NBC, Pax in Love Again?

The wedding is back on. At least Paxson Communications thinks so. Pax network last week was touting a "new and exciting chapter" in its relationship with one-third owner NBC.

Oddly, the announcement was a surprise to NBC.

The news: A consulting arrangement with NBC for programming development and "branding and positioning strategy" for the coming season. In announcing the plan, Paxson reps gushed how it marked a turnaround in the relationship, strongly suggesting that the companies' soured relationship had been redeemed.

The only thing NBC wants redeemed, however, is its $600 million investment in Paxson, by this November. According to Brandon Burgess, NBC executive vice president, business development, it's "business as usual."

A year ago, NBC triggered an option in its 1999 partnership agreement demanding to cash in its stake in Pax. That still stands.

As for the consulting agreement, sources at the Peacock network note the arrangement isn't new at all. It has been in place since last fall—but NBC didn't think it newsworthy.

According to Paxson's blurb machine, though, NBC Entertainment, News and Cable President Jeff Zucker says, "This programming consultancy is the next step in our relationship with Pax, and we're excited to be more intimately involved."

"Don't use it," urged one NBC insider, who says, had Zucker known how the quote was being used, he would have stopped it.

"NBC wants its money out of Paxson, so they can't let it go to pot," says an executive who has worked with both networks. "You've got a lot of people at NBC trying to help Pax sort things out. [NBC Executive Vice President] Jeff Gaspin has been pitching reality-show concepts their way. NBC promotion and marketing people have been looking at what they can do to strengthen the place."

NBC Studios and NBC Entertainment will help Robert Word, Pax's new senior vice president, program development and production, develop a pair of game shows, four reality series, and at least three scripted series. Specifically, NBC Entertainment Senior Vice President Sheraton Kalouria and NBC Entertainment Director of Development Narendra Reddy will consult with Pax on new programs.

Seth Grossman, executive vice president at Pax, says the company is "ecstatic" about the consulting agreement, but he refuses to say there's a major change in direction for the relationship.

In the past year, Pax took to the FCC to try to kill NBC's Telemundo acquisition because, Pax claimed, it violated the Pax-NBC alliance. Pax also sought federal arbitration trying to have NBC's investment deal voided. NBC won both fights.

That's not much of a romance.