United Paramount Network
|January 16, 1995|
|September 15, 2006|
|Chris-Craft Industries (1995)|
Chris-Craft Industries/Viacom (1996-2000)
The United Paramount Network (UPN) was an American broadcast television network that launched on January 16, 1995. The network was originally owned by Chris-Craft Industries/United Television; Viacom (through its Paramount Television unit, which produced most of the network's series) turned the network into a joint venture in 1996 after acquiring a 50% stake in the network, and then purchased Chris-Craft's stake in the network in 2000; UPN was spun off to CBS Corporation in December 2005, when CBS and Viacom split up into two separate companies.
UPN shut down on September 15, 2006, with some of its programs moving three days later to The CW – a joint venture between CBS Corporation and Time Warner (majority owner of The WB, itself shutting down two days later).
In 1993, Time Warner and Chris-Craft Industries entered into a joint venture to distribute programming via a prime time programming block, the Prime Time Entertainment Network (PTEN). PTEN can be seen as the ancestor of what would become UPN and The WB, since Chris-Craft later became a partner in UPN, while Time Warner launched The WB (in a joint venture with the Tribune Company) at roughly the same time.
Paramount formed the Paramount Stations Group when it purchased the assets of the TVX Broadcast Group, which owned several independent stations in major markets, in 1991. This was not unlike the purchase of the Metromedia stations by News Corporation ten years earlier, which were used as the nuclei for Fox. In another parallel, 20th Century Fox (the News Corporation subsidiary behind the Fox network, which was spun off with the company's other entertainment assets to 21st Century Fox in July 2013), like Paramount, had long been a powerhouse in television syndication. All indicators suggested that Paramount was about to launch a network of its own. In late 1994, Paramount announced the formation of the United Paramount Network. The new network would be owned by Chris-Craft Industries, while most of its shows were to be produced by Paramount Television. The "U" in UPN stood for Chris-Craft subsidiary United Television, which owned the network's two largest stations: New York City's WWOR-TV and Los Angeles's KCOP-TV; the "P" represented Paramount Television, the studio that formed a programming partnership with Chris-Craft to create the network. Chris-Craft and Paramount/Viacom each owned independent stations in several large and mid-sized U.S. cities, and these stations formed the nuclei of the new network.
UPN launched on January 16, 1995, initially carrying programming only on Monday and Tuesday nights. Like Fox had done a decade earlier, UPN started with a few nights of programming each week, with additional nights of primetime shows gradually being added over the course of several seasons. Thus, for all intents and purposes, its affiliates were still basically independents during the network's early years.
The first telecast, the two-hour pilot episode of Star Trek: Voyager, was an auspiciously widely viewed start, having been seen by 21.3 million viewers; however, Voyager would never achieve such viewership levels again, nor would any of the series debuting on UPN's second night of broadcasting survive the season. In contrast, The WB debuted one week earlier, on January 11, with four series – only one of which, Muscle, would not survive its first season. The first comedy series to debut on UPN were Platypus Man, starring Richard Jeni, and Pig Sty, with both shows airing Monday nights in the 9:00 p.m. hour; both received mixed reviews, and neither lasted long.
Other early UPN programs included the action series Nowhere Man, starring Bruce Greenwood and Marker, starring Richard Grieco; the comic western Legend starring Richard Dean Anderson; the science-fiction themed action series, The Sentinel; and Moesha, a sitcom starring Brandy Norwood. Of the network's early offerings, only Star Trek: Voyager, Moesha and The Sentinel would last longer than one season. As a result of the lack of viewership, UPN operated on a loss and had lost $800 million by 2000.
Within nearly two years of the network's launch, on December 8, 1996, Paramount/Viacom purchased a 50% stake in UPN from Chris-Craft. Over time, UPN began to run additional nights of programming. The first expansion came with the addition of Wednesday primetime programming in the 1996–1997 season. Thursday and Friday nights were the last to be added to the network's primetime slate, beginning with the 1998–1999 season.
Viacom era and decline (2000–2006)
In March 2000, Viacom exercised a contractual clause that would force Chris-Craft to either buy Viacom out of UPN, or have the former sell its ownership stake in the network to Viacom. Chris-Craft was unable to find a suitable partner and allowed Viacom to buy out its 50% stake in UPN, giving Viacom full control of the network. This gave UPN the rare distinction of being the only broadcast network whose stations in the three largest markets of New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago were not owned-and-operated stations of the network – with Viacom taking full ownership control of UPN, KCOP-TV and WWOR-TV's statuses automatically switched from being UPN Owned & Operateds to being UPN affiliates. Meanwhile, Chicago affiliate WPWR-TV was the largest UPN station that was not owned-and-operated by the network, as neither Chris-Craft or Viacom held ownership of that station. As a result of Viacom taking Chris-Craft's stake, the network's largest owned-and-operated station became Philadelphia WPSG.
Shortly afterward, Viacom shortened the network's official name from the "United Paramount Network" to the three-letter initials, "UPN". Viacom also proposed a rebranding of UPN into the "Paramount Network", using a prototype logo based on Paramount Pictures' mountain logo, which served as the basis for the "P" triangle in the original UPN logo. This idea was abandoned after many affiliates protested, citing that the rebranding might confuse viewers and result in ratings declines.
A few months before, Viacom bought CBS (merging the network's owned-and-operated stations into Viacom's Paramount Stations Group unit), creating duopolies between CBS and UPN stations in Philadelphia (KYW-TV and WPSG), Boston (WBZ-TV and WSBK-TV), Miami (WFOR-TV and WBFS-TV), Dallas–Fort Worth (KTVT and KTXA), Detroit (WWJ-TV and WKBD-TV) and Pittsburgh (KDKA-TV and WNPA). Viacom's purchase of CBS was said to be the "death knell" for the Federal Communications Commission's longtime ban on television station duopolies. Further transactions added San Francisco (KPIX-TV and KBHK, the latter of which was traded to Viacom/CBS by Fox Television Stations) and Sacramento (KOVR and KMAX-TV, the former of which was sold to Viacom/CBS by the Sinclair Broadcast Group) to the mix.
At the time of UPN's launch, the network's flagship station was Chris-Craft-owned WWOR-TV in Secaucus, New Jersey (which serves the New York City market). Even after Chris-Craft sold its share in the network to Viacom, WWOR was still commonly regarded as the flagship of the network since it had long been common practice for this status to be associated with a network's New York station. For this reason, some doubt was cast on UPN's future after Fox Television Stations bought most of Chris-Craft's television stations on August 12, 2000, which included several UPN affiliates (including WWOR and West Coast flagship KCOP). Fox later bought the third-largest UPN affiliate, Chicago's WPWR-TV, through a separate deal with Newsweb Corporation.
In 2001, UPN entered into a public bidding war to acquire two series from The WB, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Roswell, from producing studio 20th Century Fox Television. UPN eventually outbid The WB for the shows and aired them together on Tuesday nights until Roswell ended its run in 2002, Buffy ended its run the following year. New shows began to breathe life into the network starting in the fall of 2003 with America's Next Top Model, followed up by the fall 2004 premieres of the sitcom All of Us (which was produced by Will and Jada Pinkett Smith) and the mystery series Veronica Mars, and the Chris Rock-produced and narrated sitcom Everybody Hates Chris in 2005.
On June 14, 2005, Viacom announced that it would be split into two companies due to declining performance of the company's stock; both the original Viacom – which was renamed CBS Corporation – and a new company that took the Viacom name would be controlled by the original Viacom's parent National Amusements (controlled by Sumner Redstone). UPN became part of CBS Corporation, while the new Viacom kept Paramount Pictures among other holdings each company acquired in the deal.
On January 24, 2006, UPN parent CBS Corporation and Time Warner, the majority owner of The WB, announced that they would shut down both networks and launch a new broadcast network that would be operated as a joint venture between both companies, The CW, which incorporated UPN and The WB's higher-rated programs with newer series produced exclusively for The CW. The new network immediately signed 10-year affiliation agreements with 16 stations affiliated with The WB (out of 19 stations that were affiliated with the network) that were owned by that network's part-owner, the Tribune Company – including stations in the coveted markets of New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago – and 11 UPN stations that were owned by CBS Corporation. Fox Television Stations' nine UPN affiliates were passed over for affiliations as a result, and the company responded two days later by removing all UPN branding from those stations and ceasing the promotion of UPN programs. One month later on February 22, Fox announced the formation of MyNetworkTV, a new network that would also debut in September 2006 that would use the company's soon-to-be former UPN affiliates as the nuclei.
UPN quietly went off the air on September 15, 2006 – three days prior to the launch of The CW; WWE SmackDown was the last official program broadcast on UPN, ending the network's existence after 11 years (although some affiliates aired the network's optional weekend encore block). However, the Fox-owned UPN stations disaffiliated from the network on August 31; as a result, UPN's last two weeks of programming did not air in ten markets where Fox owned a UPN affiliate that was set to become an owned-and-operated station of MyNetworkTV, when that network launched on September 5. WWE SmackDown, however, aired in those markets on Tribune's WB stations, most of including those that would join The CW shortly afterward. With the exception of SmackDown, all programs during the network's final three months were reruns. After the network's official closure, UPN's website was redirected to The CW website, and then to CBS's website.
When the network launched in January 1995, UPN also debuted a weekend morning cartoon block called UPN Kids (later called "The UPN Kids Action Zone" during the 1998–99 season). In 1997, UPN added two teen-oriented series to the lineup with reruns of the syndicated Sweet Valley High and a new series, Breaker High; both shows filled the weekday morning block for the 1997–98 season, while they were also included alongside the animated series on Sunday mornings. Unlike other networks, UPN gave its affiliates the option of running its weekend children's program block on either Saturdays or Sundays. In January 1998, the network entered into a deal with Saban Entertainment to program the Sunday morning block (with shows such as The Incredible Hulk, X-Men and Spider-Man joining the lineup).
In 1999, UPN contracted the network's children's programming to The Walt Disney Company; the teen-oriented and animated series were replaced with a new block called Disney's One Too, which debuted on September 6, 1999 and featured select programs seen on ABC's Disney's One Saturday Morning lineup (such as Recess and Sabrina, the Animated Series). Many UPN affiliates at the network's launch were already airing The Disney Afternoon, a block supplied by Disney-owned syndication distributor Buena Vista Television, however that block would be discontinued in August 1997. The addition of Disney's One Too reinstated UPN's children's program block to two hours, running on Sunday mornings and weekday afternoons. In 2002, Digimon: Digital Monsters moved to UPN from Fox Kids, due to Disney's acquisition of Fox's children's program inventory as well as the Fox Family Channel, which was renamed ABC Family by that point.
By 2003, the "One Too" branding was dropped for the block due to the rebranding of ABC's Saturday morning lineup from One Saturday Morning to ABC Kids (though the block was unofficially referred to as Disney's Animation Weekdays outside of the network). UPN chose not to renew its contract with Disney, with the network dropping all children's programming on August 29, 2003. This left UPN as one of only two major broadcast networks that did not air a children's programming block (the other being Pax TV, which discontinued its Pax Kids lineup in 2000, before reviving children's programming as Ion Television through the 2007 launch of Qubo). Incidentally, UPN's successor The CW carried over the Kids' WB (now Vortexx) Saturday morning lineup from fellow successor The WB, resulting in UPN affiliates that joined The CW in September 2006 carrying network-supplied children's programming for the first time since the One Too block ended.
Some Fox stations that declined to run that network's 4Kids TV block passed on the block to an affiliate of UPN or The WB, or an independent station, in order for the Fox affiliate to air general entertainment programming or local newscasts on Saturday mornings (for example, WFLD/Chicago moved the 4Kids TV schedule to co-owned then-UPN affiliate WPWR-TV, while WFLD aired news, and children's programming that fulfilled the Federal Communications Commission's E/I obligations for broadcast stations in place of the 4Kids lineup). In other cases, some UPN stations aired their own blocks of syndicated children's programs designed to meet the minimal three hours of E/I programming required by the FCC.
- Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog (1996-1998)
- Breaker High (1997–1998)
- Bureau of Alien Detectors (1996)
- Buzz Lightyear of Star Command (2000-2003)
- Digimon: Digital Monsters (2002-2003)
- Dilbert (1999-2000)
- Disney's Doug (1999-2000)
- DuckTales (1995-1998)
- Fantastic Four (1996–1999)
- Game Over (2004)
- Gary & Mike (2001)
- Heavy Gear (2001-2002)
- Hercules (1999-2000)
- Home Movies (1999)
- The Incredible Hulk (1996-1999)
- Iron Man (1996–1999)
- Jumanji (1996-1999)
- The Legend of Tarzan (2001-2003)
- The Mouse and the Monster (1996-1997)
- Pepper Ann (2000-2001)
- Pokemon (1998-1999)
- Recess (1999-2003)
- Sabrina, The Animated Series (1999-2001)
- Space Strikers (1995–1996)
- Spider-Man (1998–1999)
- Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends (1998–1999)
- Sweet Valley High (1997–1998)
- Tama And Friends (2001-2002)
- Teknoman (1995–1996)
- The Weekenders (2001-2002)
- Voltron: The 3rd Dimension (1998-2000)
- X-Men (1998–1999)
- UPN Kids (1995-1998)
- Disney's One Too (1999-2003)
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