Chicago -- Rich Cronin, newly installed as president and
CEO of Fox Family Channel, borrowed a line from Sumner Redstone to mark his return to the
cable industry last week.
"I am a gung-ho guy who wants to run a cable
network," Cronin joked to the crowd at his coming-out party at the CTAM Marketing
Summit here, parroting the belittling comment that Redstone, chairman of Viacom Inc., used
to describe him two years ago.
Cronin's new employer, Fox Family Worldwide Inc.,
orchestrated the event like maestros, even adding a This Is Your Life touch by
bringing in Cronin's family -- Chicago is his hometown -- to a boisterous CTAM party
off Division Street.
Cronin, former Nick at Nite general manager and former
president of Nick at Nite's TV Land, was forced by a New York Supreme Court judge --
after a suit by MTV Networks Inc. -- to sit on the sidelines for roughly eight months
before joining Fox Family last week.
The judge had ruled that Cronin -- who was recruited by Fox
Family while still under contract at Nick -- couldn't start work for his new employer
until the expiration of his old deal with MTVN, June 30.
And Cronin didn't waste any time. Shortly after 11
p.m. CST last Tuesday -- which was past midnight on the East Coast and, therefore,
officially July 1 -- he took on his post at The Hangge Uppe, a bar that was set up to
mimic a movie premiere, paparazzi and all.
Cronin is coming on board just in time for the massive
relaunching of The Family Channel Aug. 15. Fox has redubbed the network Fox Family Channel
and overhauled its programming to target kids during the day and families at night.
In effect, Fox Family will compete head-to-head against
Cronin's alma mater, Nickelodeon.
Cronin made his debut as the head of Fox Family in his
hometown, at the tail end of the CTAM show. Cronin was introduced by his new boss, Fox
Family chairman Haim Saban, after a group of Spice Girls look-alikes performed.
Aside from his brief remarks to the crowd, Cronin
didn't have much to say publicly at his packed coming-out party. Fox Family even
brought in a crop of Cronins: Seven of his eight brothers and sisters were there, along
with his mother and father.
During a trial on his case in December, Cronin testified
that he feared that by being away from the cable industry until July 1, he would
essentially be "out of the loop." MTVN fired and then sued Cronin in October,
when the company learned that he had signed a deal with Fox Family.
During his time off, Cronin relocated his wife and four
children from Connecticut to Brentwood, Calif. Now, trying to get back in the industry
groove, Cronin said he had back-to-back meetings scheduled last Wednesday with cable
operators. Cronin denied having any major contact with Fox during his hiatus.
During the CTAM show, the Fox promotion machine began to
flex its muscles, in terms of publicizing the coming retooling of Fox Family. Last Monday,
the network held an open casting call in the Near West Side area for actors to portray
Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan as a child, teen and adult in a made-for-TV movie on his
life, Michael Jordan: The Untold Story of an American Hero. More than 1,000 Jordan
wanna-bes showed up for the media event, which made page one of the Chicago Tribune
and got local and national coverage.
Fox Family has said that it will spend $100 million to
promote the relaunch and several hundreds of millions of dollars on top of that on
original programming. The network is already forking over $125 million for a batch of 26
made-for-TV movies, and it has committed $35 million to produce 65 new episodes of The
Addams Family. A primetime special, Spice Girls in Concert -- Wild!, airs Aug.
In fact, in a nod to The Addams Family, a
disembodied hand in a box -- "Thing," from the series -- handed out flashing Fox
Family Channel buttons at the door of Cronin's party.
Money wasn't an object when Fox recruited Cronin,
either. His five-year deal with Fox is valued at $20 million -- a package that includes
salary, bonuses and stock options.
Fox Family is beefing up its staff, in terms of affiliate
relations, for the relaunch. The network last week hired Steven Israelsky as regional vice
president of affiliate relations for its Northeast region. Israelsky was previously with
USA Networks Inc. as its director of national accounts.
And Fox Family Worldwide Inc. has appointed Brenda
Lacy-Davis as its vice president of business and legal affairs, where she will be
responsible for negotiating distribution deals for Fox Family across different platforms.
Previously, Lacy-Davis was director of business development, affiliate sales and marketing
Fox Family is expected to unveil details about its new
program lineup at the Television Critics Association tour in Pasadena, Calif., this week.
And Cronin will likely be there.
Cronin has made quite a turnaround from where he was a year
ago, at last year's CTAM conference in Orlando, Fla. At a party celebrating his
birthday last June at that show, Cronin's cohorts at TV Land had a bust of him made
out of 20 pounds of Wisconsin cheddar. Both Cronin's mother -- who once helped her
son to lobby for TV Land carriage by baking a pie for a cable operator in Chicago -- and
his father flew down to attend that industry event.
This year, his family surrounded him as he cut up a huge
cake made to look just like Fox Family's new logo, which includes a house with the
words, "Fox Family," under it -- "Two great names under one roof," as
the tag line claims.