Share this article

print logo

THE UNDERDOG NETWORKS ROLL OUT THEIR FALL OFFERINGS

Call it the Tale of Two Networks in this city.

The WB affiliate in Buffalo, WNYO-Channel 49, has scored big in the daytime and respectably in prime time and was recently sold to the owners of Channel 29 for $51.5 million.

The UPN affiliate in Buffalo, WNGS-Channel 67, doesn't even register ratings most days or nights on the Nielsen meters (one exception is Thursday, when "WWF Smackdown" airs) and this year saw a $23 million deal with Channel 7's owner fall apart.

Nationally, things have been much different.

After years of being ahead in the race to be the No. 5 network, WB lost coverage on super station WGN and slipped behind UPN, which rode "Smackdown" to impressive ratings gains.

That good news was tempered in August when Rupert Murdoch bought a station group loaded with UPN affiliates and thereby threatened the existence of the network just after it increased ratings and began stemming the flow of red ink.

In some ways, the ratings comparison is a bit unfair. WB programs one more night - Sunday - than UPN, and that's a night dominated by the big networks.

The WB's problem? It was giving audiences too much of the same thing and it can't find a half-hour comedy hit. As bad as things were, it is returning four new dramas from last season, including "Angel," "Popular," "Jack & Jill" and "Roswell." Save "Angel" (a spin-off of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") none were that, well, popular in the ratings.

Heading into the 2000-2001 season, WB is looking for that elusive comedy hit of its own and hoping its second-year series catch fire. It actually has found a comedy hit, taking "Sabrina" from ABC and running it at 8 p.m. Fridays. It also has taken Eddie Murphy's series, "The PJs," from Fox to lead off its Sunday programming.

Unlike the bigger networks, it is tackling the Olympics head-on because it believes its younger audience is less interested in the Games.

Let's take a brief look at the four new WB series that will be seen on WNYO this season:

"Gilmore Girls," 8 p.m. Thursday: A family-friendly drama developed with money from a consortium of advertisers worried that such programs are going the way of the hula hoop.

And guess what? It is viewer friendly, too, managing to deliver a good message without being saccharine.

Lauren Graham stars as a single mother from an affluent upbringing, raising a teenager who looks like her younger sister. That's because mom had her baby as a teenager and wants to make sure her daughter, Rory, doesn't make the same mistakes.

Sprinkled with references to Kid Rock and Britney Spears, "Gilmore" goes for the WB's traditional audience without turning off older viewers. It is smart, it is funny and it is morally uplifting. Go, "Girls."

"Grosse Pointe," 8:30 tonight. A parody of teen dramas like the WB's "Dawson's Creek" and Fox's "Beverly Hills 90210" and "Melrose Place" written by the guy, Darren Star, who created the latter two series.

It is a show within a show concept, which illustrates what the actors playing the broad, cliched characters are really thinking about after they deliver their lines. The answer: Themselves, naturally.

Young fans undoubtedly will see Shannon Doherty in the lead character, Hunter Fallow (Irene Molloy). Hunter is mean to a kid in a wheelchair and schemes to stay the belle of the ball when a pretty blond, naive newcomer, Courtney Scott (Bonnie Somerville), who actually can act, arrives to steal her thunder. And her lines. There also are obvious parodies of Luke Perry and Tori Spelling, though Star toned it down out of respect to Tori's father and the man who signed many of his first paychecks, Aaron Spelling. It all might get a little old fast, but tonight's pilot is a flat-out hoot.

"Hype!" 9 p.m. Sunday: A sketch show in the spirit of "Mad TV" and "Saturday Night Live" that promises to skewer the entertainment industry. The pilot had its hit and miss moments, which you expect from such series.

"Nikki" 9:30 p.m Sunday: Nikki Cox left ABC's "Norm" to star in a comedy about a dancer who heads to Las Vegas with her naive, heavyweight husband, Dwight (Nick von Esmarch, who looks like an overweight Rick Schroder). She becomes a showgirl, he becomes a professional wrestler, "The Crybaby," to the disgust of his overbearing mother. Mom is played by East Aurora's Christine Estabrook, who played the crazy mom on "Titus" on Fox last season.

With the wrestling element, this comedy probably should be on UPN.

Created by Bruce Helford of "Norm" and "Drew Carey" fame, "Nikki" has the same blue-collar feel and PG-13 attitude as his earlier series. And that's no hype. Cox's cleavage is front and center and not all of the lines are as obvious as her dress. Some of them are pretty sharp. My favorite comes via mom, who tries to convince the couple to go to college with this lecture: "I'm not saying give up your dream. Just do what everybody else does. Push them way down deep inside you."

Following "Hype," however, could be a bigger problem for "Nikki" than her mother-in-law.

Now let's move on to UPN, which is seeking to expand its inroads with the male viewers who gravitate to the WWF on Thursday.

Like WB, it has taken a series that ABC abandoned, "The Hughleys." It has placed it at 9 p.m. Monday, the night in which it carries comedies headed by African-Americans.

If it is alive next season, UPN will have to replace "Star Trek: Voyager," which is heading into its last season.

These are the three new UPN series:

"Girlfriends," 9:30 p.m. Monday: This series about a group of middle-class, professional African-American women arrived Sept. 11 with some appealing characters and an unappealing pilot that was loaded with some unfunny sex jokes.

"Freedom," 8 p.m. Fridays: Since there is no pilot yet, we'll have to take the word of UPN's publicists, which say this series from producer Joel Silver is about four martial arts fighters who lead the Resistance to free America from the military elite that will run the country in the future. One of the four is Bodhi Elfman, Jenna Elfman's hubby. It arrives Oct. 27.

"Level 9," 9 p.m. Fridays: Tim Guinee stars in this series from John Sacret Young ("China Beach") about a group that investigates cyber terror and crime. It is fast-moving, smart and as confusing as certain aspects of the Internet. But never dull. In short, it is well above the level of most UPN dramas. It premieres Oct. 27.

There are no comments - be the first to comment