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The Family Channel Becomes FOX Family

By Devin D. O'Leary

AUGUST 31, 1998:  On Aug. 15, Pat Robertson's sanctimonious Family Channel gave up the (Holy) ghost and became the wacky new FOX Family Channel. After shoving a bunch of money into Robertson's deep pockets, FOX promptly dumped nearly every bit of the network's former programming. About the only thing to survive the shakedown was Robertson's own gabbin'-about-God show, "The 700 Club" (Robertson assured his show's survival by including its continued life as a caveat to his contract with FOX). In the place of endless "Bonanza" reruns (apparently the only truly sacred programming Robertson and his staff could hunt up), Rupert Murdock's FOX whelps have come up with a hodge-podge line-up of kid's shows, family movies and original series.

Apparently the strategy has worked, because in its first week of operations the newly retooled FOX Family Channel posted gains of as high as 200 percent over the same time period last year. First week specials like "Spice Girls ... Wild!" and National Lampoon's Men in White may not have been to Pat Robertson's liking (one wonders if he even has a favorite Spice Girl), but they helped accomplish FOX's goal of rejuvenating the floundering network. Future specials like this coming weekend's world television premiere of the "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" spin-off "Young Hercules" (Sunday, Aug. 30 at 9 p.m.) are sure to continue the upward trend.

Although FOX pledges to provide plenty of "family" programming, the new line-up is kiddy all the way. During the daytime, old cartoons and kid's shows like "Pee Wee's Playhouse" (weekdays 8 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.) are mixed in with new shows like the videogame spin-off "Donkey Kong Country" (of which the network puzzlingly announces, "as wacky and fulfilled as it sounds, the series is also educational"). After-school cartoons are blocked in "The Basement" (weekdays starting at 4 p.m.), a collection of teen-themed toons hosted by a gaggle of creepy puppets which the network confusingly says, "were born when a live cable wire dipped into some chicken gumbo soup and created an electronic fusion of dust mites, skin cells and video impulses that caused their mutations."

Although the daytime and weekend cartoon schedule boasts some entertaining stuff, the evening sched is packed with silly "Candid Camera"-inspired video shows like "Outrageous!" (weekdays 7 p.m.) and "Show Me the Funny" (weekdays 8 p.m.). Only "Ohhh Noooo! Mr. Bill Presents" represents anything remotely entertaining on weekday nights.

For a fledgling network, FOX Family Channel has a surprising amount of original programming. Although shows like "Leo-Mania: DiCaprio's Unauthorized Story" aren't likely to rein in many viewers over the age of 12, there are considerably more viewing choices compared to Robertson's old "Bonanza" bonanza days.

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