Pax TV President Has Faith in Family Shows

The Pax TV president and chief executive officer freely allows that he may not be hip or edgy and may not have enough "attitude." But Jeff Sagansky is firm about what he has always considered his most treasured attribute: his idealism.

"I do have a lot of the idealism I had when I first came to town," he reflected at the recent industry debut of his new network, adding, "and that's why I'm doing this."

The former president of CBS Entertainment and senior vice president in charge of series programming for NBC Entertainment has spent more than 20 years in the television industry. He says the appeal of this new network is a return to what he says was the key to the success at the original Big Three networks: family programming.

"We've heard from a lot of people that have said that this can never work," he says. "I have to tell you, these skeptics leave me shaking my head.... I've been doing family programming for 20 years of my career, and it has never once let me down."

The list of successful family shows under Mr. Sagansky's watch certainly makes a compelling case: "Family Ties," "The Cosby Show," "Highway to Heaven," "The Golden Girls," "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman," "The Nanny," and "Touched by an Angel."

Sagansky underlines the fact that while these shows are not edgy or hip, there is a huge audience for them. And, in fact, a number of them will air on Pax TV.

He doesn't accept the multiple-television scenario in which every member of the family watches his or her show alone. "I really think that is a load of garbage," he says.

The California transplant (Pax TV headquarters are in Florida) points to the level of feedback the company has received as it has begun publicizing its plans.

People are sending the network e-mail, he notes, explaining what he calls "a deep sense of alienation and frustration and even anger, particularly among America's mothers," because they can't find anything to watch with their children at 8 in the evening.

Sagansky says his personal experience backs up all his professional convictions. He has two daughters, aged 4 and 9. "I know how they watch television, and I know how I watch television and what I like to watch."

Critics have expressed concerns that Lowell Paxson, Pax TV founder and Paxson Communications chairman, will impose what Sagansky acknowledges is the chairman's sense of "being on a mission from God." At issue are the network's programming choices and whether they will have overt Christian themes.

Sagansky responds that for programming purposes, the definition of family is broad but not denominational. "It's the whole gamut of parenting, being a child and all the relationships that go with [that]," he explains.

He goes on to say that while Mr. Paxson has been very involved in building the network's distribution, he stays far from the creative or editorial content of the shows.

Sagansky, who has held his job since May, adds wryly, "I'm Jewish, so if this was true, he certainly wouldn't have gotten me to do the job."

* Pax TV's Web site address is: pax.net

Gloria Goodale's e-mail address is: goodaleg@csps.com

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