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Fox Family Seeks Friendly Support

Fox Family Channel, which ended last year with a letter campaign targeting the Family Friendly Programming Forum's 44 advertiser members, heads into 2001 with follow-up phone calls to those same companies, seeking additional advertiser backing for the network's efforts to produce such programming.

Letters signed by Fox Family Worldwide CEO Haim Saban and president Maureen Smith were mailed just before Christmas to major advertisers in the Forum, an offshoot of the Association of National Advertisers formed in fall 1998 to "ensure the existence of a family-friendly television environment, particularly in the early-evening time period."

Those efforts included establishment of a development fund to underwrite scripts for shows that "parents and children can enjoy together." The letter effort was reported by The Myers Report last week.

In the letter, Saban and Smith praised the advertisers for supporting family programming on Fox Family and elsewhere. They then urged the companies to "expand our [current] relationship" and partner with Fox Family "in program development and production ventures" in four key categories-event movies or miniseries; hour-long drama series; half-hour sitcoms and branded holiday events, such as "13 Days of Halloween" and "25 Days of Christmas."

Fox Family executive vice president of ad sales Barbara Bekkedahl said last Wednesday that she believes original movies represent "our best opportunity" for support from the group.

Though the Forum is mainly a bid for programming funding, Fox Family also noted that it presents an opportunity to participate in promotional family sponsorship packages.

Johnson & Johnson spokesman John McKeegan said last Wednesday that advertising vice president Andea Alstrup "hasn't seen the letter yet but she is certainly willing to work with Fox Family and any network that can help us" expand family content.

"We're open to all sorts of ideas," McKeegan added.

Alstrup co-chairs the Forum with Procter & Gamble Co. global marketing officer Robert Wehling, who could not be reached for comment at press time.

Fox Family's Detroit-based vice president of ad sales, Brian Janks, will start making follow-up calls to Forum members by mid-January, Bekkedahl said.

When Fox Family first contacted the Forum last year, the group indicated it would start off by working with broadcast-TV networks that produce less family-appeal content than Fox Family.

Fifteen Forum members now contribute to the script-development fund, including Johnson&Johnson, P&G, AT&T Corp. and General Motors Corp.The only series from the program to emerge on-air so far is
Gilmore Girls, a primetime series that bowed on The WB Television Network last fall.

The WB was the Forum's first script-development participant in August 1999. CBS and ABC came aboard last November.

Last spring, the Forum said The WB had ordered two scripts for fall (including Gilmore Girls) and two for midseason. It passed on three others, which the group planned to pitch to other networks, Alstrup said at the time.