Exec hopes to add new scripted dramas, reality shows

Pax TV has resurrected its programming department, hiring a new development chief and creating a new round of original series.

Producer and syndie vet Rob Word joined the family-oriented broadcaster Monday as senior VP of program development and production. Exec hopes to add four new scripted dramas and four new reality shows to the Pax sked by next fall.

Move is a reversal for the net and cash-strapped parent Paxson Communications, which last year slashed Pax’s programming budget and halted development on new series.

“I really think Bud (Paxson) thought about ratcheting down and moving on,” Word said. “But he saw the potential that has always been here, and that there is room for a network of family entertainment. It’s exciting — where can we go but up?”

New reality shows

Word has already begun production on two reality entries, the relationship show “Speed Dating” and the gamer “On the Cover,” which was originally developed at NBC. Both shows are pegged for a March launch.

Pax’s top programming job had been empty since last August, when exec VP Tim Johnson left the company. Like Johnson, Word will be based in Los Angeles; the rest of the network continues to be headquartered in West Palm Beach, Fla. Word reports to Pax TV Network prexy Bill Scott.

“Rob was brought in because we made a decision to move forward briskly with new original programs on Pax,” Scott said. “His mandate is to do what’s necessary to get original programming on the network.”

Insiders familiar with the net’s operations remain cautious about the new programming push, speculating that it may just be owner Bud Paxson’s last effort to increase the company’s value before selling it.

Peacock backs off

It’s no secret Paxson had expected NBC to eventually acquire the broadcaster. But the Peacock instead announced plans in November to end its 4-year-old investment in the company, triggering an option to force Paxson to buy out NBC’s 32% stake.

NBC’s move may have persuaded Paxson to relaunch the firm’s programming initiatives.

Pax eliminated most of its Los Angeles staff in fall 2002 and last year reduced its broadcast day (informercials now run until 5 p.m.). For fall 2003, Pax went back to an all-repeat schedule (“America’s Funniest Home Videos,” “Early Edition,” “Diagnosis Murder”) on weeknights.

The program shakeup left Pax with just two original scripted series, “Doc” and “Sue Thomas, F.B. Eye.” Pax also continued with fresh segs of reality skeins “It’s a Miracle” and “Candid Camera,” as well as gamer “Shop ‘Til You Drop” and Mary Higgins Clark-branded movies.

Viewers depart

And the ratings declined: Season to date, Pax averages just 980,000 viewers, down from 1.2 million last season.

“I know for me, I’m tired of watching the ‘Diagnosis Murder’ reruns at 10 p.m.,” Word said. “There are many shows that are perfect for us.”

Word said he’d like to develop shows in the vein of CBS’ “Joan of Arcadia,” USA’s “Monk” and retired Eye entry “Walker, Texas Ranger.”

The exec plans to meet with studios and indie producers in the coming weeks; he’s still working out Pax’s series financial model. In the past the net has produced its dramas in a fairly economical fashion, spending as little as $900,000 an episode by filming shows in Canada.

He also hopes to age down the net — hence entries like “Speed Dating.” Show, which comes from En Pea Prods., follows eight men and eight women as they spend a few minutes getting to know each other at L.A.’s Argyle Hotel.

Word and Scott declined to discuss NBC’s part in the new programming push. But it’s known that NBC exec Lee Gaither is working with Pax to develop “On the Cover.”

NBC-owned stations continue to handle sales for several Pax stations, but the repurposing of Peacock series on Pax halted some time ago.

Staff will expand

Word said he’ll slowly add enough staff to “accommodate what we’re doing,” but there are no plans at the moment to completely restaff the L.A. operation.

Word most recently worked at Lions Gate Films; he also served as an exec at Qintex Entertainment, where he oversaw promotion and distribution of hit miniseries “Lonesome Dove,” as well as Orion, ITC and Hal Roach Studios.

As a producer, his credits include the CBS telepic “Wyatt Earp: Return to Tombstone” and the Family Channel series “T and T.” He also created and exec produced the animated series “Totally Tooned In” for Columbia TriStar Intl. TV.

Word also co-owns UHF indie TV station KHIZ, which broadcasts from Victorville, Calif., but can be seen in some parts of Los Angeles.

“Rob brings a lot to the table,” Scott said. “In addition to being a hell of a producer and writer, and understanding programming, he was also involved with a number of station programming operations. Because Pax owns so many TV stations, it’s important to have that sense. When you look at people in development, you don’t see a lot of that.”

Pax started in 1998 with off-net syndie runs of shows such as “Touched by an Angel” and “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman”; net eventually added original fare such as “Mysterious Ways,” which it shared with NBC.

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