Adult shows fuel family show impetus


Chicago - The backlash against popular, but adult-themed shows including The Sopranos, Sex and the City and Temptation Island, has increased the need - and public's desire - for more wholesome entertainment, family network executives said Sunday at the NCTA show in Chicago.

"[With] Temptation Island, when you look at the kids viewership, it was substantial. It's scary, but it's what we all have to deal with," said Rich Ross, Disney Channel's general manager and executive vice president.

Ross joined executives from Fox Family, National Geographic and the Hallmark network on a panel Sunday to discuss the quality of family programming. The executives agreed the public disdain for racier broadcast and cable shows has left a void that family networks are rushing to fill. They want to get their message out that are shows out there that can be entertaining and appropriate for varying age groups.

"The family niche is coming into style because the constituency is demanding it," said Margaret Loesch, president and CEO of the Odyssey Network, which will soon relaunch as the Hallmark channel. "We are all poised to do very well and there is still growth potential because the public wants quality."

Family programming is a broad niche - some shows are animated or educational, while others are sex-and violence- free adult shows that could be suitable for different age groups. The networks face the same challenge of creating a wholesome alternative, but they have different approaches for delivering their goods.

"We're focused on the kids market knowing that kids are a large share of our audience and if you make appropriate, high-quality great shows and movies parents will come along and watch," Ross said. "Our mission is kids and family, not necessarily family and kids."

The Disney Channel targets preschool children with daytime and tweens in the afternoon and primetime. The channel is not ad-supported but does air promotional spots for Disney properties, including Disneyland.

Fox Family, which is being shopped around by parent NewsCorp, programs its dayparts to appeal to adults and children. The network building on its sister broadcast network's connection to adults in primetime, and targeting kids in daytime.

Both National Geographic and Hallmark, which have much smaller distributions that Fox Family and the Disney Channel, target adult audiences looking for entertainment alternatives. The surprise for them comes when shows geared towards adults attract the entire family.

National Geographic's President Laureen Ong pointed to her network's recent documentary on Pearl Harbor as an example of programming clearly intended for adults, but offered something to young and older viewers.

"One would have thought, how many children would want to watch that show," Ong said. "But we had a lot of fathers, grandfathers and sons sitting there and watching it together and learning and talking and experiencing it as a family when it was clearly adult fare."
- Allison Romano