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Net-Working Class

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Luis Guzman
Andrea Renault/Globe Photos

During the past few years, it often seemed that the fledgling network UPN was competing with rival upstart WB for the honor of not having the lowest-rated show on broadcast television. But now UPN is developing a new programming strategy it hopes will allow the netlet — home to such shows as “Clueless” and “In the House” — to soar into the ranks of the Big Four (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC). UPN will concede the upper-class audiences in New York and L.A. All it wants is everyone in between.

UPN’s plan to lure 99% of America is simple: It will develop shows that appeal to all the people who don’t have supermodels for neighbors. “ABC and NBC have focused on urban, upscale comedies set in publishing houses and magazine offices,” says UPN executive VP of entertainment Tom Nunan. He notes that the major networks have largely abandoned their legacy of realistic working-class hits with broad viewer appeal: “All in the Family,” “Happy Days” and “Roseanne”.

That’s why UPN is developing fall shows with “characters whose jobs and lives are familiar to most viewers,” says Nunan, who declined to give any specifics. (Since this is TV, there will be exceptions, of course. For instance, there’s “Voyager.” Is anyone in Dayton brown-bagging it on a spacecraft?) “We’re aiming for a program that makes people stop and say, ‘I’ve got to be home for that,'” says Nunan. “Once we get it, we can use it to platform our other shows.”

Even if UPN were to conjure up a program that appeals to every middle-American with a TV set, it might not be enough to earn big-league numbers. “The strategy is sound, but UPN has inherent problems,” says Whitey Chapin, VP of broadcast research for the media buying group TN Media. Because UPN is higher on the dial and is available in fewer homes, Chapin adds, “even fantastic shows wouldn’t get the numbers ABC gets.”

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