According to Joel Andryc, senior VP of development at Fox Family Channel, the acquisition of Thomas the Tank Engine, previously on PBS, was a major coup in light of the new channel’s branding and programming strategy. From a programming standpoint, the new cable entity is looking for parent-friendly preschool shows with which to bolster its ‘Captain’s Treasurehouse’ block, which airs from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. ‘Since we’re the new kid on the block, it’s important to have franchises with marquee value,’ says Andryc.
Another part of the strategy is to slate the channel’s preschool segment later in the morning than similar blocks on Nickelodeon and PBS, in order to steal tots away from the other channels as their blocks wind down, and to avoid head-to-head competition.
Additionally, Fox Family is in search of shows with enough flexibility to be incorporated into the interstitial segments of ‘Captain’s Treasurehouse,’ thus building a sense of identity and place. Thomas the Tank Engine, comprised of two 10-minute segments within the Shining Time Station half-hour, is easily adaptable, and will be used as a stand-alone interstitial, as well as a show.
While the pick-up was strategically on-target, it was, surprisingly, a spontaneous over-lunch occurrence. ‘It was right after [Fox] closed the deal with the Family Channel,’ notes Andryc. ‘[Haim Saban and I] had lunch set up with Britt Allcroft to talk about opportunities to do a project together. As we started discussing other properties, Britt brought up her plan of moving [Thomas the Tank Engine and Shining Time Station] off PBS, possibly going into syndication. We realized it was the perfect fit.’
A perfect fit, that is, for the programmer’s plan to build powerful preschool franchises with licensing potential. While Fox Family holds no licensing rights to the show, the buyer viewed the property’s merchandising strength as another factor which would ensure the series’ long-term success. The acquisition of both properties was finalized within days.
Besides stripping the series Monday through Friday, plans are underway to incorporate more music-a key unifying element in the ‘Captain’s Treasurehouse’ block-into the 26 new episodes slated for production. Fox Family hopes to eventually turn its focus to developing original preschool programs, as well, working towards the following programming ratio: one-third acquired material from outside producers; one-third original programming produced by the channel and one-third Saban product acquired from Fox Kids network.’