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UPN President Knocks Rival WB Network

Television: She tells affiliates that the network lied in an attempt to gain competitive edge. An executive at WB calls her comments 'desperate.'

June 11, 1997|GREG BRAXTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a fiery address to affiliates, United Paramount Network President Lucie Salhany accused rival Warner Bros. Network of lying in trying to get an edge over UPN. She said UPN has outdistanced its rival creatively and in viewer popularity since the two networks started three years ago.

Salhany, the network's first president, who is stepping down in September, told the gathering at Paramount Studios Theatre that the WB network had lied about being a "pure broadcast network," saying the network must use cable superstation WBN to augment its national coverage in areas where WB does not have affiliates.

She also criticized WB for contending it was beating UPN in ratings.

"Last season, our series outperformed theirs by 36% among core 18- to 34-year-old adults, and 54% among adults 18 to 49," she said.

She made fun of the failed WB drama "Savannah" and this season's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," which, Salhany said, "has dropped significantly since its premiere."

Salhany knocked WB's branding itself "the family network," saying the network had scheduled a new 8 p.m. drama, "Dawson's Creek," which featured "adolescent characters in adult situations." She said a clothed male and female teen were shown in bed together.

"I could say I'm 6 foot tall, with blond hair and black eyes, but that doesn't mean that's true," Salhany said.

Brad Turell, senior vice president of publicity and talent relations for WB, a unit of Time Warner Inc., called Salhany's comments "desperate. Her statements are not factual, and beyond that, we choose not to engage in a mudslinging contest that could discredit us or our industry."

During her emotional speech, Salhany also demanded that UPN set its sights directly on "the underserved audience--the younger, hipper viewer." She called the 18- to 34-year-old viewer "the network's backbone. That doesn't mean we don't attract the 18-to-49 audience, but everyone is going after them."

UPN Entertainment President Mike Sullivan later introduced a fall slate that is heavily geared toward young urban viewers, with returning shows such as "In the House" with rapper LL Cool J and new shows such as "Hitz," with raunchy comedian Andrew Dice Clay, and "Good News," which is about a young African American minister.

The audience of station managers awarded Salhany a standing ovation. Salhany, who was the network head at Fox Broadcasting in 1993, had a rocky reign at UPN, marked by continuing disputes with Kerry McCluggage, chairman of Paramount Television Group, one of the network's owners.

In May, Salhany announced she was resigning after more than a year of rumors about her status. She said she wanted to spend more time with her husband, Boston-based restaurateur John Polcari, and their two young sons, but would continue to be on the network's operating committee and work as a consultant to its 50% owner, BHC Communications. She said she also was starting her own media company, JH Media.

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