PAX TV BOWS WITH PLEDGE OF WHOLESOME FAMILY FARE: NEW ENTERPRISE BASHES RIVALS BUT RUNS MOSTLY OFF-NET SHOWS

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The broadcast TV networks have abandoned the family, or so says the $25 million ad campaign new Pax TV is trying to hammer home.

The campaign, running since midsummer, uses print, radio and cable TV advertising to promote the network's launch today.

Pax TV bills itself as a haven for alienated viewers, and there's a couple of contradictions to go with the promises: It's led by broadcast network veterans and programmed with off-broadcast shows.

"If you go on the attack, you better have some reason why you're different from the entity you're attacking," said one industry consultant, who asked not to be named. "What they're delivering from a programming standpoint doesn't necessarily match what they're trying to do."

Pax TV President-CEO Jeff Sagansky and the network's high-profile marketing consultant, Steve Sohmer, have spent most of their careers holding down high-level jobs at the major broadcast networks. But now, Mr. Sagansky laments the amount of sex and violence during the major networks' 8 p.m. (ET) hour.

GETTING WORSE

He said the networks have changed for the worse in just the last few years since he departed CBS as that network's entertainment chief. He tried to avoid putting on overly violent or "sexually gratuitous" programming when he worked at NBC and CBS, he said.

Chairman-CEO Lowell "Bud" Paxson pointed out Mr. Sagansky had a hand in creating "Highway to Heaven" at NBC and "Touched by an Angel" at CBS. "He knows what I think good family programming is all about," Mr. Paxson said.

When Pax TV flips the switch on its 70 or so stations, the new network's "family-oriented" programming will include some original daytime programming (and some original prime-time shows on the weekends). But Pax TV's most visible series will be the off-network runs of "Touched by an Angel," "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" and "Diagnosis Murder."

Off-net series already purchased for future seasons include "Promised Land" and "7th Heaven."

SOME EXCEPTIONS

Critics question how Pax TV can bash the networks, then fill its schedules with mostly reruns of network fare.

Mr. Sagansky said Pax TV admits there are a few exceptions when it comes to family-oriented series on the networks and noted Pax TV has acquired the off-network rights to most of those.

"We've bought all of the off-network shows that [fill the family niche], so going forward we're going to have to create our own," Mr. Saganksy said.

Meanwhile, Pax TV faces another contradiction: Although it aims for young women and their families, most of its prime-time shows scored with viewers older than 50 in their original network runs.

According to TN Media's annual report on series' median viewer age, last fall CBS' "Diagnosis Murder" was broadcast TV's second-oldest-skewing show, with a median age of 57. The other two major Pax TV acquisitions also scored a median age older than 50 while on CBS: "Touched by an Angel" did a little better, with a median of 52, while "Dr. Quinn" attracted a median age of 51.

WILL SKEW YOUNGER

But Mr. Paxson said he expected the shows to skew younger on Pax TV, and said the original series "Flipper" and "Little Men" should attract younger viewers as well.

Mr. Sagansky said it will take some time to gauge the performance of Pax TV's programming. The network said it expects a national Nielsen Media Research household rating of 1 before the end of its first broadcast year (see story above).

"We're going to expect a slow and steady build," he said.M

Mr. Schneider is a reporter for Electronic Media. Greg Spring is EM's Los Angeles bureau chief.

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