New York -- Fox Family Channel will undergo another
reincarnation this fall.
Network officials said last week that they are changing
their strategy, and they plan to radically revamp Fox Family's schedule next season.
The retooled Fox Family Channel plans to target adults --
not kids and teens -- in primetime, with seven new series and 15 original movies.
After taking a drubbing in the ratings since its relaunch
eight months ago, Fox Family plans to move much of its existing evening programming, such
as The New Addams Family,to other time slots, replacing it with shows that
are "adult-driven," but with family appeal.
At the network's upfront presentation here, Fox Family
president Rich Cronin described the new programming thrust, which starts in the fall, as
"adult-first, but family-friendly."
Fox Family's announcements were part of a furious
flurry of upfront presentations by cable networks here last week, including Lifetime
Television, MTV: Music Television and Courtroom Television Network.
USA Network also did its upfront, but in Los Angeles, with
one set for New York this week.
During the sessions, programmers unveil their lineups for
the coming season to advertisers and media buyers.
At a press conference after Fox Family's formal
upfront, Cronin told reporters that the 74 million-subscriber network's current
evening schedule, aimed at kids, "was just too light. We want to up the quality and
do more substantive stories."
Cronin at one point noted that he had inherited most of Fox
Family's current lineup. A judge had barred him from joining Fox Family until last
July 1, so he had little say in the initial lineup. That was just a month before News
Corp. and Saban Entertainment relaunched the former The Family Channel as Fox Family
"Some of what I inherited worked," Cronin said.
Fox Family, which has committed $500 million to
programming, plans several reality-based and nature-oriented shows for the fall that look
like they could easily fit on the schedules of the Fox broadcast network or Discovery
The new series are: World Gone Wild, an hour-long
animal show hosted by Steve Santagati; Real Heroes, about people in high-risk
professions; Pigs Next Door,an animated show in the tradition of All in
the Family; Random Acts of Comedy,a sketch-comedy show; Magic
Tonight,featuringthe world's best magic acts; Incredible
Animals, featuring the world's funniest pets; and Famous Families, which
grew out of a Fox Family monthly special.
"This is the latest stage in a new direction for
us," Cronin said. "Our goal is to redefine family TV to do nonviolent,
but unconventional, programming."
When asked how Fox Family could distinguish itself doing
animal and nature shows similar to what Discovery and Animal Planet do, Cronin said,
"Animal shows have been around a long time," referring to Mutual of
He added, "No network owns a genre. And there are
certain types of genres that are particularly family-friendly. We think that our take on
this animal show [World Gone Wild] is really contemporary."
As for how Fox Family will stand out from other
general-entertainment networks that target adults in primetime, Cronin said programming
such as Turner Network Television's George Wallace is not necessarily suitable
fare for families, while Fox Family's evening shows will be.
One MSO programming official, who doesn't like Fox
Family's current lineup, expressed guarded optimism about the network's new
"It sounds encouraging that they're
changing," the official said. "I'm not surprised, because the [ratings]
just weren't there."
Patty McCaskill, Charter Communications' vice
president of programming, said she hadn't seen a presentation on Fox Family's
new-season plans. But generally speaking, McCaskill said, "Certainly, we're
looking for networks to find their voice and provide quality programming. And
differentiation within categories gives our customers more choice."
At its upfront, Fox Family also said it has 20 series in
development, including Rodney, an animated show based on the comedy of Rodney
The network's slate of 15 original movies includes Britannic,
starring Jacqueline Bisset, which is the true story of the sinking of the sister ship to
the Titanic. Fox Family has high hopes for that film, based on the success and
appeal of the Titanic theatrical. Britannic is being produced by Regent
Entertainment, which did Gods and Monsters.
The roster of new Fox Family movies also includes St.
Patrick: The Irish Legend, with Patrick Bergin and Alan Bates, and Don't Look
Behind You,with Patrick Duffy and Pam Dawber.
As part of the changes, Fox Family will air original and
acquired shows during its "Supper Club" program block from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The
network will also move up its "Big Screen Movie" to 8 p.m. from its current 9
p.m. time slot. After the movie, "Fox Family Showcase" will air the
network's major original series from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Cronin noted that Fox Family has succeeded in changing the
composition of its audience from 50 and older to younger family viewers. And it scored a
big ratings success with its original movie, Michael Jordan: An American Hero.
Nonetheless, the network has been missing its guarantees to
advertisers, and its household ratings have plummeted. In the first quarter, Fox Family
was down 36 percent in primetime, to a 0.9.
"Clearly, the point of these changes is to get their
numbers up," said Ellen Oppenheim, media director at Foote, Cone & Belding.
Fox Family's emphasis on quality, adult-driven family
programming seems well-timed.
The Littleton, Colo., tragedy -- and the blame that the
media is taking for influencing kids -- will probably prompt parents to commandeer the
remote controls from their children and to be more careful about what they watch, which
could play into Fox Family's plans, Oppenheim said.
Fox Family is aiming to make magic shows one of its
franchises, through its Magic Tonight series and its special, The World Magic
The network is also continuing to use branded holidays as a
programming cornerstone, with plans for "Mom-O-Rama" for Mother's Day week
and "The Big Kahuna" for Father's Day week.
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