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Focus : UPN Sticks Close to Its Star Survivor : A LOOK AT THREE NEW SHOWS BANKING ON 'VOYAGER' AUDIENCE

August 20, 1995|TED JOHNSON | Ted Johnson is a regular contributor to TV Times and Calendar

Christopher Lloyd beams to homes across America as an anti-matter-derived villain in United Paramount Network's sci-fi fantasy series "Deadly Games." You'll recall he played a Klingon in "Star Trek III."

LeVar Burton and Brent Spiner will guest star as characters with incredible powers. They were regulars on "Star Trek: The Next Generation."

And one of the executive producers behind "Deadly Games," scheduled to premiere later this month, is Leonard Nimoy--none other than Spock himself. While the series is far from another incarnation of "Star Trek," reminders of the sci-fi franchise are very much welcomed at UPN. Network execs are on the hunt for a new hit, targeting the same young male viewers who flock to UPN's only success so far, "Star Trek: Voyager."

With a cosmic logo and futuristic slogan ("First Network of the Next Century"), UPN is unveiling a trio of new shows that aim to capture "Star Trek" viewers with lots of action and intensity--or about every male hook short of a tractor pull.

On "Deadly Games," the young male scientist Gus Lloyd (James Calvert) battles the evil villains who came to life from his homemade video game; on "Nowhere Man," young male photographer Thomas Veil (Bruce Greenwood) wanders the country, fleeing a clandestine operation that has erased all traces of his identity; and on "Live Shot," young male TV news director Alex Rydell (Jeff Yagher) tries to lead an adrenaline-filled staff of reporters, anchors and photographers.

"You're not looking to just have a target audience, but you're looking to build off of that," says Michael Sullivan, UPN's entertainment president. "You're looking for an opportunity to cut through the clutter."

UPN employed the same strategy last year, but shows such as "Marker," "Legend," "The Watcher" and a pair of sitcoms, "Platypus Man" and "Pig Sty," crashed and burned. Network executives vow to stick to the strategy, given Fox's success in attracting young male viewers after it launched in 1987.

Nimoy, executive producer of "Deadly Games," along with creator Paul Bernbaum acknowledges that his presence and that of guest stars may attract viewers' initial interest.

"These are well-known and well-liked 'Star Trek' actors," Nimoy says. "But the most important thing is we have to earn their loyalty. We have to come up to the mark with a quality show that will hold their attention."

In the premiere, Gus enlists ex-wife Lauren Ashborne (Cynthia Gibb) to help capture two of his video-game villains: Sebastian Jackal (Lloyd), a whimsical bad guy who always has a glass of champagne in hand, and Killshot (guest star Tom Rathman of the Raiders), a low-I.Q. heavy who tosses a lethal football.

"A lot of the humor comes from the fact that there are these two regular people [Gus and Lauren] who have to save the world every week," Bernbaum says.

The hook for "Nowhere Man" comes from its homage to two past classic series, "The Prisoner" and "The Fugitive."

In the premiere, directed by Tobe Hooper ("Poltergeist"), documentary photographer Thomas Veil (Greenwood) is bewildered when suddenly no one recognizes him: not his friends, not his wife, not even his mom. He can't even get cash out of an ATM. Soon he suspects that a secret organization is behind the plot to erase his identity.

"I just wanted a big chill factor where people say 'Wow! Did you see that?' " says executive producer Larry Hertzog. "When people see the pilot and say, 'I need Valium or aspirin,' or they have to turn the set off afterward just to rest, that pleases me."

"Live Shot" aims for the same sort of intensity. The show, created by Steve Marshall and Dan Guntzelman, is "ER" in a newsroom. (When they came up with the idea 10 years ago, they conceived it as "Hill Street Blues" in a newsroom, but NBC passed.) The show features slick editing, a mix of film and video and a hip soundtrack.

In the premiere, arrogant "Re-Action News" anchor Harry Chandler Moore (David Birney) is enraged that he will have to share the stage with co-anchor Sherry Beck (Rebecca Staab) when interviewing the President; a pair of aggressive photographers (Michael Watson and Hill Harper), nicknamed "The News Brothers," use questionable methods to get footage of a murdered socialite, and commentator Marvin Seaborn (Sam Anderson) becomes the victim of an explosive device. Those are only half of the story lines in the first hour.

Among the plots in coming weeks: A dispute with a "Re-Action News" advertiser. A romance between the two anchors. And, perhaps unwittingly, the writers have thrown in a male hook, when the entire news crew goes out on a story about a group of unlicensed owners of machine guns. The catch: The owners are women in bikinis.

"Nowhere Man" premieres Aug. 28 (Monday) at 9 p.m.; "Live Shot" debuts Aug. 29 (Tuesday) at 8 p.m.; "Deadly Games" premieres Sept. 5 (Tuesday) at 8 p.m.

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