Themed programming blocks, branded interstitials, outgoing ‘block jock’ hosts and 50% original programming are a few of the things viewers will see when they tune in to the new Fox Family Channel this month. The network launches on August 15 as part of the basic cable service available throughout the U.S.
Fox Family Worldwide, a co-venture of News Corporation and Saban Entertainment, has invested US$500 million over two years in the new net. News Corp, which recently announced it is offering up 20% of its shares to the public, is sharing the bill with Saban.
With more children’s progamming to compete with, the broadcaster is positioning itself as an alternative to well-established brands like Disney, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, says Maureen Smith, executive VP, planning, scheduling and station relations at Fox Kids Network Worldwide.
‘There are 75 million homes in our reach, so it will be one of the largest network debuts in history,’ she says. ‘We’ve invested a lot of time and money in this because we strongly believe that we can offer something different.’
50% of the network’s shows will be original, with a high percentage of those being first-run programs. Fox has earmarked an initial production commitment of $125 million to produce 26 original movies that will appear weeknights from 9 to 11 p.m. The first of the family features, airing August 16, is National Lampoon’s Men in White, a spoof about two garbagemen who save the world from aliens.
Fox Family is also relying on one- to four-minute branded interstitials during the daytime blocks to establish the network’s personality. Fox Family wants to be up-to-date and highly interactive with its audience.
‘We want the viewers to feel like they are connected to what they see,’ says Greg Van Riel, a co-executive producer of interstitials for several of the Fox Family Channel blocks. ‘This is something that’s been done with kids in Canada and Europe, but it’s fairly new to American audiences.’
Van Riel and his partners, Atul Rao and Kim Saltarski, are members of the Membrains, the creative Canadian group that contributed to the successful branding of YTV in Canada. Collectively and separately, they wrote and produced interstitials for YTV’s ‘The Breakfast Zone,’ ‘The Zone’ and #1 comedy program, ‘Brain Wash.’
For Fox, the Membrains are developing interstitials for ‘Morning Scramble,’ ‘The Basement’ and ‘Weekend Chill.’
‘The Basement’ is the cornerstone of the net’s branded slots. Targeting the after-school crowd, the 3 to 6 p.m. block will run original productions from Saban, such as Bad Dog, a series based on a successful computer screensaver character, and Walter Melon, featuring an overweight, clumsy hero.
According to the Membrains’ Rao, the interstitials are equally creative. ‘Block jocks’-five hip, 18- to 25-year-olds and their in-your-face puppet sidekicks called the Freaks-will host the blocks.
‘The block jocks are an entertaining bunch of young people. They’ll interact with the audience by reading e-mails on air, displaying kids’ artwork and doing man-on-the-street segments,’ says Rao. ‘In one segment, we will encourage kids to design their own superheroes and we’ll roughly animate them and put them on the air.’
Fox recently inked a deal with TF1 of France for Bob and Scott interstitials. Produced by Protecrea, the package of 10- to 45-second cartoon sketches highlights the adventures of 3-D mice.
The 7 a.m. ‘Morning Scramble’ features All Dogs Go To Heaven (MGM Animation), 40 new half-hour episodes of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse (Herman World Inc.), and the U.S. premiere of Animal Crackers (Cinar), an animated series based on the popular cartoon strip about jungle animals.
At midday, preschool-targeted ‘Captain Kangaroo’s Treasure House’ begins with The All New Captain Kangaroo (Saban), and follows with Shining Time Station (Britt Allcroft Productions), and Little Mouse on the Prairie (Saban). Captain Kangaroo, Mister Moose and Mr. Green Jeans host the interstitial segments. The block flows into ‘Toon-A-Casserole,’ a mid-afternoon slapstick cartoon marathon that includes classic properties like Eek the Cat (Nelvana), and Heathcliff (Saban).
While daytime programming evidently centers on kids, evenings are family-focused. Fox is hoping the mix of live-action and animation during ‘The Basement,’ which follows ‘Toon-A-Casserole,’ will draw viewers into the prime-time lineup. This 6 to 9 p.m. slot has original programming with the sharpness and attitude that Fox is famous for, but it will be appropriate for family viewing, says Smith.
For example, former NBA Star John Salley hosts I Can’t Believe You Said That! (Stone Stanley Productions), a game show in which families compete to figure out comedic secrets that parents and kids have revealed about each other. Outrageous! (Wheeler Sussman), is a scavenger hunt contest in which teams compete to create the funniest videos, as they attempt to complete challenging tasks.
The ‘Weekend Chill’ (Saturday and Sunday mornings), will run Bobby’s World (Film Roman), Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, Classic Harvey Toons (Harvey Entertainment), as well as Donkey Kong Country (Nelvana/MediaLab). To compliment the boy-targeted Saturday mornings on Fox Kids, the Family Channel will feature live-action, animated and reality-based programming, like Princess Sissi (Saban International), Enigma (Millesime Productions), and The Adventures of Shirley Holmes (Forefront Entertainment), all geared to 9- to 14-year-old girls.
To get the word out, Fox Family has invested US$100 million in advertising. In addition to on-air promotion and mass media advertising, the net has promo deals with Wendy’s restaurants and PolyGram Entertainment.