New home for 'Dr. Quinn' TV: The new Pax Network promises family-friendly programming, based on conservative Christian values


July 22, 1998|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

PASADENA, Calif. -- ABC's "Ellen" is gone, but the debate over what kinds of relationships television will depict and how they will depict them continues.

Coming to a TV screen near you on Aug. 31 is the Pax Network, a new television network owned by Lowell (Bud) Paxson, who describes himself as a conservative Christian.

The folks at Pax waded into the culture wars last week with an ad for their new network that says: "Some so-called creative people seem to be using the family hour to peddle every kind of alternative language and lifestyle to our kids."

The ad, which ran in USA Today among other publications, goes on to promise "family television entertainment" on Pax -- specifically, reruns of the recently canceled CBS series "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" at 9 weeknights, as well as reruns of "Touched by an Angel" at 8, "Diagnosis Murder" at 10 and "The Father Dowling Mysteries" at 11.

Pax won't have original prime-time programming until November when it launches "Louisa May Alcott's Little Men," based on the 1871 sequel to "Little Women," as a weekly series airing Saturday nights at 8. The network is targeting the Saturday-night audience that has followed "Dr. Quinn" the past five seasons, and brought star Jane Seymour to the press conference here to announce that she will be producing a two-hour "Salute to Dr. Quinn" special for Pax.

But before Jeff Sagansky, the former president of CBS Entertainment who now serves as CEO of Pax, could get to Seymour, he was besieged with questions from critics about the "alternative lifestyle" language of the ad. Critics asked if "alternative" was a code word for gay.

"That was not the intent of this line ... and we are really sick about this," Sagansky said.

"We are incredibly apologetic to any readers who construed it this way. We are very sorry, and you will never see it again," he concluded.

Sagansky said the intent of the line was to announce that Pax is against "sexually promiscuous lifestyles and, particularly, lifestyles that have to do with violent solutions to problems."

When asked if gay characters would be seen on Pax, Sagansky said, "We are not here to promote a gay lifestyle. But, at the same time, we are not going to shy away from gay characters if they are right and work for a certain show."

Sagansky said that while Paxson is motivated to start the network by his Christian beliefs, programming will not reflect only a Christian point of view.

"I'm Jewish, so if that were true, he certainly wouldn't have gotten me to do this job," Sagansky said.

"He feels he has a calling from God," Sagansky said of Paxson.

As for his own motivation, Sagansky said that he feels a new sense of responsibility about the kinds of programs he puts on the air since becoming a parent.

"I don't feel I have the same calling [as Paxson]," Sagansky said. "But I do have a lot of the idealism I had when I started in the business."

Pax is the Latin word for peace, and that's why the network uses a dove as its logo, Sagansky said.

Baltimore area viewers will be able to see Pax on the TCI and Comcast cable systems that serve Baltimore city and Baltimore, Howard and Ann Arundel counties, according to Sagansky.

'Will & Grace' spawns debate

The show has yet to debut, but the debate has already started over prime-time's newest gay lead character, Will Truman (Eric McCormack) of NBC's "Will & Grace."

In fact, the series, which will air Mondays at 9: 30 after "Caroline in the City," has two gay characters. Sean Hayes ("Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss") plays Jack McFarland, a friend of Truman's.

The series -- one of the more promising of the fall lineup -- is about a platonic relationship between Truman and Grace Adler (Debra Messing of "Ned & Stacey), a heterosexual woman.

The press conference for the series was one of the more contentious of the press tour, with several critics questioning why the heterosexual woman was allowed to have physical relationships with men, but the homosexual man wasn't.

Max Mutchnick, one of the creators of the series, said Truman will have relationships when the time is right, but, as the pilot explains, Truman is still recovering emotionally from a relationship that ended.

"This is a very adult, confident, gay man who just came out of a very adult relationship. If he was still in the relationship, the show would be 'Will & Wayne,' not 'Will & Grace.' It would be another show," he explained.

When asked if he expected any negative feedback from the gay community on it, Mutchnick said, "I think we're seeing a little bit of that already [at the press conference]."

Slow season start at Fox

Fox is going to avoid the gridlock of fall preview week this September by starting early and rolling out new series through November, Peter Roth, the network's entertainment president, announced yesterday.

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