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TV Note: Pax hitches a ride on AT&T, Adelphia

Tuesday, December 04, 2001

Last week, Pax TV announced plans to get its programming into 500,000 local homes by buying its way onto AT&T's cable systems.

In addition, the family-friendly network will add another 80,000 homes by getting on some of the cable systems owned by Adelphia.

Frank Polito, Adelphia regional director of government and community affairs, said Pax will join the cable lineups on several South Hills systems Dec. 31, including Mt. Lebanon, Bethel Park, Robinson, West Mifflin and Peters. In those communities, Pax will air on Channel 38.

In New Castle, Pax will air on Channel 18. In Rochester, Pax will air on Channel 66.

Pax will likely roll out on Adelphia's other cable systems sometime during the first half of 2002.

"Between consolidations and rebuilds and everything, I think it will happen sooner than not," said Steve Friedman, president of Pax TV's cable division.

At this time, Armstrong Cable, the only other major cable system in Southwestern Pennsylvania, has no plans to add Pax to its lineup.

"We'd love to be on Armstrong," Friedman said.

Before it bought its way onto cable, it seemed likely that Pax would affiliate with Shooting Star Broadcasting if it were to allowed to buy WQEX, Channel 16, a matter currently before the Federal Communications Commission.

Shooting Star president Diane Sutter said yesterday the addition of a Pax cable outlet is good for Pittsburgh, though it may alter the course for her proposed station.

"Certainly, the reasons for the Pax network and Shooting Star to do an affiliation are altered," Sutter said in a phone interview. "I certainly had been in discussions with them and was considering that as one of the possibilities. They've got cable coverage, so I don't think it's necessary for them to have a local affiliate per se."

She understands Pax TV's desire to get into Pittsburgh quickly.

"We talked about possibilities, but [their] needs were immediate," Sutter said. "There are a number of things I am hoping to do that may or may not be compatible with Pax programming."

(Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor)

Other Adelphia changes

At the end of this month, Adelphia Cable systems will drop WTRF, the CBS affiliate out of Wheeling. Polito said KDKA was aggressive in enforcing the FCC's nonduplication rules, asking Adelphia to replace WTRF's signal with the KDKA signal on 80 percent of the station's programming.

Along with Pax, Adelphia plans other additions to its systems at the end of this month. BET will be added to Mt. Lebanon, Robinson and Bethel Park cable systems on Channel 56. Oxygen will join the lineup at Channel 37 in Bethel Park and West Mifflin and on Channel 69 in New Castle.

ShopNBC will air in Bethel Park and Mt. Lebanon on Channel 70 and the Home Shopping Network moves to Channel 18. In Bethel Park, Discovery Health will no longer be available on analog but will remain on the digital tier.

Several new channels will be added to the Rochester lineup, including Bravo (Channel 27), Comedy Central (Channel 25), E! (Channel 53) and Travel (Channel 26). HSN will move to Channel 24.


Sweeping conclusions

With the end last Wednesday of the November ratings period, CBS celebrated winning three major sweeps periods in a row for the first time since 1983-84, while loser ABC mulled a fall 2002 lineup without "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."

In household ratings, CBS was followed by NBC, Fox, ABC, UPN and The WB.

NBC executives still boasted the top two series -- "Friends" and "ER" -- and Fox crowed about finishing the month in a first-place tie with NBC for the highly valued adult 18-to-49 audience. Ratings for UPN were up from a year ago; ratings for The WB were down.

ABC, fourth in household ratings and key adult demographics, had already licked its wounds and is looking down a long road toward recovery. Stuart Bloomberg and Lloyd Braun, co-chairs of ABC Entertainment Television Group, said they are putting some unscripted projects aside and investing more in comedy and drama development.

"We're going to go back to what made ABC great," Braun said. "We need to rebuild the network on scripted programming."

ABC reaped the results of relying too heavily on "Millionaire," the quiz show that spawned other prime-time contests but seems to be losing its legs. Its numbers are down by half from last season.

"As you know, one year ago we were No. 1 in adults 18-49 and had four shows in the top 10," Braun said. "Unfortunately, all four of those shows were 'Millionaire.' "

He said he "cannot say with certainty that 'Millionaire' will be on our fall schedule." "Millionaire," produced under the Disney corporate umbrella, is expected to be in syndication next fall regardless of its future with the network.

Jack Sander, president of Belo Television Group, which owns several stations with varying affiliations, said ABC will not bounce back easily. "There doesn't seem to be anything on the horizon to turn that ship around," he said.

The buzz term was "comfort food," referring to the familiar programming that seems to have provided a sense of security for viewers since Sept. 11. That perception was affirmed earlier this week when "The Carol Burnett Show: Show Stoppers," a compilation of favorite sketches and outtakes from the 1967-78 variety show, drew almost 30 million viewers to CBS last Monday night.

"It was a return to good old-fashioned comedy," said Leslie Moonves, CBS president and CEO. "It was like welcoming old friends back into your house."

Chiefs of NBC, CBS and ABC said they were returning to their vaults to consider ways to resurrect old franchises in clip shows or blooper compilations. Fox, with just 15 years of history compared with the other networks' half-century, is more likely to dwell on the present and future.

Gail Berman, president of Fox Entertainment, said the serialized drama "24" will attempt to build audience loyalty by airing episodes twice in the same week.

The reality or "alternative" genre has taken a hit in the ratings this fall, with ABC's "The Mole II" burrowing underground and NBC's "Lost" getting, well, lost. But the executives said the genre is far from dead. NBC Entertainment president Jeff Zucker said "The Weakest Link" is a lock next fall and "Fear Factor" will be back in January.

And CBS's Moonves noted that "Survivor: Africa," the third in the series, is sixth in the ratings and predicted the franchise could run up to 20 adventures.

(Valerie Kuklenski, Los Angeles Daily News)

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