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UPN SEASON PREVIEW
LACKING ANY DISCERNIBLE OVERALL PHILOSOPHY, UNITED PARAMOUNT NETWORK'S SHOWS NEED MORE THAN WNGS TO FLY
BY ALAN PERGAMENT - NEWS TV CRITIC

The struggles of the United Paramount Network -- or UPN -- haven't been any more obvious than they have been in Buffalo.

For a few years, the only place you could see shows like "Voyager" and "Clueless" was Channel 29.

As the Fox affiliate, WUTV wasn't exactly looking to help a potential rival. It sentenced most of UPN's series to unattractive time slots.

Then in April, UPN made a deal with Channel 67, WNGS, so its prime-time series at least would be carried in prime time.

However, WNGS just got on cable in Buffalo and hasn't found its identity.

As a result, the UPN series haven't even registered a Nielsen rating in May or July.

Meanwhile, UPN's biggest rival, WB, is on Channel 49, which has quickly established itself by carrying Buffalo Sabres games and spending money on programming and promotion. This year, Channel 49 is even carrying a prime-time Bills game.

UPN's bad luck continued when Channel 29's owner, Sinclair Broadcasting, purchased Channel 23 from WNEQ.

If UPN had just waited a few more months, it probably could have made a new deal with Sinclair and had its programs carried by Channel 23.

As it stands now, UPN seemingly is locked into a five-year deal with Channel 67, which is owned by a young married couple, Bill Smith and Caroline Powley, who certainly don't have the same kind of money to promote the series that Sinclair would have had.

Unquestionably, UPN has suffered here because of where and when its shows have run.

But its bigger problem nationally is that its programming philosophy doesn't have a consistent point of view.

And if you've been reading my network summaries, you know by now the mantra of writer-producer Diane English that a point of view is key in developing series and programming networks.

The big hit for UPN last year was "Love Boat: The Next Wave," hardly a series that will make any waves in improving its image.

The network is wisely delaying the premieres of its new series until the first week of October, which enables it to avoid the clutter of the other network premieres.

UPN's new series are an eclectic mix, without any discernible overall philosophy.

It clearly wants to upgrade its programming, recently announcing a deal with "Homicide" producers Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson. They will produce a new drama that will air either in midseason or next fall.

Without further ado, here's a capsule look at the new series as UPN expands to five nights this fall:

"Guys Like Us," 8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 5: Bachelor swingers Sean (Chris Hardwick of "Singled Out") and Jared (Bumper Robinson of "Family Matters") become bachelor fathers when Jared's 6-year brother (Maestro Harrell) moves in with them, in this comedy from the producers of "Kenan & Kel" and "Hangin' With Mr. Cooper."

Point of view: Responsibility can be a pain, but there are rewards.

My view: It may be better than ABC's "Brother's Keeper," but it would look more at home on Nickelodeon.

"DiResta," 8:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 5: Real-life transit cop and stand-up comic John DiResta in a sitcom based on his life as a lovable family man. Leila Kenzie of "Mad About You" co-stars as his wife and mother of his two young children. He takes the night shift to get extra money to send his kids to private school.

Point of view: It's tough getting by on a transit cop's salary, but a sense of humor is priceless.

My view: Kenzie couldn't get a better gig than this dull-as-dishwater comedy?

"The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer," 9 p.m. Monday, Oct. 5: East Aurora's Christine Estabrook plays sex-starved Mary Todd Lincoln in this farce about Desmond Pfeiffer, a smart, black English nobleman (Chi McBride) who is the brains behind the Lincoln presidency. The "P" in Pfeiffer isn't silent in the title.

Point of view: Honestly, Abe's administration was a sex-crazed one, though the prez protests: "The president having sex with somebody who works at the White House. Preposterous."

My view: This broad comedy has been accused of a variety of things -- being silly and racist. The sex jokes quickly get as tiresome as the Starr Report and the pilot isn't pfffunny enough to be more than a "Saturday Night Live" sketch.

"Mercy Point," 9 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 6: Joe Morton stars as the head man in a state-of-the-art medical facility in outer space, where aliens and humans are treated. It is the first stop for coming into the system and the last before leaving. The series has been described as "ER" meets "Star Trek."

Point of view: Aliens are people, too.

My view: Mercy, mercy, many of the characters are very angry and the presentation was confusing. The pace was dizzyingly fast and any show with Morton commands attention. If it gets less confusing, it may play well with "Voyager" as its lead-in.

"Seven Days," 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 7: Jonathan LaPaglia, Don Franklin and Norman Lloyd of "St. Elsewhere" star in this time-travel drama. LaPaglia stars as an arrogant hero of a covert military intelligence group that turns back the clock seven days to undo modern-day catastrophes such as the assassination of the president and vice president.

Point of view: In love and war, timing is everything.

My view: Where were they when President Clinton needed them? ABC tried the same thing with "Time Cop" last season and it was a disaster. The two-hour pilot seemed a month long, but shorter episodes just may fly.

"Legacy," 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 9: Brett Cullen is the widowed, principled leader of yet another series about an Irish family -- the Logans -- who run a horse farm in post-Civil War Kentucky. Issues of loyalty, race, trust and sex all pop up, and there is one female character (Lea Moreno) who looks somewhat like Monica Lewinsky.

Point of view: Families who horse around together can overcome just about everything.

My view: Winning soundtrack and cast and picturesque setting, but a predictable horse opera like this is a 15-to-1 long shot to succeed.