In the Face of Fines, Networks Are More Friendly to Family Programming

Despite all the talk of more "Desperate Housewives" and their licentious rivals, the 2005/2006 fall season is likely to turn out to be one of the most squeaky clean, as four shows promoted on the Association of National Advertisers' "family friendly programming" banner are making it to prime time--the most in any one year since the initiative was founded in 1998.

The four shows that were picked up for next season are ABC's "Commander-in-Chief," which stars Geena Davis as the first female president of the United States, who must balance family life with defending the free world; The WB's "Related," which focuses on the lives of two sisters living in New York--and, ironically, is co-produced by a former writer from the non-family-friendly "Sex and The City"; CBS' "Old Christine," starring "Seinfeld"'s Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a divorced mother of a young son who must contend with her ex-husband's new young girlfriend, who is also named Christine; and UPN's "Everybody Hates Chris," about the youth of comedian Chris Rock.



On the face of it, these shows aren't a sanitized throwback to "Father Knows Best," or even "Little House on the Prairie," one media buyer involved in the family-friendly programming effort said.

"Chris Rock is known for his expletive-laced act, but the show is able to maintain the edge without the harsh language," said the media buyer. "It's funny, which will probably ensure its success. It's also very positive in how it depicts hard-working parents, which is why this qualifies as family-friendly."

The issue of indecency has caused the networks to place a greater emphasis on finding shows that meet the family-friendly criteria, as the uproar that began two years ago with U2's Bono uttering a four-letter exclamation at the Golden Globe Awards and Janet Jackson's Super Bowl half-time "wardrobe malfunction," which got CBS fined $550,000 by the Federal Communications Commission. Total fines for indecent programming exceeded $7.7 million last year, a huge increase from the $48,000 four years earlier.

And while CBS, NBC, and Fox got together last May to form an advocacy group called TV Watch, which opposes government control of television programming and promotes the use of parental controls such as the V-chip, they know they must appease the public consciousness by showing more family-friendly fare.

"This is the first year we have the participation of all networks, and from the submissions received, it's clear that the networks understand what we consider appropriate family viewing shows--shows that are relevant to today's audiences, with cross-generational appeal, depicting real life and with a responsible resolution to issues raised," said Dawn Jacobs, vice president, advertising, Johnson & Johnson. "We believe that family-friendly shows are just good business for all involved. It's about the options we give the American viewer, to be able to sit down and watch as a family, and to share time together--and ultimately, more time together viewing translates to higher ratings."

"It is a great year for us and the staying power of the shows funded from the Script Development initiative--"Commander-in-Chief," "Everybody Hates Chris," "Old Christine," and "Related"--that made it to series is strong in our opinion," added Kaki Hinton, vice president, advertising services, Pfizer Consumer Healthcare.

Both Jacobs and Hinton are ANA Family Friendly Programming Forum co-chairs. Aside from the indecency issue, both credited the forum's Script Development Fund with helping give family-friendly shows a boost. The fund provides seed money to develop new family-friendly scripts that may otherwise go unnoticed by the networks, Hinton said, demonstrating that advertisers are willing to play a financial role in the development of prime-time family-friendly TV programming. The Fund has generated a number of series over the years, such as The WB's "Gilmore Girls."

"Since the inception of the Script Development Fund, the FFPF has helped bring 15 scripts to series, which is quite an accomplishment," Hinton said.

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