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Pax pulls back as budget is slashed

'03 sked reduced, no originals

Pax TV has quietly finalized its fall 2003 schedule, unveiling a pared-down lineup with no new original programs.

The pull-back in primetime comes as cash-strapped parent Paxson Communications has slashed Pax’s programming budget, preventing the net from developing any more projects.

Paxson has made no secret of its desire to sell the company’s station assets in the coming year, which would likely mean the end of the family-friendly network. The company has already sold a number of stations and reduced its broadcast day (infomercials now run until 5 p.m.) in an attempt to improve cash flow.

In the meantime, Pax will go back to an all-repeat schedule on weeknights. To fill its primetime, the net has acquired inexpensive off-net runs of reality series “America’s Funniest Home Videos” from Buena Vista and feel-good drama “Early Edition” from King World.

Pax will air older episodes of “Home Videos,” hosted by Bob Saget, Mondays through Thursdays at 8 p.m., followed at 9 p.m. by “Early Edition,” which ran four seasons on CBS. Pax airs a movie on Fridays from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.

“Diagnosis Murder” repeats, a staple for Pax ever since it launched, remain at 10 p.m.

Meanwhile, just two original scripted series — “Doc” and “Sue Thomas, F.B.Eye” — return with new episodes this fall.

Pax will also bring back fresh segs of “Candid Camera” and “It’s a Miracle,” which has been revamped with a new host. Net also has more original movies in the pipeline under the Mary Higgins Clark banner.

The net’s four remaining original series will now air only on Sunday nights (“Candid Camera” at 7 p.m., followed by “Doc” at 8, “Sue Thomas” at 9 and “Miracle” at 10).

Dramas “Just Cause,” starring Richard Thomas, and “Body and Soul,” featuring Peter Strauss, will not return.

Pax continues to perform respectably with “Doc,” starring Billy Ray Cyrus, and “Sue Thomas,” featuring Deanne Bray as a deaf federal agent.

But the network was flat overall this past season, posting an average 1.2 million viewers (compared to 1.3 million in 2001-2002). That put Pax below some of the top cable nets, despite being available on broadcast stations in much of the country.

Pax started in 1998 with an all-repeat sked in primetime, including the syndie runs of “Touched by an Angel” and “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman,” both of which later moved to the Hallmark Channel.

The net eventually got into the original series business, airing shows such as “Mysterious Ways” in primetime.

Pax even found a way to produce its original dramas fairly economically — spending as little as $900,000 an episode by filming the shows in Canada.

Thanks to its relationship with NBC (which still owns 32% of the company), Pax was also able to repurpose a number of Peacock telepics and reality series. But it didn’t make economic sense for NBC to rebroadcast scripted series like “Crossing Jordan” — originally slated for a second run — on Pax.

One remnant of that relationship remains: Pax continues to air repeats of the first season of NBC Enterprises’ syndie version of “Weakest Link.”

More recently, the company no longer thought it made sense to continue producing new shows.

Exec VP of programming Tim Johnson, who came up with Pax’s frugal production model, remains with the company for now, and continues to oversee production on existing shows.

But more changes are likely in store at Pax, which eliminated most of its west coast staff last fall.

The web, which has adopted “Feel the Spirit” as its tagline, plans to officially announce its schedule at the Television Critics Assn. press tour next month.

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