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Smith, Halleen Rise at Fox Family

Maureen Smith will permanently replace Rich Cronin as president of Fox Family Channel, which made yet another management change last week when it replaced a key programming executive.

Smith, who had been interim head of Fox Family since May, was officially promoted last week from her former post as executive vice president of the cable network. Smith was also appointed president of the Fox Kids Network.

Her first move was to name a successor to Rob Sorcher, executive vice president of programming and development at Fox Family since June of last year. Last week Sorcher, whom Fox Family recruited away from Cartoon Network, was named executive vice president and general manager at USA Network.

To replace him, Smith promoted Tom Halleen to senior vice president of primetime programming and development. That will expand Halleen's responsibilities beyond those of his prior post, vice president of original movies, acquisitions and scheduling.

Sorcher couldn't be reached for comment. But last week, Fox Family revealed that Sorcher had moved back to the East Coast in June for family reasons, and had decided to pursue opportunities in New York.

Sorcher is the latest of a group of key executives who have exited Fox Family in the past year, including marketing chief Tom Lucas and ad-sales head Rick Sirvaitis, as well as Cronin.

But Smith said the transition from Sorcher to Halleen would be a smooth one, as Halleen is already on board and has negotiated major deals for Fox Family. He led the acquisition talks for the off-network seriesFreaks & Geeks, Early Edition, Providenceand7th Heaven.

"Tom is very close to this group," Smith said. "It will be a very easy fit. We're promoting from within, and there's no shift in the strategy."

Smith's step up essentially fills the void left when Cronin, president and CEO of Fox Family, abruptly left the network in May.

"Maureen's background in programming, marketing, research and promotions make her the perfect candidate to lead both networks into distinct and top-performing entertainment outlets," Haim Saban, chairman and CEO of Fox Family Worldwide Inc., said in a statement.

Fox Family and Fox Kids Network are subsidiaries of Fox Family Worldwide, a joint venture of Saban Entertainment and News Corp.

Smith, one of the first Fox Broadcasting Co. employees hired in 1986, had qualms about permanently taking on the Fox Family presidency, in part because of the amount of time it might take away from family responsibilities. Smith is married with two children, ages 8 and 4.

"I realized it was something I can manage," she said.

And as a mother, Smith said she welcomed the chance to continue to shape Fox Family as a kids and "tweens" network during the day, and an outlet that offers adult-targeted family entertainment at night.

"Programming is my latest thing to tackle," she said.

As part of last week's changes at Fox Family's programming department, Debbie Teicher, formerly director of movies and miniseries at NBC Entertainment, was named the cable net's director of original movies.

Fox Family's goal is to attract higher-profile acting and behind-the-scenes talent to its telepics. Another aim is to produce more romantic comedies and heart-tugging dramas, Smith said.

The network has now formed a separate unit for daytime programming with Joel Andryc, executive vice president of programming and development, overseeing that daypart. He reports to Smith, as does Halleen. Other executives reporting to Smith include: general manager Tracy Lawrence; senior vice president of scheduling and marketing strategy Tom Cosgrove; senior vice president of on-air promotions Patty LaVigne; senior vice president of corporate public relations Nicole Nichols; and senior vice president of marketing Doug Yates.

Smith, who said she plans to get out and meet cable operators, declined to comment on Fox Family's quest for contract renewals or a license-fee increase. John Burns, Fox Family's president of distribution, is handling those negotiations.