Pat Robertson Outburst Screams Trouble for ABC Family

It's time for broadcaster/religious personality Pat Robertson to unplug his electronic soapbox - especially now that he is screaming fire in a crowded theater.

An angry Robertson on ABC Family's "The 700 Club" (that's right, it's a show airing on ABC Family and produced by a Robertson company) demanded that the United States assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, saying we should "take him out." Robertson amended his thoughts later saying his words could have meant "kidnapping."

Whew! Only kidnapping! Thank god no actual crime would be committed. So what does that mean... taking him out? What, for a Starbucks, I guess?

"The 700 Club" is the last vestige of a cable network business that Robertson started in the 1980s, called the Christian Broadcasting Network. It then moved to the more palatable sounding CBN: Family Channel. Then, the even easier moniker, The Family Channel.



In 1997 when Robertson finally sold out to the Fox Family Channel, Robertson made a deal that "The 700 Club" would be on the air in perpetuity, no matter who owned the channel. You see, media moguls never really want to let go; they may have something to say down the road like deciding that a South American leader with gobs of oil should be made to play ball with the United States for our SUVs.

Existing mostly under the radar on Fox Family and then ABC Family -- which bought the network in 2001 -- "The 700 Club" has always been a pothole in the network's schedule, one the city never gets around to repairing. Audience flow can stop dead in its tracks - as the show airs Monday to Friday at 11 p.m., 2 a.m., and 10 a.m. Weirdly, ABC Family characterizes the show as "talk/tabloid" in some listings.

Good news for the network is that it probably demands virtually no marketing support. Still, ABC Family loses precious advertising revenues from being unable to sell those 15 hours a week.

For its part, ABC Family strongly rejects Robertson's viewpoint, as well as voicing a disclaimer. Like with any infomercial, the views of the "The 700 Club" are not those of the network.

But the damage is already done - as Robertson is strongly identified as part of ABC Family's family, at least for the near future. That's why ABC Family needs to go one better and find a way to finally jettison "The 700 Club."

ABC Family's case is purely business - not ideological. Robertson's outburst could now infringe on its ability to do business, especially with advertisers who have trouble with Robertson's remarks. Some of those sponsors might just drop ABC Family altogether from their media plans.

Sinclair Broadcasting had similar problems when it aired a pro-Bush, anti-Kerry show last year. But the difference there was Sinclair senior management fully supported that programming move.

This is not unprecedented that ABC should attempt to make such a move. News anchors and commentators on TV stations get booted from time to time due to inappropriate remarks. Robertson could be held to the same standard.

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