From Oct. 18, 1997, until July 1, 1998, I was "on
sabbatical." Temporarily retired. A man without a company. Mr. Mom.
It wasn't easy going from corporate life to managing a
pack of whining, demanding, tantrum-throwing crybabies, but unfortunately, obnoxious
lawyers were the unwelcome guests of my vacation.
The real joy of my break was hanging out with my four
Everyone I know in the TV business works long hours, and
those of us who are parents never get to see enough of our kids. We love our careers, but
we feel guilty that we spend so much time away from our families.
So imagine having the opportunity to spend eight months
with your family, with your salary paid and an exciting new job waiting for you.
Keep the legal situation out of this, because no one
deserves that ordeal, and just focus on an eight-month paid vacation with no financial
worries. What would you do?
I got a lot of advice from friends and relatives.
"Travel the world." "Write a screenplay." "Volunteer."
"Take piano lessons." "Get hair plugs." "Play 36 holes of golf a
day." This last suggestion came from my father and from several of my golfaholic
I don't share their passion, but when I moved my
family to California in January, I bought new clubs and took a few lessons. I also played
a little tennis, volunteered at my kids' schools, took the family to Hawaii, and gave
my wife some very helpful tips on how to run the house more efficiently.
"When are you going back to work again?" she kept
I enjoyed hanging out with my family, but my kids were in
school all day and I really wanted to make the best use of this time off. I wasn't
allowed to talk with any of my friends in the industry, but I could certainly think about
television and do some research on family entertainment.
So I spent time at the Museum of Television and Radio, read
some books, kept up with the trades, honed my family TV philosophy, and on weekends, took
my kids to every "Wally World" in southern California.
But the one family activity that I needed to do more than
anything else, and the one activity I did with my kids almost every day of my vacation,
was to watch TV together.
While we spent time with every one of the 77 channels on
our cable system, we focused on kids' TV and family TV, and as we watched, I asked my
kids questions, lots of questions.
I kept learning more and more until they pleaded,
"Daddy, please, can we turn the TV off now and go outside?"
I couldn't believe my ears. "Outside? Outside
there are ticks, and killer bees, and sunburn, and raccoons with rabies! Let's stay
in here in the family room, where it's safe, and watch a little more TV!"
But as we discovered, most TV is not safe for kids or
family viewing, and there are very few shows that the whole family can enjoy together.
Springsteen's song, "57 Channels and Nothing
On," is even more applicable to family TV, because even with Disney, Nickelodeon and
Cartoon Network, kids are still watching shows that were never meant for them, from Friends
to South Park to Jerry Springer.
The broadcast networks have abandoned the idea of a family
hour, and cable networks are getting more and more niche-oriented. The days when the whole
family sat down to watch Ed Sullivan have been replaced by family members going to
separate rooms to watch shows or networks designed specifically for their age group or
Let's face it, even with the current Family Channel,
kids, teens and parents are not sitting down together to watch shows like Diagnosis
Murder or Hawaii Five-O.
There's just not enough true family programming being
offered, and no network has served as the true home base for family entertainment and
information. I knew that once I was given the legal green light, I could help to
re-energize The Family Channel, making it more family than ever, and a stronger brand than
ever, with wholesome programs packaged in a contemporary style.
Okay, so I slipped in a little sales pitch, but it comes
from the heart, and my heart is in family entertainment. I'm not a rabid sports fan
or a news junkie or a foodie. I love my family and I love family TV.
My winter vacation was all about spending quality time and
quantity time with my four kids. It was a wonderful experience, a rare experience, and
even with the heavy workload of my new job, my kids are still my No. 1 priority and a big
part of my career.
We still watch TV together whenever we can, and they give
me advice on Fox Family Channel pilots and series.
My kids, their friends and all the families I know have
been enlisted in my quest for creating the perfect Family Channel. People aren't shy
with their opinions about television, and I've learned a great deal from listening to
them ... and from watching a ton of TV.
Rich Cronin is president and CEO of Fox Family Channel and
Fox Kids Network.