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TV Preview: PAX takes aim at family viewers

Sunday, December 30, 2001

By Rob By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

More than three years after its national launch, Pax TV finally comes to Pittsburgh on AT&T and some Adelphia cable systems this week.

Pax president Jeff Sagansky couldn't be happier.

The former CBS programming chief recalls the ratings his old network gets in Pittsburgh and hopes Pax's family-friendly appeal will make an impact.

"When I was at CBS, we always did fantastic in the Pittsburgh market," he said. "I think this kind of programming works in Pittsburgh, which is why we were so anxious to get into the market. We do have a specific agenda. We think there's room for programming that's strong, values-oriented and free of sex, explicit violence and language."

Sagansky also points to what the big networks are doing as evidence of a growing desire for more family programming. The success of The WB's "7th Heaven" and ABC's "My Wife and Kids" is frequently attributed to the family-friendly nature of the shows, with whole families sitting down to watch together.

 
 
Pax

When: Already premiered on AT&T on Channel 64 in the city (or Channels 85A or 38B in non-rebuilt areas) and on Channel 56 elsewhere. Premieres tomorrow on Adelphia South Hills systems (Channel 38), in New Castle (Channel 18) and in Rochester (Channel 66).

   
 

"There's room for family programming, but every one of these hits the other networks regard as flukes," Sagansky said. "Of course, if you ask 10 different people what family programming is, you'll get 10 different answers."

The bottom line?

"You don't have to watch Pax with a child. If a kid does watch [alone], it's a safe environment where he's not going to ask you 20 questions which are inappropriate because that's not what our content is."

Though much of Pax's schedule is reruns - weekday airings of "Scarecrow and Mrs. King" at 1 p.m., "Remington Steele" at 4 p.m., "Diagnosis Murder" at 10 p.m. - the network has begun programming original series.

Pittsburgh viewers may be familiar with "Mysterious Ways" (9 p.m. Tuesday), about investigators of unexplained phenomena, from its run on NBC. Sagansky points to two other series that have drawn new viewers to the network.

"'Doc' and 'Ponderosa' have really raised the bar for us," Sagansky said. "'Doc' is our highest-rated show and 'Ponderosa' has done really well. Would we like to get a bigger breakthrough? Absolutely."

"Doc" (8 p.m. Sunday) stars Billy Ray Cyrus as a country doctor from Montana who moves to New York City. Daniel Hugh Kelly stars in "The Ponderosa" (9 p.m. Sunday), a prequel to the classic western "Bonanza." Kelly plays Ben Cartwright with unknowns starring as the Cartwright kids.

"Miracle Pets" (6 p.m. Saturday) explores miraculous animal stories, "It's a Miracle" (8 p.m. Thursday) re-creates miraculous human stories, and "Ed McMahon's Next Big Star" (6 p.m. Sunday) features performers competing to achieve the miraculous: fame and fortune.

Pax series continue to rank at the bottom of the Nielsen ratings (shows No. 134 to No. 156, season-to-date), but the network's ratings are on the rise, up 29 percent in households from its first season. That first year Pax was watched in an average 697,000 homes in prime time. This season the network's average is about 1 million homes.

In the city, AT&T customers can find Pax on Channel 64 or on Channels 85A and 38B in non-rebuilt areas. Everywhere else, Pax will be on channel 56.

Pax joins Adelphia's South Hill systems tomorrow, airing on Channel 38 in Mt. Lebanon, Bethel Park, Robinson, West Mifflin and Peters. 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 during the first half of 2002.

Pax is already available to Dish Network (Channel 181) and Direct TV (Channel 255) satellite subscribers, and Pax executives will work to get the network added to Armstrong, the only other major cable system in the Pittsburgh market.

Pax went on the air in August 1998 as a network of stations cobbled together by Home Shopping Network co-founder Lowell "Bud" Paxson. Pax hoped to acquire a station in Pittsburgh by entering into a three-way deal with WQED and Cornerstone TeleVision. That pact disintegrated in January 2000. Pax tried to get on cable in summer 2000, but that deal also fell through.

Pax has been forced to seek cable-only carriage in other cities too, reportedly paying for access in some markets.

"Frankly, it was not onerous," Sagansky said of the deal with area cable systems that put Pax on here. He wouldn't specify whether Pax paid to get on the systems, but in the previous Pax cable deal, it was expected that AT&T would get six commercial minutes an hour to sell locally.

Since going on the air, Pax struck a deal with NBC, which bought a 32 percent stake in Pax, with the option to take over the network in 2002. The networks shared programs, including "Mysterious Ways" and "Weakest Link," but that relationship has since soured.

Pax executives charge that NBC's purchase of Telemundo precludes the network from making good on its deal to buy Pax outright due to a government rule that caps station ownership at a level that would be exceeded if NBC acquired Telemundo and later Pax.

Originally NBC planned to let Pax air "Crossing Jordan" reruns at mid-season, but that won't happen now.

"We still hope that the relationship with NBC can get back on track," Sagansky said. "But right now we're mad at them."

The Post-Gazette has added Pax to listings in TV Week magazine and the daily newspaper grids alongside other cable networks.

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