New Pax TV network will air shows it thinks God might enjoy Television: Co-founder of Home Shopping Network believes 'family-friendly' shows can turn a profit.

August 31, 1998|By Michael L. Rozansky | Michael L. Rozansky,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

NEW YORK -- Ever since he was reborn one New Year's morning in a Las Vegas casino hotel, Lowell White Paxson has felt God's hand guiding him.

Now "Bud" Paxson, the multimillionaire co-founder of the Home Shopping Network, is mingling faith and fortune in a new venture.

At noon today, he launches Pax TV, the seventh broadcast network after ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, WB and UPN. (Locally, Comcast customers can see Pax TV on Channel 51. Other viewers may be able to see Pax on Channel 66 out of Washington or Channel 60 out of Martinsburg, W.Va.)

Pax -- named for Paxson and the Latin for "peace" -- bills itself as "family-friendly" and a "safe haven" from sex, violence and foul language.

Think of it as God's network.

"I can't tell you what he'd want to watch," Paxson said. "But I want to try to prevent anything going on there that I think he wouldn't want to watch."

What Pax TV will show is a heavy diet of angels and miracles, along with infomercials in the morning and Bible verses accompanied by inspirational music and nature scenes overnight.

Pax TV's biggest shows are reruns.

At 8 p.m., Pax TV's signature show is "Touched by an Angel" (last season's No. 6-rated show in prime time and second-highest-rated drama, according to Nielsen Media Research), for which it paid $1 million per show. That is followed at 9 p.m. by the recently canceled "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" and at 10 p.m. by "Diagnosis Murder."

At other times, Pax TV has some original shows, including the dramas "Little Men" and "Flipper: The New Adventures." It has signed up former "Hollywood Squares" host Peter Marshall for the trivia game-show "Reel to Reel" and former Miss America Phyllis George as host of "Woman's Day."

It'll also have "It's a Miracle" on real events, "Cloud Nine" starring three angels with "lots of teen attitude" on weekend mornings, and the upbeat "Great Day America" weekdays at 5 p.m.

The network is strung together from 88 UHF stations coast-to-coast, 71 owned by Paxson Communications Corp., the biggest U.S. station owner. Pax TV owns stations in all top 20 TV markets, and it has cable deals to extend its reach to areas without stations.

Until now, Paxson stations have run infomercials, cheesy half-hour ads for car wax and miracle mops (Paxson refuses to run psychic hot lines). But Paxson said the $700 million infomercial market wasn't growing, so he decided to grab for a bigger piece of the $37 billion in TV ads.

Is there an audience for Pax TV? Will upbeat mean bland? Can America stomach so much moral fiber?

"There is an enormous audience out there of families -- women 25 to 54, which is really our main target, and their kids, and parents, and relatives," says Jeff Sagansky, the former CBS, NBC, and Sony programming whiz hired as Paxson's chief executive and president. "It is the biggest audience in television, it's underserved, and network television in general was built on it."

Pax TV taps angel chic, apocalyptic fears over the year 2000 and parental fears over sex and violence on TV. It says it can make money with a puny 1 rating in the prime-time Nielsens.

The reason? Unlike other networks, which share ad dollars with affiliates, Pax TV owns almost all of its stations, so it can keep all of the money. And Pax TV plans to hold down costs with reruns and operating cookie-cutter stations with bare-bones staffs.

Pax TV fancies itself a refuge from controversy, but has already managed to produce some of its own. Speaking to TV critics last month, Pax executives had to issue apologies for a Pax ad criticizing "every kind of alternative language and lifestyle," words seen as code for gays and lesbians. What they meant to condemn, Pax executives insisted, was violence and sexual promiscuity.

Paxson and Sagansky recently said they wouldn't hesitate to run episodes of "Dr. Quinn" and "Touched by an Angel" that feature gay characters. "The Bible doesn't run from the subject," said Paxson. But Paxson said he would not run shows that "glamorize" gay or lesbian characters, such as "Ellen."

Paxson, who's suspicious of most televangelists and won't put them on, says Pax TV isn't meant to be explicitly religious.

"We don't want anybody to get down in front of the TV set and accept Jesus Christ," he said. "That happens in the church. All you've got to do with television is tell them God exists, and God loves you."

Pub Date: 8/31/98

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