Pax TV to Debut Four New Series

New York-Boosted by its alliance with investor NBC, Pax TV unveiled a new season lineup last week that includes four new primetime series-including one starring country-music star Billy Ray Cyrus-as well as its first original movies and sports programming from the "Peacock Network," such as the Olympic Games trials this summer.

In an upfront presentation here, Pax TV officials also said they were negotiating to continue production on the game show Twenty-One, which NBC has cancelled. Pax TV currently airs the show, hosted by Maury Povich, on Saturday nights, several days after its first run on NBC.

"We're negotiating to continue the show in originals on Pax," Paxson Communications Corp. president and CEO Jeff Sagansky told the audience of advertisers and media buyers.

Pax TV's fall primetime lineup will include an original series at 8 p.m. each weeknight, with three new ones coming on board the week of Aug. 21. That's when the network will debut its new schedule, ahead of the broadcast networks.

On Mondays at 8 p.m., Pax TV will air its new reality-based series Encounters with the Unexplained. Tuesday in that time period, Pax TV is introducing its second new series, Mysterious Ways, which stars Rae Dawn Chong and Adrian Pasdar.

Pax TV has ordered 22 episodes of Mysterious Ways, which was originally developed for NBC, according to Sagansky. "This is another way the partnership with NBC is working," he said. "NBC had developed it, and they said, 'We think we've got something for you here.' Normally, we would not have had access to it."

On Fridays, the 8 p.m. slot will offer Pax TV's third new series, The Rumfords, a sitcom that combines live action and computer-generated animation. It is directed by former comedian David Steinberg, who appeared at the upfront along with Cyrus.

The singer is starring in a new midseason replacement show for Pax TV, Doc. Cyrus plays a doctor from Montana who comes to New York to live and work.

On Sunday nights, Sagansky said, Pax TV will continue to reair some NBC movies, as well as run its own first half-dozen made-for-TV movies. Those will include three new Christy movies, based on the character from author Catherine Marshall. Santa Baby is another original movie that Pax TV has in the works, and the network will premiere Biblical tales The Story of Esther and Jeremiah.

NBC acquired a 32 percent stake in Pax TV last year, in large part to create a second outlet for its pricey programming. And NBC had a real presence at Pax TV's upfront. After the formal presentation, NBC president and CEO Bob Wright and Paxson chairman Lowell "Bud" Paxson joined Sagansky to field questions from the press.

At the session, Wright talked about how NBC abandoned its plans, after cries of protest from its affiliates, to rebroadcast NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw on Pax TV just one hour after its first airing on NBC. He said NBC wanted to "be deferential of the relationship" it has enjoyed with its affiliates.

However, Pax TV is planning to time-shift part of the local newscasts from NBC-owned stations and some NBC affiliates, according to Sagansky, airing them at 7 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. weeknights.

Wright noted that in a number of markets, Pax TV stations are entering into joint sales agreements with NBC affiliates, in which the affiliates provide sales, marketing and local news and programming to Pax TV.

"We want NBC affiliates to be creative partners of the Pax network," he added.

As for the talks on keeping Twenty-One alive, Sagansky noted that NBC owns the show, and if Pax cuts a deal to continue it, "It's not going to be the exact same show" it is now. He added that it was unclear if Povich would stay on.

The Olympics trials will run in primetime on weekends, starting June 3, for 15 weekends on Pax TV, according to Sagansky. That coverage will offer Pax TV a perfect platform to promote its new shows, he added.

Pax TV will spend $12 million to $13 million to promote its new fall schedule, including $6 million on local cable advertising, officials said.

Pax TV currently reaches 80 percent of the country through its roughly 70 TV stations and cable. Paxson said Pax TV has 17.5 million cable and direct-broadcast satellite subscribers, and it is pursuing an additional 8 million cable homes.