Television networks preceding ABC Family

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The American cable and satellite television network ABC Family has gone through several different owners during its history. Stipulations in sales terms for the network require that the network maintain the word "Family" in its name in perpetuity.[citation needed]

CBN Satellite Service/Cable Network[edit]

The network was founded by Pat Robertson as the CBN Satellite Service, an arm of his Christian Broadcasting Network. When the channel launched on April 29, 1977, it became the first basic cable channel to be transmitted via satellite from launch. Initially, the network offered only religious programs aimed at a Christian audience. The offerings included airings of The 700 Club three times each weekday, along with programs from many well known and lesser-known television evangelists. As a result, a few televangelists began making Monday-through-Friday programs. The CBN Satellite Service grew its subscriber base to 10.9 million homes by May 1981.

In September 1981, the channel was relaunched as CBN Cable Network, being repositioned as a "family-friendly" entertainment network. The channel continued to offer religious programs for about a third of the day's schedule. Entertainment programs aired on the channel at this time included classic sitcoms from the 1950s, westerns, reruns of game shows, older movies, and some family drama series, as well as a handful of Christian or family-friendly animated series (including some anime, such as CBN's own co-productions with Japanese amimation studio Tatsunoko Production, Superbook and The Flying House; there were also English-dubbed versions of Honey, Honey and Leo the Lion). The channel's decision to mix secular and religious programs mirrored the programming format used by CBN's independent television stations at the time of the rebrand. Under the new format, the CBN Cable Network grew from 28 million households in May 1985, to 35.8 million in May 1987.

The Family Channel[edit]

On August 1, 1988, the word "Family" was incorporated into the channel's name to better reflect its programming format, rebranding as The CBN Family Channel. The logo that the channel used until the sale to News Corporation consisted of a blue ring with "The" written on the top and "Channel" at the bottom with a blended yellow and red "Family" script font overlaid on the ring and an orange/yellow striped sphere. Advertisements promoting the channel were changed as well, featuring a series of promos known as "Family Moments," depicted situations such as a family playing checkers, a grandfather bonding with his grandson, and a woman hugging her husband on their wedding day.

By 1990, the network had grown too profitable to remain under the CBN banner without endangering the Christian Broadcasting Network's non-profit status. CBN spun it off to a new company called International Family Entertainment Inc. (run by Pat Robertson's son, Timothy Robertson, and operated as a joint venture between the Robertson family and John C. Malone, owner of Denver-based cable television provider Tele-Communications Inc. and multimedia firm Liberty Media.[1]); the channel's name was also modified to simply The Family Channel on September 15, 1990 (although on-air and print promotions for its programs referred to the channel under that name while still known as "The CBN Family Channel"). As a stipulation of the sale to International Family Entertainment, the channel was required to continue to carry The 700 Club (a stipulation that Pat Robertson also imposed when the channel was sold to Fox Family Worldwide in 1997 and then to The Walt Disney Company in 2001).[2] The network gained more visibility when, for a four-year period from 1994 to 1997, it served as the primary sponsor of Ted Musgrave's #16 Ford Thunderbird in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.[3][4][5][6]

At that point, the 1950s sitcoms and westerns were scaled back in favor of more recent drama series as well as cartoons and later, game shows (with a mix of both original programs like Trivial Pursuit and Shop 'til You Drop, and reruns of older game shows such as Jim Lange's Name That Tune and Let's Make a Deal). In fact, the game show block consisted of the games listed above and also the later era of Split Second and other shows especially produced for the channel such as Shopping Spree, Small Talk, Wait 'til You Have Kids and a revival of It Takes Two, hosted by Dick Clark. Briefly during the mid-1990s, children's programming was removed from The Family Channel's schedule, before returning to the lineup by 1997.

By the early 1990s, the channel was seen in 47.6 million households. As The Family Channel, it attracted an older audience not sought by advertisers; only about one-third of homes watching the channel included children or youths. In January 1993, IFE purchased TVS Entertainment, a British broadcaster which owned MTM Enterprises.[7] That year, a U.K. version of the channel launched, which eventually turned into a network dedicated to game shows known as Challenge. In addition, in the United States, The Family Channel attempted a spinoff called The Game Channel, an interactive game show-oriented channel that was intended to launch that same year. International Family Entertainment launched another cable channel, the Cable Health Club, the following year; the lineage of that network – which was later renamed FitTV – is traceable to the current-day Discovery Communications-owned network Discovery Fit & Health.[8][9]

"The Family Channel" name was later resurrected by Luken Communications (owner of several digital multicast networks such as Retro Television Network, Tuff TV and Heartland) for use on the network originally known as My Family TV in December 2013.

Fox Family[edit]

Main article: Fox Family

Purchase by Fox Kids[edit]

Fox Family Worldwide logo.

In 1997, Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation entered into discussions to purchase a stake in The Family Channel with International Family Entertainment as a partner, in order to use the channel to carry the library of children's programs that News Corporation had owned through television production company Saban Entertainment.[10]

The Family Channel was sold to Fox Kids Worldwide Inc., a joint venture of News Corporation and Saban, in July 1997;[11] that subsidiary was renamed Fox Family Worldwide Inc. as a result of the acquisition. The Family Channel was renamed Fox Family Channel (though on-air promos typically referred to the channel as just "Fox Family") on August 15, 1998 at 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time.[12] The MTM Enterprises library was subsequently purchased by News Corporation's 20th Century Fox Film Corporation division. With the change in ownership, Fox Family's operations were also migrated from Virginia Beach, Virginia (which serves as the headquarters of the Christian Broadcasting Network) and integrated with the operations of some of News Corporation's other cable channels in Los Angeles.

Early programming[edit]

Fox Family Channel logo, used from 1998 to 2000; a modified version of the logo used as The (CBN) Family Channel, incorporating the Fox network's wordmark, was originally used in some promotional materials.

When Fox bought the channel, programmers sought to reposition it to target a dual audience – kids in daytime, families at night. Once the network became Fox Family, the new owners dropped nearly all of programming it aired under The Family Channel brand – which at that point included reruns such as Bonanza, The Carol Burnett Show, Hawaii Five-O, Rescue 911 and Diagnosis: Murder – and replaced them with shows that appealed to a more younger demographic. Network president/CEO Rich Cronin said regarding the channel's audience refocusing, "our focus is on younger families, more suburban or urban, more plugged into pop culture".[13][14] Fox Family was obligated to continue airing The 700 Club as part of the sale, but airings were scaled back to two times each day (though the sale agreement required the channel to air it three times daily,[15] once each in the morning, late evening and overnight hours), with the evening broadcast being moved out of primetime, and pushed one hour later to 11:00 p.m. Eastern Time (from 10:00 p.m.). Weekly airings of Columbo were also moved from 9:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Sundays.

Programming that appealed to children and teenagers was also greatly expanded on the channel. More cartoons were added to the lineup, many of which came from the Fox Kids program library.[16] Following the relaunch, Fox Family was running about eight hours of cartoons a day. However, it also became a cornerstone for syndicating foreign television series (primarily those produced in English-speaking countries), such as the popular British S Club 7 television series, which became the flagship series for the channel until the new millennium. Fox Family also syndicated many Canadian television series, both animated and live action, including Angela Anaconda, Big Wolf on Campus, I Was a Sixth Grade Alien, Edgemont, Mega Babies, and briefly, The Zack Files. The channel even aired cartoons and anime based on video games, such as Donkey Kong Country, Megaman and Monster Rancher. Most of these shows were a part of the channel's morning lineup, which also included the original series Great Pretenders. Fox Family also aired reruns of some Fox Kids series such as Bobby's World, Eek! The Cat, and Life with Louie. The channel added some recent family sitcoms as well, along with European shorts like Tom And Vicky, Animal Shelf and 64 Zoo Lane.

In 1999, Fox spun off two digital cable channels from Fox Family, the Boyz Channel and the Girlz Channel, which both contained programming content targeted at the respective genders; both channels ceased operations one year later due to a lack of demand by cable providers (Boyz Channel and Girlz Channel were each carried in some 100,000 homes in an era when digital cable television was in its infancy) and the controversy that developed over the gender-segregated channels.[17][18]

Major League Baseball[edit]

In the late 1990s, Fox Family aired Major League Baseball games, usually on Thursday or Saturday nights, on an alternating basis with then sister network FX. Starting with the 2001 season, the network also showed games from the first round of the MLB playoffs, the Division Series, which did not air on Fox.

Among the games that aired on Fox Family included the October 4, 2001 game between the San Francisco Giants and the Houston Astros. That night, Barry Bonds hit his 70th home run of the season, which tied the all-time single season record that Mark McGwire had set only three years earlier (Bonds broke the record the next night).

The 700 Club[edit]

As part of International Family Entertainment's sale agreement for the network with Fox, The 700 Club aired twice every weekday; live at 10:00 a.m. Eastern, then repeated at 11:00 p.m. Eastern.[16] It also aired occasional weekend-long CBN telethons as part of the deal (and continues to do so in the ABC Family era, now airing in the week before the Super Bowl each year). As of December 2011, The 700 Club airs three times every weekday: a live airing at 10:00 a.m., with repeat broadcasts at 11:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m. Eastern Time.

Fox Family Films[edit]

Fox created a film division for the channel, Fox Family Films, which produced motion pictures targeted at different age groups, mainly towards children; these included Addams Family Reunion, which was shown in its inauguration of the channel, and Digimon: The Movie, which was compiled from several Japanese Digimon short films. For a more teenage audience, Fox Family Films created Ice Angel, a made-for-cable movie about a hockey player reborn as a female synchronized skater, as well as the thriller Don't Look Behind You. Fox Family also aired a wide array of Saban Entertainment-produced movies as well as many direct-to-video films from 20th Century Fox (including Richie Rich's Christmas Wish, Casper: A Spirited Beginning and Like Father, Like Santa).

In August 1999, the channel had the highest number of viewers at that point in its network history, with the made-for-TV movie Au Pair.[19]

The 13 Days of Halloween[edit]

In 1998, Fox Family introduced one of its most successful[citation needed] programming concepts, "The 13 Days of Halloween," a two-week-long block beginning each year on October 19, leading into Halloween. This block introduced the original comedy series The New Addams Family and some new movies such as Casper Meets Wendy. Under Disney/ABC ownership, the block's name was changed to the "13 Nights of Halloween" in 2002.[citation needed] A few years later, the 2002 live-action film adaptation of Scooby-Doo became part of its annual Halloween lineup.[citation needed] This continues to be one of the most successful[citation needed] programming blocks to date for the channel as ABC Family.

The 25 Days of Christmas[edit]

In addition to its Halloween programming lineup, Fox Family aired "25 Days of Christmas", a four-week program block running during the month of December, which originally began two years earlier in 1996, under Fox Family's former brand as The Family Channel. The block continued to air after Fox Family became ABC Family in 2001. This holiday block airs every year from December 1 to Christmas Day. Starting in 2007, it was extended into late November as the sub-block "Countdown to 25 Days of Christmas".

Change in visual style[edit]

Fox Family Channel logo from 2000 to 2001, later modified as ABC Family's logo (with ABC's "circle" logo replacing the Fox wordmark) from 2001 to 2003.

In 2000, Fox Family adopted a new visual style in an attempt to attract an older audience and began to feature some original and acquired programming aimed at adults, but in essence maintained a family-oriented format.[20] The channel purchased the syndication rights to the CBS series Early Edition, and two ABC series: My So-Called Life and Step by Step (the latter of which aired on ABC Family until March 2010). The channel also acquired the short-lived NBC series Freaks and Geeks, including unaired episodes of the show, and more "romantic comedy" themed original movies.

Keeping kids and families in mind, the channel introduced the original series State of Grace and a programming block for teens, Fox Family's Summer High School Countdown (which introduced the Swedish pop group Play to American audiences). However, the idea was unsuccessful, as a year later, Fox Family was sold to The Walt Disney Company, and State of Grace was only kept for one more season.

Declining ratings[edit]

Under the control of Murdoch and Saban, Fox Family saw its overall viewership slide from 10th to 17th place in the Nielsen cable ratings as a result of an increasingly competitive race for younger viewers and the bickering over ownership between News Corporation and Haim Saban.[10] Some observers believe that it chased away some of the channel's older viewers and never really replaced the core audience. As a result, prime time viewership declined by 35% over the course of Fox Family's three-year tenure under Murdoch/Saban ownership.[21]

It is also suggested that News Corporation hired more employees than were needed, and when Disney took over, as many as 500 were laid off (this was also at a time when The Walt Disney Company itself was downsizing, with 400 other employees being laid off from its failed Go Network web portal). Fox Family also used many freelancers for certain aspects of the channel's operations and programming, such as its short-lived "block jocks" (which were on-air hosts that the channel hired to present its afternoon children's programs); most of the monikers for the network were created by freelance artists.[22] However, the Disney acquisition took the channel into a deeper decline in its early years.[original research?]

Change to ABC Family[edit]

On July 23, 2001, it was announced that Fox Family Worldwide Inc. would be sold to The Walt Disney Company for $2.9 billion (the unit would be renamed ABC Family Worldwide Inc. following the sale). The sale to Disney included ownership of Saban Entertainment.[23] The sale was completed on October 24, 2001.[24][25] The remaining Fox Kids shows that were on ABC Family's schedule became part of a new block under the "ABC Family Action Block" banner (which was renamed to "Jetix" shortly thereafter), but were relegated to the morning hours, done in part to reduce competition with new sister network Disney Channel; shows aimed at a broader family audience as well as teenagers and/or adults replaced the more kid-oriented shows in afternoon timeslots.

In November 2001, the channel's name was changed to ABC Family (the on-air look that it adopted in its final year under Murdoch/Saban ownership as Fox Family was modified for ABC Family in the meantime, including music, but the channel revamped its programming and changed its continuity announcers); the Jetix block remained on its morning schedule until it was discontinued on August 31, 2006, with Jetix moving exclusively to Toon Disney on September 2 of that year (effectively removing children's programming from ABC Family altogether; programs targeted at that demographic have largely remained off of its lineup since that point). ABC Family also inherited Fox Family's baseball playoff coverage with sister network ESPN, which took over the rights to the package beginning in 2001, assuming production respnsibilities for the telecasts. However, ABC Family still airs The 700 Club every weekday (as the "Family" brand remains owned by CBN), with subsequent repeats at 11:00 p.m. Eastern Time, as a condition of the sale to Disney.[15][26] The network also relocated its operations to The Walt Disney Company's headquarters in the Los Angeles suburb of Burbank, California. ABC Family now runs movies aimed at various audiences ranging from families to adults, sitcoms from the 1990s and 2000s, and original drama and comedy series primarily aimed at teenagers and young adults.

See also[edit]

  • Family Channel – a Canadian premium/basic cable and satellite specialty channel that is unrelated to ABC Family or its predecessors, but sources its American programming from ABC Family sister network Disney Channel and its spinoffs
  • ABC Spark – a Canadian digital cable and satellite specialty channel that is based on ABC Family

References[edit]

  1. ^ Interview with Pat Robertson. Archive of American Television (October 15, 2003).
  2. ^ "Family Channel Strays from Religion, Embraces Clean Fun", Albany Times Union, January 6, 1991. Retrieved February 27, 2011 from HighBeam Research.
  3. ^ "Ted Musgrave Driver Information - 1994". Racing-Reference.info. 
  4. ^ "Ted Musgrave Driver Information - 1995". Racing-Reference.info. 
  5. ^ "Ted Musgrave Driver Information - 1996". Racing-Reference.info. 
  6. ^ "Ted Musgrave Driver Information - 1997". Racing-Reference.info. 
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ Stern, Christopher. "Game Channel gears up for launch", Broadcasting & Cable, May 17, 1993. Retrieved February 28, 2011 from HighBeam Research.
  9. ^ Brown, Rich. "Family plans health channel", Broadcasting & Cable, August 23, 1993. Retrieved February 28, 2011 from HighBeam Research.
  10. ^ a b The Influencer, The New Yorker, May 10, 2010.
  11. ^ Wagner, Lon (June 12, 1997). "News Corp. to buy IFE for $1.9 billion; Robertsons make a network deal parent of Family Channel to be bought for $1.9 billion". The Virginian-Pilot. Archived from the original on July 19, 1997. Retrieved February 25, 2011. 
  12. ^ "Fox Family Worldwide Inc". Saban. Retrieved 2009-06-14. 
  13. ^ [2]
  14. ^ [3]
  15. ^ a b On Television; TV Works in Mysterious Ways for Pat Robertson, The New York Times, July 30, 2001.
  16. ^ a b Katz, Richard (July 10, 1998). "Fox Family squeezes 'Club' in youthful sked". Variety. Retrieved 2009-08-13. 
  17. ^ Find Articles
  18. ^ Bernstein, Paula (Aug 15, 2000). "Fox Family pulls Girlz, Boyz diginets". Variety. Retrieved 2009-08-13. 
  19. ^ highbeam.com
  20. ^ Reynolds, Mike. "Fox Family Unveils Adult-targeted Programming", Cable World, May 1, 2000. Retrieved February 25, 2011 from HighBeam Research.
  21. ^ Higgins, John M., "Little relief at Fox Family", Broadcasting & Cable, December 6, 1999. Retrieved February 25, 2011 from HighBeam Research.
  22. ^ http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb5053/is_200111/ai_n18363706.  Missing or empty |title= (help)[dead link]
  23. ^ "News Corp. and Haim Saban Reach Agreement to Sell Fox Family Worldwide to Disney for $5.3 Billion". Saban. July 23, 2001. Retrieved 2009-02-19. 
  24. ^ "Haim Saban". Saban. Retrieved 2009-02-19. 
  25. ^ DiOrio, Carl (Oct 24, 2001). "Fox Family costs Mouse less cheese in final deal". Variety. Retrieved 2009-08-13. 
  26. ^ "Disney Buys Virginia Beach, Va.-Based Family Channel from Fox", Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News, July 24, 2001. Retrieved February 25, 2011 from HighBeam Research.

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