History of Freeform (TV channel)
The American cable and satellite television network Freeform was originally launched as the CBN Satellite Service in April 1977, and has gone through several different owners (as well as six different name changes) during its history. This article details the network's existence from its founding by the Christian Broadcasting Network in 1977 to its current ownership under The Walt Disney Company, which renamed ABC Family as Freeform in January 2016.
CBN Satellite Service/Cable Network
The network was founded by Pat Robertson as the CBN Satellite Service, an arm of his television ministry, the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). When the channel launched on April 29, 1977, it became the first basic cable channel to be transmitted via satellite from its launch and, effectively, the first national basic cable-originated network (TBS – which began transmitting via satellite in December 1976 – originated as a feed of broadcast television station WTCG (later WTBS and now WPCH-TV) in Atlanta, Georgia; the national version of the channel did not exist until 1981, when the Turner Broadcasting System launched a national feed of WTBS with separate advertising for distribution to cable systems outside the Atlanta market). Initially, the network offered only religious programs aimed at a Christian audience. The offerings on the CBN Satellite Service during its early years included CBN's flagship news/talk show, The 700 Club (which aired three times per day every Monday through Friday in the late-morning and at night), along with programs from many notable and lesser-known television evangelists. As a result, a few televangelists began to produce stripped programs to air on the network each weekday. The CBN Satellite Service grew its subscriber base to 10.9 million households by May 1981.
On August 1, 1981, the channel was relaunched as the CBN Cable Network. At that time of the name change, it was concurrently repositioned as an advertiser-supported "family-friendly" entertainment network, although the channel continued to offer religious programs that occupied about a third of its daily schedule. Entertainment programming that aired on the channel during this period included various classic television series (consisting of classic sitcoms from the 1950s and westerns from the 1950s and 1960s such as My Little Margie, Wagon Train, The Virginian and Bachelor Father), reruns of game shows, older movies, and some family-oriented drama series. CBN Cable also produced its first original series with the relaunch including a weekday morning talk show, US a.m. and the faith-based soap opera Another Life.
The network also aired – and was even involved in the production of a few of them – a handful of Christian or family-friendly animated series, including some anime – such as CBN's own co-productions with Japanese amimation studio Tatsunoko Production, Superbook and The Flying House; the channel also carried English-dubbed versions of Honey, Honey and Leo the Lion. Religious programming retained a sizeable portion of CBN Cable's schedule; in addition to continuing to run weekdaily airings of The 700 Club, non-CBN produced ministry programs were relegated to Saturday and Sunday evenings, and Sunday mornings, encompassing only 22% of the network's programming lineup by 1990.
The channel's decision to mix secular and religious programs within its schedule mirrored the programming format used by the independent television stations that CBN had owned (then based in six markets) at the time of the rebrand. Additional programming that joined the CBN Cable lineup later in the decade included Hardcastle and McCormick, The Adventures of Superman, The Love Boat and F Troop, and foreign acquisitions The Campbells and Butterfly Island. Under the new format, the national distribution of the CBN Cable Network had grown from 28 million households in May 1985, to 35.8 million in May 1987.
The Family Channel
On August 1, 1988, the word "Family" was incorporated into the channel's name to better reflect its programming format, rebranding as The CBN Family Channel; shortly after the new name was adopted, however, references to CBN within its name began to be excised in on-air continuity announcements and print promotions for its programs (with the exception of the initialized reference to its parent ministry featured within its logo), referring to it as simply "The Family Channel". The logo that the channel used until the sale to News Corporation consisted of a blue ring with the participle "The" (accompanied by the "CBN" initials as well until 1990) placed on top and "Channel" at the bottom with a blended yellow and red "Family" script font overlaid on the ring and an orange/yellow striped sphere. The channel's promotional advertisements were also revamped as well, featuring a series of promos known as "Family Moments," depicting situations in which families spent time with each other (such as a family playing checkers, a grandfather bonding with his grandson, and a woman hugging her husband on their wedding day).
By 1990, the network had grown too profitable to remain under the CBN banner without endangering the Christian Broadcasting Network's non-profit status (federal regulations enforced by the Internal Revenue Service prohibit non-profit organizations from owning for-profit entities that account for a substantial portion of its activities). On January 8 of that year, CBN spun off The CBN Family Channel to International Family Entertainment Inc. (a newly formed company founded by Pat Robertson's eldest son and CBN Family network president, Timothy Robertson, and operated as a joint venture between the Robertson family and John C. Malone, owner of Denver-based cable television provider Tele-Communications Inc. and multimedia firm Liberty Media) for $250 million in convertible securities. The Robertsons paid $150,000 to acquire 4.5 million shares and a controlling ownership interest in IFE, with Pat and Tim subsequently purchasing an additional 1.5 million shares. Consequently, The Family Channel became the official name for the channel on September 15, 1990, dropping all remaining references to the "CBN" moniker.
As a stipulation of the sale to International Family Entertainment, the channel was required to continue to carry The 700 Club (a stipulation that Pat Robertson also imposed when the channel was sold to Fox Family Worldwide in 1997 and then to The Walt Disney Company) (now known as Disney Enterprises, Inc.) (in 2001). This time-buy clause (which also mandates that the program air at suitable time slots that would allow it to attract decent viewership) was the only requirement that Robertson included in sales terms for the network to its subsequent owners. However, public assumption had conflated for many years that this sole existing stipulation was one of two that he included following the sale of the network by CBN; another contractual clause that Robertson was alleged to have added in the sale agreement to Fox required any future secular owners to maintain the word "Family" in the network's name in perpetuity. When Disney announced on October 6, 2015 that it would rebrand the network as Freeform, ABC Family president Tom Ascheim noted that there was no record of such a clause ever having been in place (although some published sources – including a reference in James B. Stewart's book on former chairman/CEO Michael Eisner's tenure at eventual owner Disney, DisneyWar – have only stated insofar that a clause including "Family" as a required part of the name was incorporated into previous carriage agreements for the channel with cable and satellite providers).
By 1989, the channel was seen in 47.3 million households, with its distribution jumping to 54 million homes (or 92% of all U.S. households with a cable television subscription) by 1992. At that point, the 1950s sitcoms and westerns that had long been featured on its lineup were scaled back, in favor of more recent drama series as well as cartoons (mostly acquired from DIC Entertainment) and later, game shows (with a mix of both original programs like Trivial Pursuit and Shop 'til You Drop, and reruns of older game shows such as the Jim Lange version of Name That Tune and Let's Make a Deal). In fact, the channel's weekday afternoon game show block consisted of the aforementioned programs along with the later episodes of Split Second and other shows specifically produced for the channel (such as Shopping Spree, Small Talk, Wait 'til You Have Kids and a revival of It Takes Two, hosted by Dick Clark). The Family Channel also began airing more recent scripted series – among them Big Brother Jake, The Adventures of the Black Stallion, Bordertown, Rin Tin Tin: K-9 Cop, Maniac Mansion and The New Zorro – many of which aired as part of "The Positive Place", a weekly block on Sunday early-evenings that ran from 1991 to 1994.
In March 1992, the Christian Broadcasting Network sold its interest in International Family Entertainment, when the company announced plans to become publicly traded, selling 6.66 million shares valued at $100 million, at a price between $14 and $16 per share (however, Pat Robertson retained ownership of 3.6 million shares in IFE until the company's sale to News Corporation); IFE would also sell 3.33 million shares of stock to the public. In January 1993, IFE purchased TVS Entertainment, a British broadcaster which owned MTM Enterprises, for $68.5 million.
That year, International Family Entertainment and Flextech jointly launched an international version of The Family Channel in the United Kingdom; on February 3, 1997, that channel eventually relaunched as the game show-dedicated network Challenge (an outgrowth of "Family Challenge Weekend", a weekend game show block that debuted on The Family Channel U.K. in October 1996), following IFE's sale of its 61% controlling interest to Flextech in April 1996. In addition, in the United States, The Family Channel attempted to launch a spin-off network with a very similar format to that which the U.K. Family Channel evolved into; The Game Channel was intended as an interactive game show-oriented channel that was also set to launch in 1993. International Family Entertainment launched another cable channel, the Cable Health Club, on October 4, 1993, which was made available to cable providers without a carriage fee; the lineage of that network – which was later renamed FitTV – is traceable to the current-day Discovery Communications-owned network Discovery Life.
The network gained more visibility when, for a four-year period from 1994 to 1997, it served as the primary sponsor of Ted Musgrave's #16 Ford Thunderbird in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. The Family Channel ventured further into original programming in May 1996, with the premiere of its first original made-for-TV movie, Night of the Twisters (loosely based on the Ivy Ruckman book of the same name and co-produced with corporate sister MTM Enterprises). During the mid-1990s, children's programming was slowly removed from The Family Channel's schedule, before disappearing altogether in 1997. As The Family Channel, the network attracted an older audience outside of the demographic of adults ages 18 to 49 traditionally sought by advertisers; only about one-third of homes with viewers that watched Family included children or youths.
Purchase by Fox Kids Worldwide
In early 1997, Rupert Murdoch-owned News Corporation entered into discussions to purchase a stake in The Family Channel with International Family Entertainment as a partner, in order to use the channel to carry the library of children's programs that News Corporation had owned through television production company Saban Entertainment. On June 11, 1997, News Corporation purchased International Family Entertainment for $1.9 billion. The latter company's assets were split within News Corporation's portfolio: The Family Channel was merged into Fox Kids Worldwide Inc., a joint venture between majority owners News Corporation and Saban (which each owned a 49.5% share in the company), and media investment firm Allen & Company (which owned the remaining 1%), which was subsequently renamed Fox Family Worldwide Inc. following the closure of the acquisition; the MTM Enterprises library, meanwhile, was acquired by the 20th Century Fox Film Corporation division.
The Family Channel was renamed Fox Family Channel – though on-air promotions typically referred to the network as just "Fox Family" – on August 15, 1998 at 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time ("The Family Channel" name was later resurrected in December 2013 by Luken Communications, owner of digital multicast networks such as the Retro Television Network, Tuff TV and Heartland (itself originally named The Nashville Network through a short-lived brand licensing deal with Jim Owens Entertainment, Inc.), for use by the broadcast network originally known as My Family TV). With the change in ownership, Fox Family's operations were also migrated from the Christian Broadcasting Network's headquarters in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and integrated with the operations of some of News Corporation's other cable channels in Los Angeles.
When Fox bought the channel, programmers sought to reposition it to target a dual audience – kids in daytime, families at night. Once the network became Fox Family, the new owners dropped nearly all of the programming that it aired under The Family Channel brand – which at that point included reruns of series such as Bonanza, The Rifleman, The Carol Burnett Show, Hawaii Five-O, Christy, Rescue 911 and Diagnosis: Murder – and replaced them with shows that appealed to a younger demographic. Rich Cronin, who was appointed as the network's president and CEO, said regarding the channel's audience refocusing, "our focus is on younger families, more suburban or urban, more plugged into pop culture". Fox Family was obligated to continue airing The 700 Club as part of the sale, but the program's airings were scaled back to two times each day (though the sale agreement required the channel to air it three times daily, once each in the morning, late-evening and overnight hours), with the evening broadcast being moved out of prime time, and pushed one hour later to 11:00 p.m. Eastern Time (from 10:00 p.m.). Weekly airings of Columbo were also moved from 9:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Sundays.
Programming that appealed to children and teenagers was also greatly expanded on the channel. Fox Family added more animated series to the lineup, many of which came from the Fox Kids program library, including reruns of such series that originated on the Fox network block as Bobby's World, Eek! The Cat and Life with Louie. Following its relaunch, the network was running about eight hours of cartoons per day. However, it also became a cornerstone for syndicating foreign television series (primarily those produced in English-speaking countries), such as the CBBC sitcom and star vehicle for British pop group S Club 7, Miami 7 (retitled S Club 7 in Miami for its U.S. telecasts), which became Fox Family's flagship program until the new millennium. Fox Family also syndicated many Canadian television series, both animated and live-action, including Angela Anaconda, Big Wolf on Campus, I Was a Sixth Grade Alien, Radio Active, Edgemont, The Three Friends and Jerry, Freaky Stories, Mega Babies and (briefly) The Zack Files. The channel also aired cartoons and anime programs based on video games, such as Donkey Kong Country, Mega Man and Monster Rancher. Most of these programs were aired as part of the channel's morning lineup, which also included the original series Great Pretenders.
Fox Family added some recent family sitcoms as well, along with European shorts like Tom and Vicky, Charley And Minno Animal Shelf Budgie The Little Helicopeter and 64 Zoo Lane. Original programming during prime time included shows such as Ohh Nooo! Mr. Bill Presents, I Can't Believe You Said That, Paranoia, Show Me the Funny (which primarily featured viewer-submitted home videos previously seen on fellow Vin Di Bona-produced series America's Funniest Home Videos, which incidentally aired in reruns on the channel from 2001 to 2013, and America's Funniest People) and Random Acts of Comedy. The channel also began airing more recent family-oriented films on weeknights in prime time and on weekend afternoons and evenings (with a nightly featured film at 9:00 p.m. on weeknights, and at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturdays and Sundays), and greatly increased its slate of made-for-TV movies.
In 1999, Fox spun off two digital cable channels from Fox Family, the Boyz Channel and the Girlz Channel, which both contained programming content targeted at the respective genders; both channels ceased operations after just one year on the air in August 2000, due to a combination of very limited national carriage by cable providers (Boyz Channel and Girlz Channel were each carried in some 100,000 homes in an era when digital cable television was in its infancy) and the controversy that developed over the gender-segregated channels. To some extent, Disney relaunched the concept somewhat in February 2009 with the replacement of Toon Disney with Disney XD, featuring programs targeted at tween boys, while Disney Channel has shifted its focus towards featuring programming appealing more towards girls (although not necessarily in the same gender-exclusionary manner as the Boyz/Girlz Channel concept).
Major League Baseball
In April 2000, Fox Family began airing Major League Baseball games in prime time on most weeks during the league's regular season, on an alternating basis with then-sister network FX. The network – which acquired the rights from Fox Sports Net, which aired the weekly telecasts across its regional sports networks (except in markets where the nationally televised game conflicts with scheduled sporting events involving local teams on the individual FSN outlet) from 1997 to 1999 – usually ran the games on either Thursday or Saturday nights.
Starting with the 2001 season, the network also carried games from the first round of the MLB playoffs, the Division Series, which did not air on Fox. Among the games that aired on Fox Family included one between the San Francisco Giants and the Houston Astros on October 4, 2001, in which Barry Bonds hit his 70th home run of the season, tying the all-time single season record that Mark McGwire had set only three years earlier (Bonds would break the record the following night).
The 700 Club
As part of a stipulation negotiated into International Family Entertainment's sale agreement with Fox Entertainment Group by Pat Robertson, Fox Family aired The 700 Club twice every weekday: a live broadcast at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time, and a repeat at 11:00 p.m. Eastern. In addition, through other programming requirements stipulated by CBN through the deal, the network also aired a half-hour companion talk show serving as The 700 Club's weekday morning lead-in, Living the Life (which was replaced in 2010 by The 700 Club Interactive), as well as occasional weekend-long CBN telethons (which it continues to do as ABC Family/Freeform, with the latter now airing in the week before the Super Bowl each year). As of December 2011, The 700 Club airs three times per day Monday through Fridays, with the existing 10:00 a.m. live telecast and 11:00 p.m. rebroadcast having been joined by an additional repeat at 3:00 a.m. Eastern Time.
Fox Family Films
Fox created a film division for the channel, Fox Family Films, which produced motion pictures targeted at different age groups, mainly towards children; the titles included Addams Family Reunion, which aired during Fox's inauguration of the channel under the initial format as Fox Family, and Digimon: The Movie, which was compiled from several Japanese Digimon short films. Aimed a more teenage audience, Fox Family Films created Ice Angel, a made-for-cable movie about a hockey player who is reborn as a female synchronized skater, as well as the thriller Don't Look Behind You. Fox Family also aired a wide array of Saban Entertainment-produced movies as well as many direct-to-video films from 20th Century Fox (including Richie Rich's Christmas Wish, Casper: A Spirited Beginning and Like Father, Like Santa).
In August 1999, the channel experienced its highest total viewership at that point in its history, with the premiere of the made-for-TV romantic/family comedy Au Pair.
The 13 Days of Halloween
In October 1998, Fox Family introduced one of its most successful programming concepts, "The 13 Days of Halloween," a two-week-long block beginning each year on October 19, leading into Halloween on October 31. This block – which was subsequently rebranded as the "13 Nights of Halloween" in 2002, under Disney/ABC ownership – introduced the original comedy series The New Addams Family, the unscripted series Scariest Places on Earth (hosted by Exorcist star Linda Blair, focusing on places infamous for frightening urban legends) and some new movies such as Casper Meets Wendy (the latter of which would become a staple of the block for several years, particularly during the years in which Hilary Duff, who made her acting debut in the film, starred in the Disney Channel series Lizzie McGuire). The block was temporarily suspended in 2003, following an overhaul of the channel's programming management under Disney. A few years later, the 2002 live-action film adaptation of Scooby-Doo became part of its annual Halloween lineup. This continues to be one of the most successful programming blocks to date for the channel as ABC Family, and will be carried over under the Freeform brand.
The 25 Days of Christmas
Two years before the launch of its Halloween programming lineup, in 1996, what was then The Family Channel launched the "25 Days of Christmas", a four-week holiday-themed program block running annually during the month of December, formally starting on December 1 and continuing until Christmas Day on December 25. The block was carried over to Fox Family under News Corporation ownership, with a staple of the lineup being Christmas-themed specials from the Rankin-Bass library (among them, The Little Drummer Boy and Santa Claus Is Coming to Town), although it also features mostly holiday-themed theatrically-released and original made-for-TV movies, and other original programming. The "25 Days of Christmas" continued to air on the rebranded ABC Family following the sale to Disney in 2001, and expanded into include a sub-block that runs during late November, "Countdown to 25 Days of Christmas", beginning in 2007.
Change in visual style
On September 1, 2000, Fox Family adopted a new visual style, as part of an attempt to refocus its programming to attract an older audience. While in essence, it maintained a family-oriented format, the network began to feature some original and acquired programming aimed at adults during the early evening and in prime time. At that time, Fox Family purchased the syndication rights to the CBS series Early Edition, and two ABC series: My So-Called Life and Step by Step (the latter of which aired on the channel until March 2010 as ABC Family). The channel also acquired the short-lived comedy-drama series Freaks and Geeks, including episodes of the show that had not previously aired as a result of its 2000 cancellation by NBC, and broadcast more "romantic comedy"-themed original movies.
Keeping kids and families in mind, the channel introduced the original series State of Grace (a half-hour period dramedy set in the 1960s, centering around a pre-teen from a conservative Jewish-American family and her boisterous best friend, raised by a free-wheeling divorced mother) and a programming block for teens, Fox Family's Summer High School Countdown (which introduced the Swedish pop group Play to American audiences). However, the idea was unsuccessful, as a year later, Fox Family was sold to The Walt Disney Company, and State of Grace was only renewed for one more season before it was cancelled.
Under the control of Murdoch and Saban, Fox Family saw its overall viewership slide from 10th to 17th place in the Nielsen cable ratings as a result of an increasingly competitive race for younger viewers (with the channel facing brisk competition from established children's cable networks Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and eventual corporate sister Disney Channel), and the bickering over ownership between News Corporation and Saban Entertainment founder and CEO Haim Saban, who eventually opted to exercise an option given by News Corporation to have the company buy out his 49.5% interest in Fox Family Worldwide on December 21, 2000. Some observers believe that the network chased away some of its older viewers when, without notice, News Corporation/Saban removed all of the older programming that it aired as The Family Channel – especially western reruns, which made up the bulk of its weekday and weekend schedule, dating back to its existence under the CBN Cable Network identity – in their effort to contemporize the channel, and never really replaced the core audience due to the absence of planning on how to retain that segment of the network's pre-acquisition viewer base, while simultaneously attracting new viewers. As a result, prime time viewership declined by 35% over the course of Fox Family's three-year tenure under Murdoch/Saban ownership.
It is also suggested that News Corporation hired more employees than were needed, and when Disney took ownership, as many as 500 people were laid off (this was also at a time when The Walt Disney Company itself was downsizing, as the company had laid off 400 other employees from its failed Go Network web portal). Fox Family also used many freelancers for certain aspects of the channel's operations and programming, such as its short-lived "block jocks" (which were on-air hosts that the channel hired to present its afternoon children's programs); most of the monikers for the network – including the slogans "You Belong" and "It's Electric" – were created by freelance artists. However, the Disney acquisition took the channel into a deeper decline in its early years.
Purchase by Disney and early attempts at changing the network's focus
On July 23, 2001, News Corporation and Saban announced that Fox Family Worldwide Inc. would be sold to The Walt Disney Company for $2.9 billion; consequently, the unit would be renamed ABC Family Worldwide Inc. following the sale and integration into the company's Disney–ABC Cable Networks Group division. The sale to Disney included ownership of Saban Entertainment, including most of the Fox Kids programming library, ironically resulting in the Fox Broadcasting Company losing the rights to its own children's programming to the owner of one of its network competitors, ABC (which Disney had purchased in February 1996, through its acquisition of the network's corporate parent Capital Cities/ABC, which changed its corporate name to ABC, Inc. upon becoming a Disney subsidiary; Fox would subsequently enter into an outsourcing agreement with 4Licensing Corporation to produce its children's programming blocks, a relationship that lasted until December 2008, when the network discontinued its remaining Saturday morning block, 4Kids TV). The sale was completed on October 24, 2001. On November 10, 2001, the channel was renamed ABC Family; the on-air look that it adopted in its final year under Murdoch/Saban ownership as Fox Family was modified for the newly rebranded network in the meantime (including its logo, which was altered to swap out the vertically aligned Fox wordmark placed on the left parenthetical fringe with ABC's legacy "circle" logo, and production music), although it would begin using new continuity announcers.
The network also revamped its programming lineup following the Disney acquisition. Due partly to reduce competition with new sister network Disney Channel, which launched one year and nine months after what was then CBN Cable adopted a family-focused entertainment format, the network heavily scaled back the amount of children's programming on its schedule, relegating the handful of programs that were retained to the morning hours. With this, the remaining Fox Kids shows that were on ABC Family's schedule became part of the "ABC Family Action Block", a new two-hour-long block of action-oriented animated series (which was renamed "Jetix" in February 2004) that aired on weekday mornings; shows aimed at a broader family audience as well as those aimed specifically at teenagers, adults or both audiences also replaced the more kid-oriented shows in afternoon timeslots (Disney Channel simultaneously underwent its own demographic shift, dropping its remaining family-oriented programming with the September 2002 removal of its nightly vintage programming block, Vault Disney, in order to focus firmly on children and younger teenagers, a demographic it began gravitating toward when it transitioned into a basic cable channel in April 1997). The network also relocated its operations to The Walt Disney Company's headquarters in the Los Angeles suburb of Burbank, California.
Production responsibilities for the network's baseball playoff coverage that originated during its run as Fox Family were assumed by another of ABC Family's new sister networks, ESPN. While Division Series games remained on ABC Family for one additional year due to contractual issues, the regular season game telecasts migrated to ESPN outright beginning with the 2002 Major League Baseball season. A deal was later struck to move the playoff games to ESPN as well, starting with the 2003 season. Although the games aired on Disney-owned networks, Fox retained the exclusive right to negotiate a renewal of the contract after the 2006 season; Fox Sports chose not to renew the Division Series contract, with TBS acquiring those rights in 2007 as part of its new baseball contract.
The channel's sale to Disney, however, would be considered one of the biggest strategic errors made during the latter years of Michael Eisner's tenure as president of the company. No one within ABC's management staff was consulted by Walt Disney Company executives about the company's plans to purchase Fox Family, with the acquisition being conducted by Disney's strategic planning department. The company's original plan for the channel was to use it for the primary purpose of showing reruns of ABC programming; however, this was conceptually impossible as ABC did not hold the syndication rights to the majority of its own programs, with the exception of those that were produced by its corporate parent's television production divisions, Walt Disney Television and Touchstone Television, which had their distribution rights held by Buena Vista Television. During this time, the channel did air same-season repeats of then-current ABC shows Alias, Less Than Perfect and Life with Bonnie, almost all of which were produced by Touchstone Television. The network was also used as a buffer to burn off series which failed to gain audiences during their runs on ABC, such as the reality competition series All American Girl, which featured Spice Girl Geri Halliwell.
In trying to change the programming focus of ABC Family, Disney also canceled several original series that originated on the channel under its former identity as Fox Family (such as the 1960s-set period dramedy State of Grace), and reduced the output of made-for-cable movies that were produced for the channel, which were among the few programs that Fox Family was doing well with. The changes cause ABC Family's ratings to tumble further as it became dependent on syndicated reruns, with no original programs on its schedule to back it up (with the exception of original wraparound segments that aired around repeats of The Bachelor, and children's programming).
Another plan drafted by Disney was to re-position the channel to market it at a more hip audience, such as college students or young women, and rename it "XYZ," a reverse reference to ABC; however, this concept was ultimately dropped. The decision not to move forward with the "XYZ" rebranding had been alleged to be because of the stipulation reported to have been put in place within International Family Entertainment's original sale agreement to News Corporation by Pat Robertson that the word "Family" must be contained in the name of the channel for the entirety of its existence, no matter the owner. The "XYZ" branding was revisited at one point in 2003, for a program block titled "The XYZ", which featured live-action series and movies aimed at teenagers and young adults, a demographic that the channel would eventually choose to market its programming towards.
Disney also inherited the contractual rights to broadcast select CBN programs, as mandated by the ministry under International Family Entertainment's previous sale agreement with Fox. However, ABC Family would move to distance itself from The 700 Club out of concern over potential viewer blowback following a series of controversial remarks made by Robertson on the program in the years following the channel's purchase by Disney about the regime of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, as well as those regarding homosexuals, feminists, Muslims, abortion and many other social issues. On August 29, 2005, the disclaimers that appear before, during and after its broadcasts of The 700 Club were revised from "The following/preceding program is/was brought to you by CBN" to "The following/preceding CBN telecast does not reflect the views of ABC Family."
Disney would later make attempts to reach an agreement with Pat Robertson to buy out CBN's time-buy contract for The 700 Club and The 700 Club Interactive. Months prior to the announcement of the Freeform rebranding in 2015, Disney–ABC offered CBN a payment of $42 million – the same amount that the ministry earned in revenue during that year from syndication fees for The 700 Club and various related productions – for Robertson to terminate the channel's agreement with the ministry, but could not agree to terms as Robertson wanted a higher payout that ABC Family president Ascheim deemed "astronomical" in comparison to its actual value. The distancing of the two entities extends further as the channel's management does not regularly discuss their programming strategy with CBN, nor has the channel actively promoted its airings of The 700 Club or the associated talk shows that have preceded it in its initial morning time slot since News Corporation acquired the channel years prior, either on-air or on its website.
"A New Kind of Family"
In August 2006, ABC Family shifted towards a dual audience once more with teenagers and young adults becoming the primary target demographic of its programming. As part of the shift, the channel introduced a new slogan ("A New Kind of Family") as part of an imaging package that incorporated a custom typeface based on that used in the ABC logo for its promotional graphics.
The network's programming became focused upon original drama and comedy series primarily aimed at teenagers and young adults, acquired sitcoms and drama series from the 1990s onward, and movies aimed at its new demographic focus; even still, it continued to include programs catering to families in the form of feature films aired as part of its prime time and weekend movie blocks, and holiday specials featured as part of the seasonal "13 Nights of Halloween" and the "25 Days of Christmas" blocks. However, despite the network's refocusing towards the latter demographic, ABC Family/Freeform continues to air live and repeat broadcasts of The 700 Club every weekday, as well as other religious programming (including ministry programs from Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, James Robison, Joseph Prince, David Jeremiah and Zola Levitt) on weekday and Sunday early-mornings and Sunday late-nights as part of the network's paid programming block.
Jetix remained part of ABC Family's morning schedule until it was discontinued on August 31 of that year, with the block becoming exclusive to Toon Disney beginning on September 2, effectively removing children's programming from ABC Family altogether (programs targeted at that demographic have largely remained off of its lineup since that point). Repeats of acquired off-network programs began to fill the 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time period formerly occupied by Jetix, with the morning airing of the 700 Club/Living the Life block being pushed back a half-hour further to 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time (the former two-hour slot was occupied entirely by sitcoms until 2015, when it switched to a mix of comedy and drama series in that period and the succeeding 9:00 a.m. Eastern half-hour, which had been occupied by sitcom reruns since the launch of Jetix).
As part of the rebranding, ABC Family restrategized to increase its viewership by ramping up production of its original movies and series. The channel began experiencing relative success in 2006, with the debuts of the drama series Wildfire and Lincoln Heights. Further success came in 2007, with the fantasy drama Kyle XY (centering on a humanoid taken in by a suburban family, who tries to discover his identity), which earned the highest viewership in the network's history; that same year also saw another freshman series, the college-set dramedy Greek (centering on the relationships between groups of fraternity and sorority members), pull in strong ratings. The viewership record set by Kyle XY was later broken by the series premiere of the teen dramedy The Secret Life of the American Teenager (starring a then-unknown Shailene Woodley as a girl dealing with becoming a teenage mother, and the romantic lives of her friends and family) in 2008.
In July 2009, the network earned its best-ever ratings for that calendar month in prime time and in total viewership due to strong viewership posted by The Secret Life of the American Teenager for its sophomore season and the debuts of three new series: the gymnastics-centered freshman drama Make It or Break It, and sitcoms 10 Things I Hate About You (based on the 1998 film of the same name) and Ruby & The Rockits (intended in part to serve as a starring vehicle for David Cassidy, whose brother, Shaun Cassidy, served as one of its executive producers); the strong ratings were also buoyed by its broadcast of extended cuts of films from the Harry Potter franchise and the television premiere of Labor Pains. However, the channel continually struggled to launch a successful comedy series, with many of the sitcoms that debuted from 2008 to 2012 (including Roommates, State of Georgia and Ruby and the Rockits) not lasting more than one season and 10 Things I Hate About You being one of the only comedies among that crop to even be renewed for a second season.
2010 saw the debut of its most successful original series, the drama Pretty Little Liars, which is based on the series of young adult mystery novels by Sara Shepard; the program successfully broke series premiere ratings records for ABC Family, across all major viewing demographics of women and young people, premiering to an audience of 3.1 million viewers on June 8 of that year. The show's success led to the development of two shorter-lived series based on Shepard's young adult novels, The Lying Game (which ran from 2011 to 2013) and Ravenswood (which aired for one season from 2013 to 2014). That summer also saw the debut of its first comedy hit, Melissa & Joey (a domestic sitcom in the vein of Who's the Boss? that starred Melissa Joan Hart and Joey Lawrence, who previously co-starred in the 2009 ABC Family original movie Holiday in Handcuffs, as a city councilwoman raising her imprisoned brother's teenage children and the stockbroker she hired to serve as their housekeeper); the series would become the first original sitcom in the network's history to get a third season renewal and ended its run in May 2015 as the first original series in the channel's history to reach 100 episodes.
On June 6, 2011, the channel broke total and demographic viewership records again with the series premiere of the drama Switched at Birth (centering on two teenagers whose families are brought together after the discovery of their accidental placement under different parents following their birth), which was watched by 3.3 million viewers. ABC Family followed the success it had with Melissa & Joey with the June 2012 debut of Baby Daddy. In January 2013, the Jennifer Lopez-produced alternative family drama The Fosters spurred audience interest, premiering to 3.1 million viewers; the series also saw critical acclaim for its portrayal of the struggles of an interracial lesbian couple with five adopted at-risk youths.
The shift towards a more teen and young adult focus became more clear when Variety reported in a December 3, 2014 article, that ABC Family executives were proposing to relaunch the network as early as 2015, with options being considered including the expansion of programming appealing more toward young adults between the ages of 14 and 34 as opposed to families or teenagers, as well as adopting new branding (including a new name). On April 14, 2015, ABC Family executives announced during the channel's 2015–16 upfront presentation, that it would establish a firm focus on teenagers and young adults between the ages of 14 and 34 – a group representatives termed "becomers", instead of the standard "millennials", to describe young people who are in the "formation" of their lives, and to reflect a participatory experience for viewers across multiple platforms.
This culminated in the Disney–ABC Television Group's announcement on October 6, 2015 that the network would rebrand as Freeform. The move, which took effect on January 12, 2016 (coinciding with the winter premiere of the second half of Pretty Little Liars's sixth season and the series premiere of Shadowhunters, a fantasy drama based on The Mortal Instruments series of novels by Cassandra Clare), was motivated by audience testing that revealed that survey participants who watched ABC Family infrequently perceived it as being more family-oriented, in contrast to regular viewers who understood its focus towards the actual above-mentioned target demographic. However, the name – which was chosen among 3,000 proposals, was derided by some viewers on social media and news websites reporting on the pending rebrand, prompting Ascheim to note at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour on January 9, 2016, that while it does not mind the "wholesome" perception given by the "ABC Family" name, it does "not necessarily represent" the network. An extensive campaign to promote the rebrand began on the date of the announcement and encompassed the network's popular "13 Nights of Halloween" and "25 Days of Christmas" blocks during the fourth quarter of that year.
Even so, the rebrand was mainly cosmetic in nature, as the network retained much of the programming it ran under its previous ABC Family identity, with those being carried over under the new brand including the 25 Days of Christmas and 13 Days of Halloween blocks, and religious programming (including its weekdaily airings of The 700 Club); however, the channel plans to increase the amount of original programming on its schedule through 2020. The retention of The 700 Club and The 700 Club Interactive on its lineup was particularly notable – even though the socially conservative views that have been expressed during the programs conflict with the culturally progressive/adult content of some of the channel's secular programming – as network executives were unable to reach an agreement with Pat Robertson and CBN to terminate the ministry's time-buy contract with the channel. While meeting to negotiate a buy out of the programming agreement prior to the rebranding announcement, Robertson had declined a $42-million termination offer by Disney–ABC (an amount roughly equivalent to the ministry's earnings from syndication fees for The 700 Club and various related productions during 2015) and stipulated a higher payout that Ascheim deemed "astronomical" in comparison to its actual value.
- Family Channel – a Canadian premium/basic cable and satellite specialty channel that is unrelated to ABC Family/Freeform or its predecessors, and had previously sourced its American programming from Freeform sister network Disney Channel and its spinoffs until January 1, 2016
- ABC Spark – a Canadian digital cable and satellite specialty channel owned by Corus Entertainment that serves as a domestic version of ABC Family/Freeform
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