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Family Friendly programs hit the airwaves

Friday, June 06, 2003

By David Bauder, The Associated Press

Four new television shows that will premiere on broadcast networks next season were created in part with money contributed by advertisers interested in family programs.

That's the best showing ever by the Family Friendly Programming Forum, a group of companies that have tried since 1999 to encourage networks to cool it on the sex and violence.

Three of the new programs -- "Steve Harvey's Big Time," "Like Family" and "All About the Andersons" -- will air this fall on the WB network. The fourth, NBC's comedy, "The Tracy Morgan Show," will be on in midseason.

Sixteen companies, including Johnson & Johnson, Ford, Wal-Mart, Procter & Gamble, Sears, IBM and Wendy's, participate. Their seed money is used by networks to help write scripts for family shows.

The criteria is "very broad and intentionally so," said Barbara Bacci Mirque, senior vice president of the Association of National Advertisers. "We're looking for a show that the entire family can watch together and not be embarrassed. If it's uplifting, that's a bonus."

The WB hit, "Gilmore Girls," was the first script bankrolled by these advertisers.

That helped erase a certain stigma attached with the effort among people who believe family shows are boring, Bacci Mirque said.

"In the first couple of years, the networks weren't quite sure what to send over," she said. "Now, it's like anything else once you have a record of success. The networks have seen that advertisers, as well as the public, are looking for family-friendly shows."

Two successful freshman shows from the past year, ABC's "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teen Age Daughter" and NBC's "American Dreams," were developed with this group's help.

The WB has worked more closely with this group than any other network. "It's been a relationship that begets success for us, as well as quality shows," network spokesman Paul McGuire said.

A report issued this week by Magna Global USA, a company that buys commercial time for advertisers, concluded that major broadcasters contributed to their declining ratings during the 1990s in part by turning their back on family shows.

The success of "Friends" on NBC led networks to concentrate more on adult-oriented fare, said Steve Sternberg of Magna.

With 41 percent of homes having three or more television sets, networks felt it would be better to program so different family members would watch different shows on different sets. The TV executives underestimated the number of families that wanted to watch television together, he said.

In the past few years, there's been more of a swing toward family shows, particularly on ABC.

The Family Friendly Programming Forum contributed to 20 prospective shows this year; only four of them made it onto schedules -- not an unusual ratio for network development.

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