TV Review: My Network TV off to soapy start

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'Desire'
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, WPMY.
Starring: Zach Silva.
   

The first of two new networks launching this fall begins broadcasting Tuesday, and its name is a mouthful: My Network TV.

Although the name may be big, its show budgets are small, relying on inexpensive soap operas based on the foreign telenovela format six nights a week (new episodes air Monday through Friday with a recap episode Saturday).

Locally, My Network TV will air on Channel 22 (WPMY, formerly WCWB). For cable channel positions, see the cable conversion chart on page 3.

MNT came to exist after The WB and UPN merged to form The CW, leaving Fox-owned UPN stations in several large cities without a network. Fox had been planning to syndicate these telenovelas, but after the creation of The CW, the company opted to create its own network: MNT. Other stations left out in the cold, like Sinclair-owned Channel 22 locally, also signed on.

In May, MNT announced some reality shows as backups in case these series flop, but by July executives were fully committed to airing original episodes of low-budget soaps 52 weeks a year.

"This is a different network model," said Jack Abernethey, CEO of Fox Television Stations. "We're not going to be switching shows. We're not going to have three or four different genres in one network. We're going to stick with the most popular dramatic vehicle out there and execute."

But MNT won't stick with any one series for long. Each title will run just 13 weeks and then be replaced by a new series with a new cast and story.

"13 weeks and gone forever," says one MNT promo. Well, not exactly.

In success, there will be sequels, said Paul Buccieri, president of programming for Twentieth Television, a Fox subsidiary that produces MNT's series. The finite duration of each program does offer some opportunities unavailable to traditional network shows.

"A successful series will rarely kill off its lead character. Why? Because they want to go on the next year and the next year," Buccieri said. "In our shows, we do. There is a feeling nobody is safe and that adds a level of excitement to watching these shows."

Scripts for MNT shows, all based on successful telenovelas that were filmed and aired in other parts of the world, are not written but translated and adapted from the original language, usually Spanish.

Production on the series moves at a fast clip, filming 65 hours in about 12 weeks. In contrast, most network dramas take nine months to film 22 hours.

"It does feel like independent filmmaking," said Morgan Fairchild, who stars in "Fashion House," MNT's 9 p.m. show. "It's rather revivifying because it makes you feel young and part of pushing the edge, pushing the envelope and creating a whole new genre here."

"Fashion House" stars Bo Derek as empress of a fashion label who meddles in her son's life. Fairchild plays Derek's rival, which sets the stage for hair-pulling aplenty.

"I guess there is a certain audience just for cat fights and women rolling around and slapping each other," Fairchild said at a July press conference in Pasadena, Calif.

"Fashion House" was not available for review at press time, but will be reviewed this week in the online Tuned In Journal (www.post-gazette.com/tv/tunedin).

Two episodes of MNT's 8 p.m. show, "Desire," were sent out for review. Initially titled "Table for Three," "Desire" features relatively tame sex scenes as Louis Thomas (Nate Haden) beds the daughter of a mob boss and then flees from New Jersey with his down-to-earth chef brother, Alex (Zach Silva), and mother (Eliana Alexander). They move to California where both brothers fall in love with the same woman, Andrea Zavatti (Michelle Belgrin).

"Desire" features better production values than a daytime soap, but just as wooden acting by its no-name cast and terrible dialogue ("I'll see you in hell!" can be heard early in the premiere episode).

There's a welcome light, humorous touch taken in some "Desire" scenes; in its first two episodes the show is not as over-the-top as promos suggest.

There's no reason to watch "Desire" for the quality of the writing or acting, but if you want to spend an hour staring mindlessly at pretty people, you could do worse.


TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Ask TV questions at www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Q&A.


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