Family-Friendly Programmers Debate Business-Friendly Model
McPherson, along with other network entertainment chief executives, tossed around ideas concerning family programming during a Family Friendly Programming Forum Symposium in Los Angeles yesterday. The Family Friendly Programming Forum is a group arranged by the Association of National Advertisers. Some 44 companies are members.
Initial questioning related to whether family programming was good business. The WB had no problem in touting that it was. "Gilmore Girls" has been the poster child, as one of the first shows to receive Family Friendly Forum development money. "7th Heaven" is another WB show in the same family-friendly vein--although it came on the air before the advertiser group was established. "Everwood" is another long-running family show on the WB.
"For us, it's a terrific business," said David Janollari, president of entertainment for The WB.
Research earlier in the day showed that all kinds of popular shows are also family programming--from CBS' "Survivor" to Fox's "American Idol." Procter & Gamble's research even showed that ABC's high-rated "Desperate Housewives" could be considered family viewing, since it brings in some 1.7 million kids ages 6-11 as viewers. That had Lance McAlindon--director, consumer and market knowledge for P&G--suggesting that what the industry needed was a family-friendly "Desperate Housewives."
Other family shows also don't seem so obvious. Kevin Reilly, president of entertainment for NBC, noted that Fox's "Family Guy," which has salty language and more adult situation story lines, actually pulls in good family viewing.
"There are some shows that make you uncomfortable, but the fact is--millions of people and families are watching," he says. "It's tricky. We saw this with 'Fear Factor' for years."
It's not so uncomfortable for "American Idol," which gets healthy family viewing.
All that gives network executives hope that something new in the "Idol" vein may work.
"When you have a show like 'Idol,' I can go out talking to the creative community, saying--here's an opportunity [to establish] a broader family comedy," said Peter Liguori, president of Fox Entertainment.
Having family shows is important. But Liguori says the good idea is the prime objective, regardless of a particular viewer group--old, young, male, female, or family. "The difficulty is deciding where there is fresh turf to mine," he said. "There have been hundreds of failed comedies over the years. The question is--is it Chris Rock or something else?"
This season, UPN will have its first Family Friendly funded show for the highly regarded "Everybody Hates Chris." In addition, the Forum also spent development money this year for ABC's "Commander In Chief," CBS' "Old Christine," and WB's "Related," which made it onto network schedules.
The threat of increased government intervention for quality family viewing has been an issue over the last two years, stemming from Janet Jackson's breast-baring incident at the Super Bowl. But network executives say this has had little effect on their businesses.
"It hasn't affected us at all," said ABC's McPherson. "We have a broadcast and standards department." NBC's Reilly said: "It's not part of our day to day. But it has crept onto our agenda in an unhealthy way."
Research from an earlier Forum panel that day showed family-oriented shows receiving less promo time than other higher-profile shows. Moderator Bill Carter, TV reporter of The New York Times, noted that a number of ABC's family-oriented shows received less promotion time than two of ABC's biggest hits of last year, "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost."
"We made a conscious choice to prioritize," said McPherson. "It was due to clutter. We couldn't set apart seven new shows; we could do maybe one or two. I think it proved to be right."