When NBC bought a 32 percent chunk of Pax TV in September, some viewers feared that Pax, started by Christian businessman Lowell "Bud" Paxson, would lose its family-friendly focus. Pax denies that will happen.

"We're going to continue to do family-oriented shows," says Jeff Sagansky, CEO of Paxson Communications Corporation. "That's what we promise our viewers." The deal, worth $415 million, "shows that NBC embraced our philosophy on family entertainment," he says.

The agreement will allow Pax to air some NBC-produced movies and specials—perhaps 20 a year—that "fit into our brand," Sagansky says. After airing first on NBC, the shows would run on Pax at a later date. While the two networks are yet to determine which features these would include, they would be in the genre of a Christmas special or a movie about Noah's Ark.

Pax hopes that such programs, which it does not have the financial resources to produce, will draw more viewers. Started in September 1998, the network now draws a nationwide rating of about 1.0 in weekday prime time. The network has boosted its lineup of original programs to include Twice in a Lifetime and Chicken Soup for the Soul, but still depends largely on reruns of the top-rated series Touched by an Angel and Diagnosis Murder (CT, Aug. 9, 1999, p. 22).

For now, NBC is not expected to exert much influence over Pax's programming, TV critics and analysts say. "NBC sees that some viewers have rebelled against the heavy content of many prime-time shows, and don't want programs that are as racy or risque," says Ray Ridgemond, a TV critic for Variety magazine.

But if NBC buys a bigger stake, it may want to change Pax's focus, analysts say. According to the agreement, NBC has the right to acquire up to 49 percent of the company after February 1, 2002—if the FCC relaxes its ownership rules. If that happens, and the family-friendly format is sputtering, "NBC could pull the plug and go after a more lucrative audience," such as teenagers and young adults, says James Marsh, an industry analyst with Prudential Securities. Pax's Sagansky insists the network will stick with its original goal. "NBC believes in what we're doing."

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