Family Channel Focuses on The Inoffensive
Gains in original programming, viewership
WEARY of TV series about tough cops wasting drug lords and rapists? Jaded by talk-show interviews with ``parents of slain prostitutes'' or ``lovers of suicidal AIDS victims?'' You won't find themes like those on the Family Channel, a burgeoning cable network that defines itself as much by what it doesn't show as what it does. The working philosophy is that at no time during their 24-hour programming schedule will you find anything that could make anyone in the family uncomfortable, uptight, or out of sorts watching alone or together.Skip to next paragraph
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``We felt that there was a dramatic need for a service devoted totally to traditional family values,'' says Tim Robertson, president of the 13-year-old Virginia-based network that grew out of his father Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcast Network. ``That need has increased dramatically in the last three to four years.''
Instead of jumping on the so-called ``reality-'' and ``trash-'' TV bandwagon, the Family Channel (designated ``FAM'' in listings) has filled its schedule with enough comedies, classic movies, Westerns, children's shows, dramas, and adventures to make it the fifth largest basic cable network in the country. (USA, TNT, TBS, and ESPN are the top four.)
The network can be seen in 48.5 million homes, about 43 million more than the other ``family'' network - the Disney Channel, on pay cable. The Family Channel is already presenting four original half-hour, prime-time series, and with the expenditure of an additional $100 million, it will soon have a total of eight.
``There is very little television fare left anymore that the average family can sit down and watch together after 8 p.m.,'' says Dr. Jim Loper, executive director of the Television Academy of Arts and Sciences. ``With the burgeoning number of channels out there - upwards of 50 most places - there definitely should be one that conveys this kind of material. [The Family Channel] is filling that gap.''
Although continues to air some religious programming, with three-and-a-half hours of ``The 700 Club'' daily as well as early-morning Bible shows, the mix is about 78 percent entertainment. And access to the channel has done nothing but grow - from 28 million households in May 1985 to 35.8 million two years later, to its current 48.4 million homes.
``At `Fam,' we say let's have programs that celebrate love and life,'' adds Robertson. ``Let's talk about values between husbands and wives and children, where they can have loving, caring relationships in which children aren't smart alecks and the parents aren't buffoons. We feel there is a very clearly identifiable niche that exists there, for both viewers and cable operators alike.''
So far that has meant an ever-revolving spate of so-called ``evergreen'' series: Westerns such as ``Bonanza,'' ``Wagon Train,'' ``Gunsmoke,'' and ``The Big Valley''; family-centered sitcoms such as ``Hazel'' and ``Father Knows Best''; detective and spy series such as ``Hardcastle an McCormick,'' ``Scarecrow and Mrs. King,'' ``Remington Steele.''
But a large part of the channel's philosophy is to create original series that will sustain viewership. Last year, the network programmed ``Bordertown,'' a Western with a twist. A small town that straddles the US-Canadian border, it is ruled on one side by a gum-chewing, rough-hewn US Marshall with an itchy trigger finger. On the other side is a clean-shaven, polished, and polite Canadian mountie who likes to do everything by the book. The series became the No. 1 original series on basic cable.
Neither of the two principal characters drink or smoke, in keeping with the channel's philosophy that role models should not indulge those vices. Nor do any of the series portray easy acceptance of casual or extramarital sex.
Last month, the channel premi`ered ``Zorro,'' a new series about the swashbuckling defender of old Spanish California. Filmed in Spain, the new series has challenged ``Bordertown'' (which is filmed in Vancouver) for the No. 1 spot.
The other original series are ``Rin Tin Tin: Canine Cop,'' a modern-day extension of the original, and ``T and T,'' starring Mr. T as a private-eye with a soft spot for the young and helpless.