Pasadena, Calif. -- After facing TV critics here last week,
Rich Cronin might have wished that he was back at his pool in Brentwood, Calif.
Following their pledge to invest $500 million in
programming, Fox Family Channel officials faced a tough and skeptical audience of
television critics at the Television Critics Association summer tour here last week, when
they unveiled the network's new primetime schedule.
Fox Family introduced a slate of original comedies
"with attitude" that kids are meant to watch along with their parents.
At the TCA tour, writers bombarded Fox Family president and
CEO Cronin, Fox Kids Worldwide chairman Haim Saban and other executives with questions and
doubts about the wisdom of their strategy: namely, dumping all of The Family
Channel's current programming save for one show, The 700 Club, when Fox Family
relaunches Aug. 15. After the relaunch, Fox Family will air kids' shows during the
day and family-oriented fare at night, all rated "TVG."
At their presentation last Thursday, Fox executives spent
much of the time defending their plans and denying that the new schedule, with its hip Fox
"attitude," will turn off the network's current viewers, who tuned in for
traditional fare on evangelist Pat Robertson's former network.
"There is an opportunity to expand our current
audience by creating a network that families can watch together," Cronin said, unlike
Family Channel's current shows, such as Hawaii Five-O and Diagnosis Murder,
which don't appeal to kids.
Cronin returned to work July 1 after a court-ordered exile
over his contract dispute with his former employer, MTV Networks Inc.
The new lineup -- all-original, "quirky" comedies
weeknights from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. -- is meant to target younger, "contemporary
families," both urban and suburban, that are "plugged into pop culture,"
according to Cronin. He described the primetime shows, several of which are reality-based,
as "safe, but with a definite attitude."
The primetime strips include:
At 6 p.m., Outrageous!, starring ex-MTV:
Music Television VJ Idalis, is a guerrilla-video show in which two teams compete in
At 6:30 p.m., I Can't Believe You Said That
is a game show where families compete by revealing family secrets.
From 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., Show Me the Funny,
which is filled by video clips of funny people, animals and hidden-camera stunts, is
hosted by comedian Stephanie Miller. (One half-hour will be replaced by The New Addams
Family starting Oct. 19.)
At 8 p.m., Mr. Bill Presents features the Saturday
Night Live clay character.
At 8:30 p.m., Life, Camera, Action will show
footage ranging from car chases to "professional bike stunts gone wrong."
Fox Family will air theatrical movies from 9 p.m. to 11
p.m. weeknights, while premiering its original movies Sundays from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.
About 50 percent of the network's programming will be
original, with Fox Family committed to spend $500 million over the next two years on
primetime shows alone. More than 20 made-for-TV movies are in the works, as are a number
of specials. The network will relaunch Aug. 15 with Mrs. Doubtfire at 8 p.m., and
it will air two specials Aug. 16: Leo-Mania: DiCaprio's Unauthorized Story and
Spice Girls: Wild! in Concert.
That revelation prompted one critic to question whether a
fundamental Christian was about to tune in to a Spice Girls concert, and another writer to
ask whether families in rural areas such as Alabama would appreciate the new
"attitude" at Fox Family.
Ann Hodges, the Houston Chronicle's TV critic,
several times asked network officials to define what they meant by "attitude."
She said the word had a "pop meaning" with negative connotations, such as
"pushy" or "edgy."
Fox Family officials said that while the network's
audience skewed older, it was not as conservative or out of the mainstream as the press
thought, and its current shows, such as Diagnosis Murder, weren't targeted
toward fundamental Christians.
At one point, actor-comedian Tom Arnold, who is doing a
movie that Fox Family called National Lampoon's Golf Stunts, chimed in during
the debate. Appearing by satellite, Arnold said, "I'm from rural Iowa, and I
think that [the new lineup] is perfect for us."
Added Saban, "I don't see the connection between
religion and a sense of humor."
Saban did concede that The 700 Club will remain on
the air, at 11 p.m., as part of the deal that Robertson struck when he sold The Family
Channel to Saban and his partner, News Corp.
In an interview several days before the TCA tour, Cronin
said he didn't have much input into the programming lineup that's set for the
relaunch, since 98 percent was already locked in. But he will have a greater say on the
on-air packaging and ad campaign that will herald the network's relaunch.
As for the new schedule, Cronin said he likes what he has
seen so far, after reviewing tapes of the new Fox Family programming. He did get a chance
to eyeball two pilots and to weigh in on whether or not to green-light them.
"They said, 'Here's two pilots left that we
haven't made a decision on,'" Cronin said. "I killed one of them and
had suggestions for the other one."
He also had a three-hour meeting with the development group
about everything that's in the works now.
In detail, Cronin outlined the vision behind the new Fox
"Marrying the Fox irreverence and sense of humor with
family programming is something really perfect for the contemporary family," Cronin
said. "My feeling is that the greatest family show in the history of television is The
Simpsons. Now, for some people, The Simpsons is a little bit too edgy. I think
that's the appropriate amount of irreverence for Fox Family Channel."
According to Cronin, "By marrying that kind of
sensibility to all-family programming, we offer something that's quite different from
Pax Net [Paxson Communications Corp.'s family oriented network, which is launching
Aug. 31], or the old Family Channel, or Disney [Channel], or Nickelodeon, or Cartoon
Much like Nickelodeon succeeded in creating a destination
for kids, Cronin wants Fox Family to be a primetime base for entire families.
"The main goal is to really get families here to feel
that this is their network," he said. "To sit down together -- kids and teens
and parents -- and watch the network, which is rare now. A lot of people are just going to
their own rooms to watch their own shows on their own TVs."
With rising programming costs such a hot button with cable
operators now, some MSO officials feared that Fox Family -- after investing so much to
relaunch the network -- will seek big license-fee increases.
"There's no plan to jack up license fees,"
Cronin said. "But as contracts come up, as with any other network, you go in and you
make your case for what the network is worth, and it becomes a negotiation."
Cronin maintains that Fox Family's affiliate-sales
force is getting a lot of positive feedback from operators.
"[MSOs] all saw this as something positive -- that we
were taking a network that had a following, but we were pumping a lot of money into it in
programming and marketing, and it was going to be something that their subscribers
liked," Cronin said.