‘Dr. Quinn’ gives Paxson a house call

NEW YORK — Paxson Communications, which plans to launch a seventh broadcast network next year made up mostly of reruns of family-oriented TV series, has bought the rights to “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” from Twentieth TV for about $300,000 an episode.

The deal comes just one day after the news that Paxson has locked up off-network rights to the CBS-owned series “Touched by an Angel,” “Promised Land” and “Dave’s World” for a license fee of more than $1 million for all three (Daily Variety, Nov. 5).

Paxson and Twentieth declined to comment on the “Quinn” deal, but one insider says Paxson will start stripping the show in fall 1998, when the series’ two-year term in off-network barter syndication will have run its course.

Paxson also withheld comment on another report that it’s about to sign a contract with Paramount TV Distribution for rerun rights to “Diagnosis Murder.” Family Channel bought “Murder” reruns from Paramount late last year. But that deal was arranged before Rupert Murdoch and Haim Saban decided to pony up $1.9 billion this summer to buy Family Channel.

Even though Family began stripping the reruns of “Murder” six weeks ago, Murdoch and Saban have begged Paramount to buy it back from them and sell the show to somebody else (Daily Variety, Oct. 3). Sources say Family paid $250,000 an episode for “Murder” but Paramount wants $300,000 from Paxson because the craft unions pocket much higher residuals from runs on broadcast TV stations than on cable networks.

Sources say Paxson is also talking to Columbia TriStar TV Distribution about buying reruns of “Party of Five,” the drama that has just started its fourth season on the Fox network. But because “Party of Five” appeals to a younger-adult audience that such older-skewing shows as “Touched by an Angel” and “Dr. Quinn,” Bud Paxson, chairman of Paxson Communications, may find himself in some spirited bidding with cable networks like Lifetime, USA and TNT, among others.

Paxson owns 62 TV stations, which reach about 60% of U.S. TV households. By the fall of 1998, when Paxson gets the rights to “Touched by an Angel” and “Dr. Quinn,” he expects that more station purchases will help him to increase his circulation to close to 70% of the country. Those stations will be the linchpin of his new network that will focus on family shows.

“There should be a place on television for good, clean, wholesome programming,” says Fred Silverman, a former top executive with ABC, CBS and NBC and chairman of his own company, which is responsible for such series as “Diagnosis Murder” and “Matlock.”

Most of Paxson’s stations don’t show up on the local Nielsen rating printout because they run wall-to-wall infomercials. So one of Paxson’s challenges will be to make viewers in the cities where he owns TV stations aware that they’re scheduling — every night — reruns of some of the most popular shows on TV.

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