Many executives have tried, and failed, to find the right programming mix for ABC Family. Now the network's new president, Angela Shapiro, is taking her stab at it, finally crafting a game plan to turn the cable network around — with some innovative twists.
Shapiro, named president of ABC Family this spring, has a host of changes in store for the network — most notably primetime interstitials that may develop into shows, a crawl offering pop-culture tidbits, Monday nights dedicated to reality programming and a Saturday-night block of repurposed hits from the ABC Television Network.
"We're creating an environment, rather than a show just here or there," said Shapiro, who was named president of ABC Family in March. "It's a sensibility we're going after … It's not going to be revolutionary. It's evolving this channel."
Starting in late October or early November, ABC Family will launch "ABC Plus," a Saturday primetime block that will include broadcast network ABC's 8 Simple Rules, Less Than Perfect
and That Was Then .
But Shapiro said that this repurposed programming will be "enhanced," or packaged with new content that could include interviews with talent and producers from those shows, or sitcom outtakes. ABC Family scored a success this summer when it aired The Bachelor: Special Edition.
Over seven days, that show — which included new interviews with bachelor Alex Michel — brought about 1.5 million new viewers to ABC Family, according to Shapiro. The network saw a ratings uptick in the third quarter: It rose 14 percent in primetime, to a 0.8 from a 0.7.
This past Saturday, ABC Family repeated 8 Simple Rules, Life with Bonnie
and That Was Then. The block was hosted by the cast of Less Than Perfect ,
which debuts on ABC this week, as an introduction to the new series.
ABC Family — which at one time was televangelist Rev. Pat Robertson's The Family Channel — has struggled to find an identity since it was sold to News Corp. and Haim Saban in 1997 (and rechristened Fox Family Channel). News and Saban then sold it to The Walt Disney Co. for $5.2 billion last October.
Shapiro, who joined ABC Family from ABC Daytime, where she was president, is slowly putting her stamp on the cable network, starting with primetime programming. After coming on board, Shapiro commissioned both external and internal research on ABC Family, its audience and which underserved viewer segment the network could target.
Looking to increase ABC Family's audience without alienating its current viewership, Shapiro sought out information on "audience segmentation by psychographics versus demographics, to come up with the right sensibility for the channel."
As a result, starting in January ABC Family's primetime target will be not only be viewers aged 18 to 34, but also "socializers," according to Shapiro. That's a group that values relationships and "connecting" with other people, and is very in tune with pop culture.
Socializers watch a show like The Bachelor,
in part, because they want to be able to discuss it at the water cooler the next day with their co-workers, she said.
Starting Jan. 16, ABC Family will make Monday its night for reality programs, most of them original. It will kick off with its new My Life as a Sitcom,
which Shapiro sees as a signature show.
ABC Family has received thousands of videotapes of families who want to be part of the series, which entails a nationwide hunt to find America's funniest family.
The network will continue to run movies Tuesday through Friday in primetime, according to Shapiro.
However, programming from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. will get new packaging, with each show at the top of the hour introduced by a 30-second to two-minute interstitial, all part of the effort to craft a channel "sensibility." ABC Family plans to produce 20 original interstitials a week, and "they will be ideas that either have to do with relationships, socializing or pop culture in one way or other," said Shapiro.
She also plans to turn some of those segments into full-fledged shows, which will have talent and formats that "the audience is familiar with and likes. We think that's a smart way to develop new shows."
For primetime, ABC Family is also developing a "trend ticker" that would run on the lower third of the screen and provide more pop-culture information.
"We are trying to come up with way that is truly added-value for the viewer," Shapiro said. She also wants ABC Family to program for "families" using a broad definition of that term, since currently only 24 percent of the country has a traditional environment — a father, mother and two kids.