Families have always shared a kind of peculiar community all their own. In pre-TV days, family life revolved around common stories and tales, religious rituals and holidays. Today, many programmers are trying to get that same family unit to gather together in front of the TV set. While some are having tremendous success, others are finding the target difficult to hit.
This month’s report on family programming takes a look at those broadcasters trying to make it work and how they are doing it.
* * *
The acquisition of International Family Entertainment (IFE) by Fox Kids Worldwide on June 11 has met with a great deal of speculation as to what the network’s plans are for IFE’s basic cable property, The Family Channel. The acquisition marked Fox’s first opportunity to launch a full-time kids cable channel, and many speculate that Rupert Murdoch is itching to compete with Nickelodeon head-to-head, rather than being limited to Fox Kids’ current 19 hours per week. But, at press time, Fox Kids Network executives and Haim Saban, chief executive officer of Fox Kids Worldwide, had refused to either confirm or deny the rumor that The Family Channel will morph into a full-time Fox Kids channel. Mystery surrounding the new channel will be dispelled when the network’s new moniker and logo are unveiled at the Western Cable Show in Anaheim, California, during the second week of December.
While no 1998 schedule has been announced for the channel, a new president and CEO was named in October. Rich Cronin, most recently president of Nick at Nite’s TV Land, replaces The Family Channel’s Tim Robertson to head up both The Family Channel and Fox Kids Network, despite Fox’s initial claim that Robertson would remain in the post. Robertson will now serve as a ‘special advisor’ to The Family Channel and will remain on its board of directors, according to Fox Kids sources. Cronin had no comment on future plans for the channel, and at press time was still embroiled in a legal battle with Viacom in an attempt to be released from his contract as soon as possible. Cronin and Fox Kids Worldwide originally agreed that Cronin would start in July 1998 after completion of his contract with Viacom.
As president, Cronin will take day-to-day responsibility for both the domestic Fox Kids broadcast network and The Family Channel cable channel, overseeing programming, marketing, publicity, affiliate relations and advertising sales.
Meanwhile, at the Saban Summit marketing conference in November, veiled references were made as to the nature of the new cable entity. ‘With the acquisition of The Family Channel, Fox Kids has taken on proportions we could never have imagined,’ said Ellie Dekel, executive vice president of marketing and advertising at Saban. Dekel said Fox Kids will now have the strongest distribution platform in all of kids TV, adding that the newly expanded company will ‘become a truly vertical entertainment company that can conceive, produce, air, market and promote, license and work with retailers’ on any given property. Dekel said Fox Kids has already broken ground on improvements and will, in 1998, be ‘restaging and reformatting The Family Channel . . . programming to kids throughout the day.’
Fox Kids Network and The Family Channel are subsidiaries of Fox Kids Worldwide, Inc., a joint venture of Saban Entertainment and News Corporation.