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Dilbert/18 inches/lk1st/mark2nd By FRANK SWERTLOW Staff Reporter UPN, the perennially hapless network, is hoping to boost its anemic ratings by turning to one of corporate America’s leading losers Dilbert. The network is developing an animated series based on Scott Adams’ eponymous comic strip about an engineering geek attempting to cope with the lunacy of corporate life. With his pudgy body, short-sleeved shirts, pocket protector and a tie that constantly curls upward, Dilbert hardly qualifies as a matinee idol. But then, most couch potatoes don’t either, which is one of the reasons why the three-panel cartoon is among the most popular comic strips in the world. Tom Nunan, president of UPN Entertainment, said Dilbert’s popularity is exactly what attracted the network to the concept. “He’s a known commodity,” Nunan said. “This is not just another domestic sitcom. It’s completely unique, something that prime time has not seen before.” UPN, currently the nation’s No. 6 network, has been searching for a hit to invigorate its ratings in its battle against the youth-oriented WB network. One of the hottest genres in Hollywood is animation. Fox TV has “The Simpsons” and “King of the Hill” and is adding two more animated series next year “Futurama” and “Family Guy.” Cable, too, has discovered animation in a big way. Comedy Central has the edgy hit “South Park,” while Nickelodeon has “Rugrats,” whose big-screen version drew $28 million during its opening weekend last month. “Dilbert” will premiere Jan. 25 and air on Monday nights, against such family- and female-oriented shows as NBC’s “Suddenly, Susan” and The WB’s “7th Heaven.” (ABC has yet to announce what will replace “Monday Night Football.”) “So far, there’s no male competition,” said Pam McNeely, senior vice president at the Los Angeles-based ad agency Dailey & Associates. “It’s good scheduling.” Nonetheless, Dilbert could have as much difficulty climbing the ratings ladder as he does in his cartoon environment. Other networks can promote new shows by running commercials for them on their existing hit shows but UPN doesn’t have enough hits to properly promote “Dilbert,” McNeely said. “It’s hard to handicap UPN,” she said. “They don’t have a strong schedule. Not many people are tuning into their shows.” Nunan, of course, disagreed. He said viewers will flock to “Dilbert,” just as they embraced “South Park” on tiny Comedy Central. “If there is something out there that is original, (viewers) will find it,” he said. “Our advertising campaign, outdoor, radio, print, along with on-air (promotions) will guarantee this is a pretty cool new show.” “Dilbert,” the sitcom, is the brainchild of Larry Charles, the Emmy-winning writer-producer of “Mad About You” and “Seinfeld.” He approached Dilbert creator Scott Adams with the idea of producing an animated sitcom based on his strip. Unlike the comic strip, the television show will not be limited to office politics. “Dilbert is much deeper,” Charles said. “He’s the logical man in an illogical world. It’s a bleak but hopeful scenario.” Adams agreed to come on board even though he had turned down previous offers for series. “I weaved my magic spell,” Charles said. “I said I wanted to present his epic vision in a TV show that would blow people’s minds. It was something he wanted to hear.” Charles said other networks were interested in “Dilbert,” but he made a deal with UPN because the network was willing to give him a 13-week commitment. “Being on UPN could be an advantage,” he said. “There is not a lot of pressure to take a show off the air. That gives you time to grow.”

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