The current catch phrase for the ABC Family Channel is "A New Kind of Family"—a sure indication that the old kind of family channel wasn’t making it. The channel has bounced around over the years, having been started by televangelist Pat Robertson in the 1980s. After building it into a solid ratings machine, Robertson sold the channel to Fox. Rupert Murdoch’s people clearly had no idea what to do with it, and the station lost both viewers and its identity. Fox then sold it to Disney, which changed the name to ABC Family and created a mix of reruns (lots) and new programming (a little) evidently aimed at teenage girls and their moms in the American heartland. The movies and series had a heavy Eisner-era Disney feel, which is to say simultaneously snarky and smarmy. Not the sort of thing any reasonably sophisticated person would enjoy.
The current approach of the network is to get a little bit more adventurous in terms of program concepts. With Eisner gone, Disney has moved back pretty much exclusively into family fare at the movie studio. ABC Family looks to be going in a slightly different direction. Think of it as the Hallmark Channel with a bit of an edge.
Their self-description is humorously earnest and politically correct:
ABC Family is television for today’s families –- connected by birth or by choice, diverse and multicultural, mirroring our changing attitudes and lifestyles. The movies, hits, holidays and originals of ABC Family feature relatable characters and coming-of-age stories, reflected with heart in the comedy and drama of the experiences of today’s families.
Fortunately, the actual programming does not seem to press this already cliched notion of multiculturalism too openly. Falcon Beach, for example, is a rather silly knockoff of the WB’s sexy-teenager genre.
The new series Kyle XY, by contrast, has an interesting premise reminiscent of Fox’s John Doe series of a couple years ago. As in the Fox series, in Kyle XY a young man (in this case an adolescent rather than an adult) suddenly turns up naked and without any memory of his past. In the present case, he joins a typically quirky American TV family, and thus begins the challenge of identifying exactly who and what he is. It’s an interesting premise, and the writing and producing do it justice. A few episodes have appeared on ABC Family thus far, and Disney has run the show on the main ABC TV network as well, a wise move that should create more interest in it.
Premiering last night was a new program on ABC Family, Three Moons Over Milford. This one has an equally interesting premise: it looks at life in an idyllic small Vermont town after the moon has split into three pieces after being struck by a gigantic meteor.
Scientists have concluded that a big chunk will inevitably strike the earth at some point, destroying all life on the planet with the possible exception of the cockroaches, and that it will probably happen very soon. How people react to this doomsday scenario reminiscent of evangelical interpretations of Bible prophecies is supposed to reveal much about those persons’ character.
Elizabeth McGovern is the central character, a once-wealthy mom whose husband has left to pursue his dream of climbing the highest mountain on each continent, and whose inattention to business has driven their corporation to the brink of bankruptcy. In the premiere episode, the daughter of McGovern’s character accidentally fulfills every child’s dream of buring down the local public school, and a good deal of other plot and character arcs are set in motion. The idea that people will reveal their true selves as death approaches is probably a sound one, and the show seems willing to purse the matter without being overly cute or portentous. A new kind of Family Channel indeed.