Viewers watching Freeform (formerly ABC Family) at 11/10c encounter one of television’s most shocking program transitions. This is when the network goes from youthful and edgy fare – just like in the past pretty Little Liars, The FostersAnd Shadow Hunters — to the televangelism of Club 700is Pat Robertson.
It’s a TV boost, and even after ABC Family changed its name to Freeform in 2016, there was little the network and Disney/ABC parents could do about it.
“They don’t promote it, they don’t lead to it,” an insider says of how Disney/ABC deals Club 700. “It’s just this little island. They treat it like an infomercial.
ABC Family/Freeform began in 1977 as CBN, as part of Robertson’s religious mission. In the late 1980s, the channel went mainstream and adopted the name The Family Channel. The network became too profitable to continue as part of Robertson’s nonprofit CBN and was established in 1990 as International Family Entertainment.
At the same time, CBN and IFE reached an agreement to keep Club 700 on the network in desirable time slots. Robertson sold Family Channel to Fox Kids in 1997, keeping the stipulation that CBN can program Club 700 on the channel, whatever its name, in perpetuity.
When Disney/ABC bought Fox Family Channel for $5.3 billion in 2001, it too was saddled with that deal. The agreement says Club 700 cannot be buried in the middle of the night, but must be aired during certain times of the day.
Club 700 broadcast in the morning at 9/8c and in the evening at 11/10c. This late-night slot, in particular, has become a desirable time for cable networks – but with Club 700 there, it prevents Freeform from developing a late-night franchise.
“We all thought that over time we could eventually get the show off the ground,” said an insider familiar with the trades. “We thought we could negotiate and give him a lot of money. But it never was [Robertson’s] intention. The language is foolproof. I don’t know what it would take at this point to get rid of it.
“As for Pat Robertson and his son, they’re here for at least their lives, or as long as they want. Club 700 exist,” the source added. “At some point we decided that was what it was and we were going to ignore it.”
According to insiders, Disney has approached Robertson in the past to buy him out and remove Club 700 from the range. But the price he was asking is astronomical. One of CBN’s tax audits claimed his airtime on ABC Family/Freeform was worth $42.4 million a year. CBN pays Disney/ABC approximately $1.2 million per year to cover the direct costs incurred by ABC Family for forgoing program time.
A nonprofit religious organization, CBN’s total assets are worth more than $320 million. “It’s shocking how much money they’re making from this show,” an insider said. “They are tough, shrewd businessmen.”
For Disney, the biggest internal debate was whether to drop the word “family” from the channel’s name. Contrary to popular belief, there was no stipulation by Robertson that “family” should remain in the name.
“It’s a bold move,” one industry watcher said of the move to “Freeform.” “They have abdicated the word ‘family’. But the name of the ABC Family channel did not reflect the demo they wanted.
Meanwhile, that means Freeform viewers of returning shows like good problem And Drunk single woman will also meet again Club 700.
“Despite the name and programming changes, something over which CBN has no control, the CBN contract remains in place and Club 700 will continue to air on the channel during the same times,” CBN spokesman Chris Roslan said.
When asked in 2016 if Club 700 could finally come out of the 11/10c slot, Freeform chairman Tom Ascheim admitted the show was “standing steady” in its slot. “He seems to like it,” Ascheim said. “That predates our particular choices here.”
A 2001 New York Times story highlighted how Robertson has in the past denounced Disney. But even then, sources told the newspaper that there was no “easy resolution” to remove Club 700 from ABC Family – and it has persisted, all these years later.
“Club 700 will continue to air on Freeform,” the network said in a statement. “It was part of a long-standing deal made when Disney first acquired the network.”
It will continue to make strange bedfellows. While the Freeformm series deal with certain issues, such as same-sex marriages, Club 700People’s point of view is often extremely divergent and at the other end of the social and political spectrum.
“While Club 700 may not reflect the new programming, it continues to draw large audiences for the network, with over one million viewers,” Roslan said. “Club 700 will continue to air now and in perpetuity on the network, regardless of the name.
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