Because after all, if you want to spend the limited time we have on Earth watching UPN, that's really between you and your God.

Which raises an interesting question, actually: Why does UPN even bother to exist at this point? I mean, no offense to pro wrestling, which has given us governors and movie stars and bar bouncers, but if you're ceding one-tenth of your programming over to the likes of Bad Ass Billy Gunn and Mankind, doesn't that sort of indicate you've pretty much given up the hopes of being a real network? When all your new shows sound as bland and contrived as the ones you've just canceled, isn't that a sign you're just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic? If you're even considering airing something called Shasta McNasty, shouldn't you be run out of Hollywood on a rail before you get the chance to kill again?

In all three cases, probably so.

But perhaps this is all shrewd maneuvering on UPN's part. Wrestling, after all, was an early staple of television programming, a ready-made hour block of drama, tension and intrigue that drew in viewers and introduced them to the promise of television. Slapping WWF Smackdown on the fall schedule might be UPN's attempt to return television back to its Golden Age, a time of rigged quiz shows, amateur variety programming and radio with pictures. Who knows? As the year rolls on, we might soon see some other old-time TV nuggets assuming their rightful place alongside wrestling -- shows like I Love to Eat and Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts and Cap'n Billy's Mississippi Music Hall.

All three sound more interesting than Shasta McNasty, at any rate.


TeeVee - About Us - Archive - Where We Are Now

Got a comment? Mail us at teevee@teevee.org.

* * *