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UPN Faces Critics

UPN has disclosed a new hybrid comedy-reality series for next season starring two twentysomething members of the onetime boy band 'N Sync.

During its turn at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, Calif., Thursday morning, the netlet also revealed it intends to keep its Friday-night wrestling franchise alive and has recruited Chris Rock and Will Smith to direct episodes of their shows, Everybody Hates Chris and All of Us.

UPN has also picked up cycles seven and eight of its popular Wednesday-night series America’s Next Top Model for 2006-07 and said it may add a third undisclosed “reality” show to its roster this season beyond Top Model and Get This Party Started. 

Entertainment President Dawn Ostroff revealed the netlet is developing a script for next season with 'N Sync’s Joey Fatone and Lance Bass, which she described as a modern-day hybrid comedy-reality version of The Odd Couple.

The tentatively titled Out of Sync (Fatone is Oscar, Bass is Felix) is part of an undisclosed “reality” development slate that Ostroff said runs the gamut from soaps to series.

Responding to a question about whether the network will negotiate to keep its wrestling franchise, Ostroff indicated that UPN “fully intends to have wrestling on the schedule” next season but declined to elaborate further.

World Wrestling Entertainment’s Friday Night Smackdown has been performing strongly for UPN this season, improving young demos on that night following its move from Thursday in previous years.

While the two-hour show attracts a primary male audience to the female-skewing network, which targets women 18-34, UPN appears more than willing to be a competitor on a night when overall TV viewing is down.

Ostroff praised the launch this season of Chris and other scripted comedies on Thursday nights, saying it has helped boost UPN’s young-female audience by a big margin and improved audience flow throughout the week.

Ostroff expressed contentment with the critically acclaimed Chris’ numbers, which have declined since its heavily hyped debut in September. The network “expected the show to premiere in a big way” but was “realistic” about where it would end up, she noted.

UPN is looking at a variety of formats, including more single-camera shows like Chris, as possible companions next season for its flagship series, whose ratings surpass all other shows on UPN that night.

During an earlier session, Ali LeRoi, who executive-produces the comedy with Rock, and cast members said the comedian remains heavily involved in all aspects of the series.

Rock missed Thursday’s TCA session to begin directing the upcoming episode, which has not been scheduled yet for this season. It could, however, give UPN some promotional muscle going into the May sweeps.

Ostroff also found herself on the defensive against the critically lambasted South Beach and the few new offerings for midseason. But the executive said that, between its new and returning fare, it is well stocked with original episodes, some of which UPN can use next month against the Winter Olympics on NBC.