The management of PAX TV was hoping to give their new network a big kick-off at the recent Television Critics Association
press tour in Pasadena, Calif.Instead, they fumbled the ball and ended up apologizing profusely for doing so.
A print ad that Paxson placed last month included the following: "Some so-called creative people seem to be using what was once the family viewing hour to peddle every kind of alternative language and lifestyle to our kids. And anyone who doesn't share their sometimes bizarre and depressing views of family values gets vilified for being intolerant."
And that was interpreted as gay bashing - the use of the term "alternative lifestyle" being a rather obvious and frequently used euphemism for homosexuality.
"I can tell you with certainty that this was not the intent of this line," said Jeff Sagansky, president and CEO of Paxson Communications, who - along with PAX TV's chief publicist, Steve Sohmer - pretty much fell all over himself apologizing for it nonetheless.
"I called Steve Sohmer right after I heard about this and we are both really sick about this and the fact that neither he nor I picked up on it," Sagansky said. "We are incredibly apologetic for this. . . . Our point is really to make a case for family programming and not to pass judgment on how anyone chooses to lead their lives."
Sohmer took personal responsibility for the ad and both apologized and attempted to explain how it happened.
"I didn't know any better," he said. "And I'm sorry. It was taken in a way that I did not intend. And for somebody who's got a wife and kids and a place in the community to have a feeling that people think that he is either intolerant or prepared to give aid and comfort to people who are intolerant is a very painful experience."
So, then, what exactly was he thinking when he wrote that ad?
"I was thinking about the subject of casual sex," Sohmer insisted. "That's exactly what I was writing about. And I did not know that those words together were a buzz word. And I apologize for that."
His explanation did not exactly win over his critics. Sohmer is no neophyte - he was the head of NBC's marketing efforts in the '70s and performed a similar function for CBS in the '80s. He's worked as a writer in the business, he's married to soap star Deidre Hall, and he has a doctorate in Shakespearean studies from Oxford.
And he didn't know that "alternative lifestyles" is a euphemism for homosexuality? That's a bit hard to believe.
And his answer begs one more question - the next line in the controversial ad reads, "And anyone who doesn't share their sometimes bizarre and depressing views of family values gets vilified for being intolerant."
Who exactly is being vilified for being intolerant of casual sex?
"I don't think that's a strange statement at all," Sohmer replied rather lamely.
Keep in mind that at no time did either Sagansky or Sohmer stand behind the implicit anti-gay message in the ad.
"This is a network which is going to try to be inclusive, not exclusive," Sohmer said.
But both are somewhat recent converts to Bud Paxson's mission to create family TV. Sagansky is a former president of CBS Entertainment, and before that he was a top programmer at NBC. Sohmer not only promoted all sorts of sleazy shows but wrote some of his own, including some rather outrageously suggestive miniseries like "Favorite Son" and "Op Center."
And Sagansky insisted that PAX TV will include some gay characters.
"We are not here to promote a gay lifestyle and advocate that. But, on the other hand, we're not going to shy away from gay characters in our shows if they're right and if they're appropriate for a family audience."
Of course, when asked whether he could define an "appropriate" gay character, Sagansky replied, "No, I can't.
"If you're asking, `Hey, are you not going to have any gay characters on your network,' the answer is - no," he added. "We are, but they're going to have to be in keeping with what our family programming is about."