Not many of us can say we feel the pain of a mega-salaried network president and chief executive, now can we? My shout-out is thus: UPN honcho Dean Valentine, I know exactly what you’re going through.
See, Dino jumped ship to UPN from Disney in 1997 and signed a five-year contract (with can’t-miss fare like Homeboys in Outer Space on at the time, who wouldn’t?), with the understanding that one of those big-bucks incentive plans that sought-after execs usually get would be drawn up post-haste. Four years rolled by. No incentive plan. Two weeks ago, Valentine sued UPN for the $22 million in bonuses he believes he’s owed for signing on with the most Unbelievably Pathetic Network on Earth (the suit may not be worded exactly as such, but it should be).
The best part? He’s still the president!
I know all too well that UPN is the television network equivalent of a “legitimate” car stereo dealership run out of the trunk of an ’82 Monte Carlo in a 7-Eleven parking lot. I will not be talking to “the manager” who bought too many of those bitchin’ ThudMaster 5000 speakers and had to unload them “at cost,” nor will I ever speak with the publicist of a single UPN show before it’s long-canceled, if at all. Somewhere after the fifth or eighth voice-mail transfer during a recent call to UPN to inquire about getting advance screener tapes for the net’s two—that’s all, two—new programs debuting this fall (“Uh, I dunno … lemme forward you to, er, somebody else …”) the irony set in: Valentine had left the Mickey Mouse company to run a Mickey Mouse company.
Why a millionaire exec who’s supposedly far smarter than your average TV writer didn’t foresee trouble a-comin’ is beyond me. Hell, you should see the “incentive plan” I’m working under—no numbers, please, but I can tell you that I’m set with ThudMaster speakers and Old Milwaukee Ice beer for life.
The sore topic of whether or not you can even tune in a local UPN station in your particular neighborhood could easily eat up the remainder of this column (with Salt Lake’s KPNZ 24 still ghosting in like a pirate Guatemalan broadcast, a cable hook-up or a hockey arena-sized sheet of tinfoil look to be your only options). But the real matter here can’t be forestalled any longer: I don’t have a copy of Enterprise (debuts Wednesday, Sept. 26, with a two-hour episode), the latest series in the unkillable Star Trek franchise. Haven’t seen a nanosecond of it. Will The Only TV Column That Matters™ weigh in on the hotly anticipated sci-fi action-drama anyway? Faster than you can say “Ain’t It Cool.”
As a futile preemptive strike against angrily tapped-out e-mails from devout Trekkies (or Trekkers, or Trekoids, or Treknican-Americans, or whatever you’re calling yourselves these days), know ye this: I’ve never really followed any Star Trek series. Sure, I occasionally checked out The Next Generation (when Deanna Troi was onscreen), Deep Space Nine (ditto Jadzia Dax) and Voyager (double-ditto Seven of Nine), as well as the original ’60s Star Trek reruns (Capt. Kirk—William Shatner’s a damned sexy man, I’ll admit it), but that’s it. As far as I’m concerned, we need another Trek like Dean Valentine needs another $22 million.
But, I do know that Enterprise is set in the year 2151, a hundred or so years before Kirk began making interstellar booty calls, two centuries before Capt. Jean-Luc Picard and The Next Generation made space dull all over again. There’s no Federation of Planets yet, and Starfleet seems kind of like the National Guard—or Jiffy Lube, judging by the jumpsuit uniforms. Quantum Leap’s Scott Bakula is Capt. Jonathan Archer, helming Starfleet’s first-ever starship. He doesn’t much care for transporters (just out of testing stages and almost guaranteed not to cook transportees like Hot Pockets) or Vulcans, though one has been assigned to his ship as a science officer—sexy T’Pol (Jolene Blalock), Spock re-imagined by Maxim and snugly outfitted in the Seven of Nine tradition. A reason for my non-Trekkie ilk and me to watch, in other words.
Actually, this back-to-basics Enterprise sounds like it could be the best Star Trek series in years and, with WB defectors Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Roswell both debuting in October, this could be the season where UPN finally turns down the suck knob and gets in the game. Shrewd timing, Dino, get that bling-bling.
Oh, and that other new UPN show? One on One (debuted Sept. 3), an annoying sitcom starring Flex Alexander of Homeboys in Outer Space. The more things change …