PAX TV, UPN FORM CONTRADICTORY ALLIANCE

MARK McGUIRE Staff writer
Section: LIFE & LEISURE,  Page: D1

Date: Friday, September 4, 1998

We had such high hopes for Pax TV. We thought it would be different: a network with a conscience.


We were wrong. We were wronged.


Pax TV, we learned a month before its premiere earlier this week, was not above using anti-gay rhetoric in its marketing. Well, we reasoned, at least its programming suitable for the whole family would come as advertised.


And it has until now. Because now it is being divulged by industry people that Pax TV, in a reciprocal agreement, will run some primetime UPN programming late at night in markets where UPN doesn't have an affiliate. UPN will do the same thing for Pax TV where Pax does not have an affiliate.


This will only affect a handful of markets; Pax has 86 stations and affiliates, UPN 187. But one of the markets where Pax has a station and UPN doesn't is Albany (UPN programming is available on most cable outlets via WSBK, Ch. 38, of Boston).


Righteous Pax and racy UPN. Try coming up with a more contradictory combination.


``We made a corporate deal with UPN to carry UPN programming from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. starting Oct. 5 (when UPN shows premiere),'' said Michael Collins, general manager of local Pax-owned WYPX, Ch. 55. ``I don't know what to tell you. It is a corporate decision. It was done for the benefit of the network.''


Family television.


What a joke.


Pax TV stated its idealistic mission long before it went on the air Monday, but in the end it may turn out to be worse than any other network for one reason alone: hypocrisy. At least the other networks own up to the garbage they put on the air without copping a holier-than-thou 'tude.


This should be no reflection on Collins, the local GM: it wasn't his call. Unlike his network, he is upfront.


``On the surface it certainly seems incongruous,'' Collins said. ``How can I say anything else?''


Many of the programs shown on Pax mostly reruns like ``Touched by an Angel'' and ``Highway to Heaven'' won't seem terribly out of place elsewhere. But let's talk about the ``family programming'' Pax would air via UPN:


There is ``Seven Days,'' one of the most violent pilots ever aired, with planes crashing into the White House and frequent gunplay.


And ``Mercy Point,'' a sci-fi show where a severed head is reattached in a scene reminiscent of ``E.R.'' only much bloodier.


Of, course, there is ``The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer.'' Wonder what Pax founder Bud Paxson thinks of his network airing a show where Abe Lincoln makes a homosexual pass at a black servant?


Granted, these


UPN prime-time shows would run late at night on Pax TV. No kids will be watching, or at least should be watching.


And don't take this as a knock on UPN: it is what it is, without pretensions to the contrary like Pax.


Hey, it's a business decision, a good one for both networks. But when you are a network like Pax TV, promoting yourself as all that is wholesome and different from the rest of the dial, the move comes across as crass.


Remember, this is the same network whose top brass said they did not mean to take a swipe at gays by denigrating ``alternative lifestyles'' in a print advertisement. The UPN linkup is yet another reminder that God and family aside, the bottom line at Pax is the bottom line.


Both networks declined immediate comment. Pax network spokeswoman Nancy Udell did say that an announcement regarding UPN and the fall could be coming soon. ``We can discuss this further maybe next week,'' she said. ``Right now I don't have anything to tell you.''


This move also figures


in locally with the fate of WVBG, Ch. 25, the over-the-air independent station which began programming last Friday. Channel 25 was desperate to get UPN programming as part of its bid to get on cable systems.


``UPN has turned us down. The door is shut,'' station manager Dan F. Viles Jr. said. ``We made an extensive presentation over the last year. They don't care. They are hung up on (Channel) 55 because they are on Time Warner (Cable) and we are not on Time Warner yet.


``Paxson showed his true colors,'' Viles continued. ``He is a businessman.''


And Pax TV, no matter what its advertisements or mission statement say, is just another network.


Mark McGuire is the Times Union TV/Radio writer. His column generally appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Call him at 454-5467 or send e-mail to mmcguire@timesunion.com.