Most cable channels these days make their mark by pouring millions of dollars into edgy, buzzworthy programming...with one exception. The Hallmark Channel has found success by doing the exact opposite. They are one of the most lucrative cable networks today, yet what this channel broadcasts is quite a few steps below Breaking Bad or Mr. Robot. It's even a step below the audience that watches tidy predictable procedurals with initials for names. The Hallmark Channel is almost shameless in its glurginess, targeting people who want to watch the same movie about a college student falling in love with a prince, with slight variations, over and over and over and over and over. If there's such a thing as a guilty pleasure for intellectuals, The Hallmark Channel is it.
What's most interesting about the Hallmark Channel's success is that someone attempted to make a network like this twenty years ago, and failed. Back in the 90s there were a record six broadcast networks: ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, WB and UPN. The owner of the Home Shopping Network decided he was rich enough to go for a seventh, and announced PAX would premiere in the fall of 1998. Unlike the bigger networks that aimed for a broad audience, PAX would be targeted specifically at the families and culture of Middle America with lots of waving flags and dove-related imagery. Their slogan was "Share It With Someone You Love," which the promo music rhymed with "Share It With Someone You Hug."
PAX would stuff its mornings with infomercials, then its afternoons with Touched By An Angel and Dr. Quinn repeats. What's most fascinating about this is....here we are twenty years later, and Hallmark Channel does the exact same thing, right down to the exact same reruns. Nothing has changed...literally NOTHING has changed about this demographic. Except Hallmark makes major bank, and PAX limped along for a few years before expiring anticlimactically.
For something that existed seven years, there isn't much footage of PAX out there. Most of what's on YouTube is station idents and little else. I wish I could bring you some of what I remember. Specifically, I recall a promo for a Canadian show called "Neon Rider" where the Neon Rider in question (a cowboy, I think) tackled some teenage kid in a barn and wrestled him to the ground. "WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?" the kid yelled as he struggled. "BECAUSE I LOVE YOU!" Neon Rider yelled back. Out of context, it was truly something.
Paxson launched PAX TV August 31, 1998, on a schedule of
mostly syndicated reruns. The only original content they
produced in the beginning was the interstitial bumpers of
a children's block called Cloud 9 that resurrected Get
Along Gang, Sylvanian Families, and the worst of what the
80s had to offer. People have actually asked me if I have
footage of Cloud 9. Beyond this ad, I don't.
I only taped PAX twice during its entire existence. The first time was in 1998 when they were brand new and running Life Goes On weekday nights. The second time was when Death Becomes Her aired on PAX August 27, 2005....when the network had just days to live. The Life Goes On airing was disappointingly unfruitful in vintage PAX promos. But the 2005 recording? THAT is interesting...
|The channel had been sold, and was in the process of being converted into "i Network," aka what Ion Television started out as. The logo bugs at the bottom of the screen say both PAX and i, but for the next few days at least, it was technically PAX. There were no promos for PAX shows during the movie, buuuuuut.....|
|I'm totally shocked I have
these. These are a complete set of promos for Palmetto
Pointe, i Network's only original series and one of
the rarest scripted shows in television history. Imagine
if you were one of the heavily sheltered kids whose TV
viewing was restricted to the religious channels and PAX.
Now imagine turning on the TV one day and having this
giant heavy pair of wet breasts greet you in the
face. Ay Papi!
It was an instant failure. The teen drama crowd wasn't actively searching out PAX, or where PAX used to be. And anyone who would be watching PAX in 2005 would be morally abhorred by the sight of this. No one watched Palmetto, no one taped Palmetto....in fact, until today when I came forward with this, it was considered a mere myth, a legend like unicorns and centaurs. There will still be some skeptical people, I'm sure.
The rest of the PAX-specific promos that day are pretty puzzling. They're not promoting shows. They're for other products and services, all called "PAX." There is no information about this anywhere. My best guess is that while stuck aboard this sinking ship, the businessmen tried to build a raft with business ventures like....
|PAX PHONE SERVICE! Titled "PAXWay Long Distance," it was a dial-around company that shaved a few cents off your phone bill if you dialed their number first. With PAX, you get 3.5 cents a minute for long-distance calls -- a fact some heavily accented woman is over the moon about.|
This is a little more on-brand for PAX, offering a
dial-up Web service with censor filters burned in. If a
website used words like, say, "tushie" you
couldn't view it.
PAX wasn't the only business offering this kind of connection. Filtered Internet was an easier product to produce back when dial-up was the norm and social media was barely a thing. A filtered internet today would mean you couldn't use Facebook or Twitter, resulting in zero happy customers. And good luck filtering YouTube; even YouTube can't do it.
|PAX MALL! PAX wasn't just a brand, it was a way of life. Why use Amazon when PAX has all your gardening, biking and electronics needs under one cyber-roof? Between phone, internet and everything else, PAX could serve all your needs back in 2005. You could live, breathe, eat and sleep PAX. What's two plus two? PAX! What's the capital of Ohio? PAX!|
Let's look up paxmall.com on archive.org. A March 29, 2004 archive doesn't show much available, and a followup from March 2, 2005 doesn't look any different. PAX Mall looks nothing like it does in the ad -- instead of its own site, it's simply part of the PAX website as a whole, and it is just one page in size, full of random products. Most of the things you can buy are weight pills and exercise machines. Either the average PAX viewer really cared about building up their abs, or these are all just the products advertised during PAX's broadcast, ready for purchase.
The March 2, 2005 archive would be the last time paxmall.com was online. Not only was that ad promoting a ripoff, it was promoting a ripoff that wasn't even there. And that calls into question the validity of these other services. What would you get if you signed up for PAX Internet in August of 2005? A box containing two tin cans and some string?
A few days after this recording, PAX officially died. But if PAX performed badly, i Network performed even worse. Aside from its one original show, which lasted six episodes before cancellation, it mostly consisted of holdovers from PAX and a significant anount of infomercials -- enough to make DirectTV threaten to drop the channel from its lineup within eight months. By the time i became Ion Television, it was $250 million in debt and its CEO Bud Paxson had fled the company.
Most of the people involved with Palmetto Pointe still haven't been paid.
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