'Mars' Will Orbit CBS, But 'Chris' Will Remain The Third Rock From Viacom's Other Son

Ever since Viacom took full control of part-time television network UPN and folded it under the management structure of its CBS Television unit, the press have speculated on all sorts of interconnections between the two broadcast television networks. The common wisdom has been that UPN would essentially morph into a me-too version of CBS, offering second chances for failed CBS series, or a secondary outlet to gain additional coverage for ongoing CBS shows. Indeed, early on CBS did try double-running some CBS shows on UPN, a plan it has since abandoned - permanently, according to CBS and UPN execs. The alternative scenario for UPN is that it would evolve into an incubator for shows that - once they've proven successful - would eventually migrate onto CBS' bigger stage. On Thursday, UPN chief Dawn Ostroff spent the better part of a meeting with the nation's top television critics trying to convince them otherwise.

"UPN may be the younger sibling of CBS -- but don't call it a farm team for the Eye, weblet topper Dawn Ostroff admonished critics," wrote Variety reporter Michael Schneider in the Hollywood trade's coverage of Thursday's session of the annual Television Critics Association summer press tour in Los Angeles. "Ostroff pointed out that the net was 'our own vibrant network with a distinct target audience.'"

While it's not surprising that Ostroff would spin things that way, the pronouncement received an additional twirl from her boss, Leslie Moonves, co-president and co-COO of Viacom, and chairman of CBS, who said the press "need to stop looking at UPN as being a minor league ball club [network] to CBS. UPN may be an expansion club, but in no way is minor league," according to Mediaweek.

That said, UPN and CBS announced two collaborations of sort. One is CBS' plan to air four episodes of promising UPN series "Veronica Mars" beginning next Friday. The Viacom execs said the show, which will enter its second season on UPN this fall, needed the additional exposure to viewers on CBS during the summer to make it a true success. That raises an even bigger question: Have Viacom executives looked at the history of CBS' summertime ratings?

The other collaboration was the real talk among critics during the briefing: CBS' plans to promote new UPN series "Everybody Hates Chris." The show, based largely on the life of comedian Chris Rock, has had critics buzzing as the breakout show of the 2005-06 TV season. They grilled CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler for not picking the show up on the Tiffany Network's schedule. In fact, critics have seen the handling of "Everybody Hates Chris" as the big story during the prime-time development and scheduling season. The show was originally developed for Fox, which dropped its option, and apparently got overlooked by the other major networks before UPN's team snatched it up.

Apparently, that did not spark any intra-network rivalries, or jealousies within Viacom, and certainly not inside Black Rock. "We will spend more money on Chris," Moonves told the press. "We will make sure it gets as much money spent to promote it as any show on CBS gets."