The greenest crew in the ever-expanding "Star Trek" universe embarks tomorrow on the most daunting mission yet: launching a new national television network.
"Star Trek: Voyager" carries the flag for the United Paramount Network (UPN), boldly leading four other new series and establishing UPN on 96 stations across the nation. Initially, UPN programming will run Monday and Tuesday evenings; a Saturday afternoon movie rounds out the lineup.
"Voyager," the fourth series in the fictional future created by Gene Roddenberry, premieres tomorrow on WNUV-Channel 54 in Baltimore and on WDCA-Channel 20 in Washington.
"They have a show with a built-in audience. All the Trekkies will be watching . . . [and] I think their lineup is as good as anything I've seen. These shows could go on ABC, CBS or Fox tomorrow," says Steve Marks, general manager of WNUV.
Mr. Marks predicts Baltimore will be one of UPN's strongest markets, in part because the battle of the new networks taking place nationally is barely happening here.
That battle pits UPN against fellow newcomer, Warner Bros. Network (WB). The only Baltimore affiliate for WB is tiny Towson State Television. The low-power, education-oriented outlet broadcasts on UHF Channel 61, but its signal can be received only within a three- to five-mile radius of the TSU campus. WB also can be seen locally on a few cable systems.
WB previewed three of its four series last week. Starting this week, its four sitcoms will air from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday.
Both new networks are backed by major entertainment companies -- Viacom/Chris-Craft, parent of United Paramount, and Time Warner/Tribune Co., owner of Warner Bros. -- and both claim they are able to reach about 80 percent of the national viewing audience initially. Both plan to have seven nights of programming eventually, as well as children's programming and late-night fare.
Mr. Marks, who is also general manager of Baltimore Fox affiliate WBFF-TV (Channel 45), acknowledges that it will be difficult to establish a new national network.
"I think that the fifth network doesn't compete with the fourth, but with all the others now," he says, the way Fox Broadcasting took on all three of the big networks eight years ago.
Fox achieved slow but successful growth by zealously seeking young viewers with shows like "Married . . . With Children," "21 Jump Street" and "Beverly Hills, 90210." Similarly, both UPN and WB have targeted audiences in the 18-34 age range, with UPN taking even more specific demographic aim at male audiences.
The UPN lineup reflects "a pretty sound programming strategy," says Dave Robinson, senior vice president and media director of W. B. Doner & Co., a Baltimore advertising firm.
In addition to "Star Trek: Voyager," other UPN series include: "Marker," starring Richard Grieco, formerly of "21 Jump Street"; "The Watcher," a supernaturally tinged thriller; "Platypus Man," about the host of a gourmet cooking show; and "Pig Sty," about five young guys in a New York apartment.
Also, "The Saturday Afternoon Movie" premieres this week at noon with "Call to Glory," starring Craig T. Nelson and Cindy Pickett.
"There's a rule about programming for men: Put guys in uniforms with a lot of blinking lights," Mr. Robinson jokes. "Star Trek: Voyager" fits this strategy, he says.
" 'Star Trek" has proven itself over and over again," he notes -- even against the kind of skepticism that first greeted "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine."
"The Next Generation," which projected the original "Star Trek" into the future, ended its seven-season run last spring as the highest-rated syndicated series ever and moved on into the movies, with "Star Trek Generations." "Deep Space Nine," the 2-year-old spinoff from "The Next Generation," also has been successful.
In the Baltimore area, the new "Star Trek" has a further advantage because it will air in alliance with "Deep Space Nine," which is carried on both WNUV in Baltimore and WDCA in Washington. Tomorrow night's premiere episode of "Star Trek: Voyager" begins aboard the Deep Space Nine space station.
The Fox-UPN connection
The connection between WNUV, a strong Fox station, and WBFF, a UPN affiliate -- Mr. Marks is general manager at both -- is the result of a lease agreement signed by their parent companies in May that allows WBFF to program WNUV in exchange for a fee and the right to sell advertising.
The pairing of the two stations is "not unique," says Jennifer Weingroff, a UPN spokeswoman in Los Angeles. She notes that nationwide, 23 of the 96 UPN affiliates are "secondary affiliations," meaning they carry UPN programming along with shows from a primary affiliate. The majority of these are Fox stations.
Mr. Marks says WBFF/WNUV management had the option of going with either of the fledgling fifth networks. They felt UPN was "the strongest choice" because it offered, among other things, a traditional deal in which the network pays the station to be an affiliate. Prospective WB affiliates were asked to pay the network up to 25 percent of their revenues from network programs.
WNUV plans to "ease into" promotion of the UPN identity, says Mr. Marks. The reason for the delay is to avoid further confusing the public, which has been bombarded with ads related to the network affiliation changes at WBAL, WJZ and WMAR.
"You're not going to see us spending money foolishly when my competitors are," he notes of the big switch, which took place Jan. 1.
By late spring or early summer, however, he says, the station will push the message that "We're Paramount seven days a week," even if Paramount's series can be seen only two nights a week.
WHAT'S ON WB
The Warner Bros. Network claims to have 50 broadcast affiliates nationally. In addition to Towson State Television (Channel 61), it can be seen locally on the few cable systems that carry the Chicago-based cable "superstation" WGN.
WGN is available here on TCI Cablevision of Annapolis, Intermedia (formerly North Arundel Cable TV) and Jones
Intercable in Anne Arundel County, and on Frederick Cablevision, which includes a portion of Carroll County.
Warner Bros. has been negotiating in Washington with independent WFTY-Channel 50, but a network spokesman in Los Angeles said last week that no deal had been reached. Channel 50 is carried on TCI Cablevision and Intermedia in Anne Arundel County, and on Mid-Atlantic Cable in western Howard County; its signal can be picked up only in the southern portion of the Baltimore area.
WB television's logo is the top-hatted animated character Michigan J. Frog, from a classic Warner Bros. cartoon. The network's new series, all showing on Wednesday, are:
* "The Wayans Bros.," at 8 p.m. Shawn and Marlon Wayans, younger brothers of "In Living Color" stars Keenan Ivory Wayans and Damon Wayans, star in a show about young singles.
* "The Parent 'Hood," at 8:30 p.m. Robert Townsend stars as a father of four whose child-rearing problems stem from the fact he is still "a big kid at heart" himself.
* "Unhappily Ever After," at 9 p.m. Geoff Pierson ("Grace Under Fire") and stand-up comic Stephanie Hodge ("Nurses") star as divorcing parents of three kids.
* "Muscle," at 9:30 p.m. A fitness gym on New York's Upper East Side provides the setting for a group of "up-and-coming men and women" dealing with life.
The Towson State TV station jumped on the chance to affiliate with WB when no other local station was signing on, says John MacKerron, a TSU associate professor of television who runs the campus station.
"It gives us a network professional model for our students to look at," he says. In addition, he says the network identity might persuade local cable systems to add Channel 61 to their lineups.
ADDED CABLE SERVICES
Subscribers to some Baltimore-area cable systems may have noticed new services on their channel array. Here is a list of additions made on or around the new year (most are available on basic or extended basic plans): United Artists Cable of Baltimore:
* Court TV, the frequently live, real-courtroom-action network, arriving just in time for Baltimore City residents to watch the O. J. Simpson trial
* Television Food Network, including cooking shows and reviews of cookbooks, restaurants and other food fare
* Cable Health Club, offering exercise, fitness, health and lifestyle programming
* Prime Sports Showcase, covering women's and classic sports as well as current sports news
* The International Channel, with fare from around the world, presented in a 12-hour, twice-daily cycle
* TV!, a channel that samples other programming on cable
What about the Cartoon Network, the Sci-Fi Channel and ESPN2 -- frequently requested by United subscribers? Kathy Roberts, marketing manager, says mid-1995 is the next time the system )) will consider changing its channel lineup, after a subscriber survey planned this spring.
Comcast Cablevision of Baltimore County:
* Home & Garden Television, a 24-hour network devoted to gardening, home remodeling and other domestic programs
* America's Talking, a two-way, all-talk channel
(Note: Both these channels are available only in areas of the Comcast system where an extensive technology upgrade has been completed.)
Comcast Cablevision of Harford County:
* Home & Garden Television
* Home & Garden Television
* America's Talking
* fX, a mix of live original programming and syndicated reruns
* Court TV (Note: It premieres March 1, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., sharing Channel 22 with the Playboy Channel.)
Jones Intercable (Anne Arundel County):
* Jones Computer Network, a 24-hour, consumer-oriented network about computers, produced by the cable system
* America's Talking
1% * Eternal Word Television Network