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Pax shows wax nostalgic

Viewers recall 'Bonanza' days with prequel 'Ponderosa'

Everything old is new again at Pax, where fall offering “The Ponderosa” revisits the beloved territory of NBC’s classic Western series “Bonanza.” But instead of picking up with the Cartwrights after the Peacock series ended in 1973, “Ponderosa” is a prequel.

Shot in Australia under the supervision of exec producer Beth Sullivan, the hourlong skein, which will air at 9 p.m. Sundays, begins as Ben Cartwright (Daniel Hugh Kelly) has just become a widower and must face life raising three rambunctious boys.

“It was (‘Bonanza’ creator) David Dortort’s idea to go back,” Sullivan says from Oz, just outside Melbourne. “He got the notion of a prequel, pitched it and everyone just loved it.

“People from 8 to 88 know the theme song and what the show’s about. It doesn’t depend on just drawing old fans. I don’t think people will watch because of the original. What they’ll get is a brand-new show.”

Dortort believes the prequel approach offers opportunities for fresher, more intriguing storylines.

“I felt that to do the series in the future, into the 1880s or 1890s, was not a very exciting time,” Dortort says. “On the contrary, the exciting time is what happened before ‘Bonanza’ began.”

Back to the Wild West

Sullivan knows a little something about life in the Wild West. She served as exec producer of CBS’ “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” and says that experience is one of the reasons why she felt comfortable with family-friendly Pax and its CEO, Jeff Sagansky.

“We learned that you can have a broader aud and that people want to watch it together, even though it may be for different reasons,” Sulli-van says about “Dr. Quinn” but it could easily apply to “Ponderosa.” “You need to write for the smartest adult and as well as the kids, and have them both have the same experience.”

Looking to re-create Nielsen magic with another classic series, Pax will trot out new episodes of “Candid Camera” at 8 p.m. Wednesdays. Peter Funt, son of “Camera” creator Alan Funt, will share hosting duties with Dina Eastwood.

Returning in the midst of the reality craze, “Candid Camera” was one of the first nonscripted programs that captured people doing the strangest things. In an age of “Fear Factor” and “Spy TV,” however, Funt has no intention of raising the level of salaciousness to attract auds.

“We pride ourselves in getting laughs, but also in not going too far,” says Funt. “Frankly, it’s too easy to do mean-spirited tricks, and it’s not really fun.”

Syndie sensation “Star Search” gets a revival of sorts with “Ed McMahon’s Next Big Star.” McMahon, who hosted “Star Search,” pulls the same shift on the new program. Pax has ordered 26 episodes.

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