UPN Stations Get Cleansed With Soaps

By Lisa de Moraes
Thursday, February 23, 2006

News Corp.-owned UPN stations that are getting the old heave-ho when UPN and WB merge this fall -- including our market's WDCA -- will become part of what's being billed as a "mini network" offering a prime-time lineup of heaving-bosomy soaps.

My Network TV will launch in September, programming 8 to 10 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Initially, MNTV will consist of two hour-long serialized dramas, running under the umbrella names "Desire" and "Secrets."

The programs, which will air six days a week for 13 weeks, are "all about guilty pleasures, with high melodrama and beautiful people," Fox Television Stations Group President Jack Abernethy told participants in a news conference yesterday morning in New York.

My Network TV will run on the nine UPN stations owned by News Corp.'s Fox Television Stations Group, including those in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, the nation's three largest TV markets. All told, 10 Fox-owned stations -- the nine UPN stations plus one that had not been affiliated with a network -- will give My Network coverage of 24 percent of the country. But Dennis Swanson, president of station operations for Fox, told The TV Column he expects to have 90 percent clearance by launch.

The two series' scripts are translations of popular Spanish-language telenovelas. At the end of the 13 weeks, "Desire" and "Secrets" will return with new stories, new casts, etc.

The first round of "Desire," airing at 8 p.m., is called "Table for Three" and chronicles the destruction of a family when "two brothers on the run from the mafia find themselves in a heated battle of passion, betrayal, deceit and murder over the woman they both love."

("Desire" had been developed for first-run syndication and already was sold to stations around the country. But, Swanson said, Fox had the right to "recapture" it for use at a network.)

The first edition of "Secrets," called "Fashion House," "goes deep behind the scenes of the glamorous and sometimes brutally ruthless fashion industry," news conference participants were told. The words "greed," "lust" and "blind ambition" also were slung about. Characters include an unfulfilled wife who chases her dream of becoming a fashion designer after discovering her husband's infidelity, a temptress who is every homemaker's worst nightmare, and a high-powered supermodel who loses her baby "after a suspicious fall downstairs."

Among other shows in development for My Network TV are:

· "Celebrity Love Island," in which six hot C-listers and "six non-celebrity singletons" are thrown together in a fantasy island setting where a "search for love takes place," which we think is a euphemism for "hot tubs and petting."

· "On Scene," described as "coverage of the crimes you need to see to believe."

· "Catwalk," a competition in which, news conference attendees were told, uber-supermodels would help wannabes become supermodels.

All of which adds up to the kind of oversexed programming polluting prime time that some bit of on-air talent at Fox News periodically rails against and suggests is in no small way responsible for the decline of the US of A.

But wait just a minute -- Roger Ailes is chairman of Fox News and of Fox Television Stations. That means he oversees Fox News Channel and this new operation.

Yesterday, Ailes reportedly said that he sees at least a couple of hits in the batch, which in fairness also includes "America's Brainiest," based on a Brit-hit brainiac competition that we think is probably undersexed.

Unlike, say, the soon-to-be late-great WB, which persuaded stations to pay a fee for the privilege of carrying its programming, My Network TV stations won't have to pay to be affiliates, Swanson said. Nor will they have to pay a "license fee" for broadcast rights to the MNTV programming, though they will be expected to contribute financially to its marketing and promotion. Participating stations also will be given more commercial time to sell to advertisers than a station typically gets in a network show.

"We're predicating this network on a different economic formula than what is traditionally done," he explained.

"In the initial stages we're doing simply 12 hours of programming and we're talking about strip programming," which is to say shows that air every night, as opposed to a different show each night, as on WB and UPN.

"UPN and WB just proved that doesn't work," Swanson said, referring to the recent announcement that the two networks, which have collectively lost billions of dollars over their relatively short lives, would soon die only to rise like the phoenix this fall as a single network called The CW.

"Secrets" and "Desire" are also relatively inexpensive to produce, Swanson said, though he would not discuss specifics, except to note that they're using scripts already written for Spanish-language TV.

"The idea was to make these things cost-effective. . . . What we're trying to do is find a business model that works."

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