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Clean TV Preaching to Faithful, 02.28.01 ...

The advertisers’ campaign for wholesome TV has reached its next plateau. Not only has the Family Friendly Programming Forum managed to get “The Gilmore Girls” on the air, but it looks like the series will return for another season.

There hasn’t been any official announcement, but Susanne Daniels, WB’s co-president for entertainment, recently told the press that she expects the show to be on the air next fall. Getting a TV Guide cover has also helped the program’s visibility.

All of which is enough to get more networks interested in working with the Forum.

The way things are going, though, you’ve got to wonder: How much are these networks inspired by family values, and how much are they just looking for a free lunch?

A few months ago, CBS and ABC joined forces with the Forum, meaning that they were willing to make use of the Forum’s money in developing new programs.

Currently, they’re cooking up new family-friendly series ideas, as is the WB, the Forum’s charter member.

This fits exactly into the Forum’s game plan: to entice networks into introducing more wholesome shows into their lineup by ponying up some of the cash.

But what’s different now is that Odyssey and the Fox Family Channel are also approaching the Forum about its script development program.

Initially, the organization wasn’t sure what to make of this, according to Steve Johnston, executive vice president of advertising at Nationwide Insurance and a member of the Forum.

“Our attitude was ‘Hey, you’re already doing what we want to do. What we’re actually trying to do is change the habits at other networks that aren’t doing enough of this stuff.’”

The way the script development fund works is that the Forum finances the completion of a script, and if the project moves ahead, the network refunds the money spent.

To play cynic’s advocate, it seems plausible that Fox Family and Odyssey are looking for a means of developing shows without shelling out the cash up front.

This seems especially plausible when you consider that both networks are still tinkering with their programming in order to build an audience. Any assistance would certainly be welcome.

Maureen Smith, Fox Family’s president, has another way of looking at it.

“What we’re saying to the Family Friendly Forum is, what about helping support us, an already family-oriented outlet. We went to them and said, ‘If you help support our effort to create hit family shows, we can prove to the industry that these kinds of programs can really deliver while targeting families.’”

As of now, there’s no formal agreement between the Forum and Fox Family, just some initial discussions.

Smith reports that Fox executives will soon be meeting Forum members in person to take the talks a step further.

The idea of the Forum working with family channels might well be a case of preaching to the choir, as Johnston suggests. And it might not advance the family-friendly cause. Still, the Forum hasn’t spurned these advances.

Discussions with Odyssey haven’t generated any action for the time being, but the Forum has sent some scripts over to Fox Family.

“These are scripts that the WB has already passed on, around four or five of them,” says Smith. “We hope there’s a gem in there, but if not we hope to work with them on something else.”

The Forum might be straddling the fence in its dealing with Fox Family right now, allowing the network to see already developed material but not committing to anything further just yet.

One thing that remains the same, as far as Johnston is concerned, is the need for the Forum’s input. The current TV schedule, even with “The Gilmore Girls” included, hasn’t encouraged him in any way.

“I’m personally very disappointed,” he says. “A lot of the new fare is gratuitous and filthy and just downright nasty.”

Who does he blame for this?

Not the networks, it seems.

“Gosh darn it, there’s gotta be some better ways, and I think it’s the fault of the creative community not coming up with ways to be funny or interesting without resorting to all this lowest-common-denominator stuff.” -David Everitt covers technology for Media Life, writing from Huntington, New York.
Credit: Media Life Magazine

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