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UPN jumps Olympic gun with lineup

Ignoring the example set by other networks, UPN introduces its fall programs.

Survivor cut-up Gervase Peterson makes a cameo appearance on UPN's The Hughleys tonight as the D.L. Hughley series stages the first parody of CBS' summertime hit on a sitcom this fall (but not, probably, the last).

The Hughleys, which ranked 89th of 196 shows last season in total viewers, with an average of 8.4-million a week, was picked up by UPN after ABC passed.

(In next week's episode, Hughley gets a slap in at the network that dumped him.)

No one knows for sure how much longer UPN itself will get to stay on the island, but the 5-year-old network, caught in a clash of corporate titans, isn't wasting any time getting its new season on the air. While most big broadcasters are delaying their fall premieres to avoid competing against NBC's Summer Olympics coverage, UPN brought Moesha and The Parkers back last week, and tonight launches the first new series of the season, Girlfriends (locally, it all airs on WTOG-Ch. 44).

It's a sign of how short some people's memories are that one of the show's producers recently described Girlfriends as a "black Sex and the City" with no reference whatsoever to Living Single, another show about four women who weren't exactly afraid to speak their minds.

But although Girlfriends doesn't have Sarah Jessica Parker _ or Queen Latifah _ it does have Diana Ross' daughter, Tracee Ellis Ross, starring as Joan, an up-and-coming lawyer who longs for a family. There's star power behind the scenes, too: Frasier's Kelsey Grammer is one of the show's executive producers.

Fans of Showtime's Linc's will recognize Golden Brooks as Maya, a character who at first seems a bit too close to Ce Ce, the sharp-tongued single-mom waitress she last played. But this character, the only one of the four who's married, turns out to have an unexpected conservative streak.

Rounding out the foursome are Toni (Jill Marie Jones), a real estate agent who's looking for a guy who wears Armani, and Lynn (Persia White), a school friend of Joan's who's living with her rent-free while she attends grad school.

While at times the show seems entirely too obvious a rip-off of Sex and the City _ as much as that's possible within the ever-expanding limits of broadcast television _ the writing's a cut or two above UPN's usual standards, and Ross, at least, seems a likeable heroine.