BOSTON — It's only a year old, but it has its agenda firmly in place. The Pax network aims its programming at the family audience with plenty of reruns of family-friendly shows like "Bonanza," "Dave's World," and "Highway to Heaven." It has also created six original dramatic programs meant to corner the same audience touched by "Touched by an Angel" (one of its most popular reruns).
Pax TV's new season begins Monday with "Destination Stardom." The rest of the week's new shows include "Chicken Soup for the Soul," "Twice in a Lifetime," and "It's a Miracle." Its original series "Little Men," based on Louisa May Alcott's novel, airs Fridays (it premired last year). All shows begin at 8 p.m., eastern standard time.
"Hope Island" also joins Pax's '99 lineup Sept. 12. The auction show, "Treasures In Your Home," began Aug. 9.
"Our overriding philosophy at Pax is that there is a place on TV for uplifting shows with positive role models and [stories] that have a moral center to them," says Jeff Sagansky, president and CEO of Pax. "We don't shy away from that. It's the opposite from where the other networks are going."
Destination Stardom, hosted by the charming Lisa Canning, seeks out emerging stars and gives them a little TV boost. The Ed Sullivan-esque program is shot in Hawaii - so there's lots of gorgeous, distracting scenery - but it looks half-baked, since it's part variety showcase, part beauty pageant, and part talent competition.
Still, it has its gratifying moments - as when an 11-year-old child belts out a fire-in-the-belly version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Emerging talents do need breaks, and there is something inherently wholesome in showcasing them.
Chicken Soup for the Soul (Tuesdays) is based on the fantastically popular books by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen. Because the books are so popular, Pax would appear to have a built-in audience. New and used anecdotes tell uplifting and sometimes mysterious stories of the human spirit.
Twice in a Lifetime (Wednesdays) isn't sure yet how funny or how schmaltzy to be, though it shows signs of both. It may even provoke thought, if things go well. Tapping into the angel craze (which is by no means as over as pundits are prophesying), a celestial being offers suffering souls a second chance to make things right in their lives - and save themselves in the bargain.
Moral dilemmas and human frailty lie at the crux of these problems. The first episode was surprisingly sensitive to the nuances of moral choices. Aside from some sloppy sentimentality (get out the handkerchiefs), there really is a little something to the question, "If you had three days to live over, could you make choices that would change your life for the better?" At least the show says there is a correlation between the choices we make and the lives we lead.
It's a Miracle (Thursdays) can get pretty gooey, too, but unlike the superior "Twice in a Lifetime," it's a stranger-than-fiction approach to perfectly plausible events with more or less happy endings. Host Richard Thomas (John Boy on "The Waltons") lends some credibility because he projects sincerity. But the title, and worse, the melodramatic tone of the stories, seem excessive for the kinds of events the show chronicles.
Pax's most entertaining and most significant show is Hope Island, based on the cheery, popular British comedy "Balleykissangel."
In the original, a young priest is assigned to a parish in a small village and spends his time winning over the locals, figuring out what they're up to and trying his best to do good works.
In the American version, a young Congregationalist minister is assigned to a church on a small island off the US Northwest coast where he must win over the locals, figure out what they're up to, and try to do good without doing harm. (Sometimes human will comes disguised as good intentions. The trick is to know the difference.)
"Hope Island" isn't as subtle, as wry, or as richly ethnographic as the original, but writers Mary Hanes and Jason Milligan are both people of faith and it shows. They never proselytize, but it's clear they know some of the moral and spiritual issues facing modern viewers. The writers show just how universal those problems are.
The minister, Daniel, doesn't have all the answers and is sometimes frustrated by the questions - his own and that of his parishioners. But he is pleasantly offbeat, deeply good, searching, and smart enough to learn from daily challenges.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society