The Midas Touchstone is a family act

Feb 24, 2003  •  Post A Comment

A family connection to Touchstone Television has paid off for Disney-owned sibling network ABC. Now sibling syndicator Buena Vista Television stands to enjoy the benefits as well.
Buena Vista has a pipeline full of off-network Touchstone programming, including the ABC family sitcoms “My Wife and Kids,” “According to Jim” and “8 Simple Rules” and the ABC drama “Alias” and the NBC sitcom “Scrubs.” As a result, when the still-hot reality wave comes to an end and stations turn back to family fare, Buena Vista-currently closing in on a deal with a number of Tribune stations to air off-net runs “My Wife and Kids” for the 2005 season-will be sitting pretty while some other syndicators are left scrambling.
“I think we’re at the end of the reality wave,” said Stephen McPherson, president of Touchstone Television. “When you look at a lot of these choices, it becomes clear that they are starting to push the limit of good ideas. However, the reality craze has left us incredibly well positioned in that we are the ones doing the few family-friendly sitcoms that are in the pipeline and that helps not only ABC but gives their domestic group properties to sell.”
Mr. McPherson notes that the network lineup has essentially been devoid of family fare since the departure of ABC’s “TGIF” block. Looking at the likely new broadcast off-net sitcom availabilities over the next few years, Buena Vista and Twentieth Television clearly lead the pack in amount of product. For the 2004-05 season, Twentieth’s “Malcolm in the Middle” joins “Yes, Dear” and Paramount’s “Girlfriends” are the primary series set for syndication. In 2005-06, Buena Vista has “My Wife and Kids,” while Twentieth offers “Bernie Mac” and “Reba.” Carsey-Werner-Mandbach will offer up “Grounded for Life,” while Paramount presents “One on One.”
In the 2006-07 season, Buena Vista should make available “According to Jim” and “Scrubs,” with “8 Simple Rules,” “Life With Bonnie” and “Less Than Perfect” on track for the 2007-08 season.
“Because of the dearth of scripted programming on the networks due to reality, we now find ourselves ahead of the wave and looking extremely healthy in our product library,” said Janice Marinelli, president of Buena Vista Television. “Touchstone’s strategy has worked, beginning with `My Wife and Kids.’ They have taken a quality family sitcom with a strong male figure who also happens to be a star. When you look at their other sitcoms, `According to Jim’ and `8 Simple Rules,’ they each follow a similar format but each is able to stand on its own, and that’s critical for success in the syndication marketplace.”
Ms. Marinelli points to the successes of “Home Improvement,” “Roseanne” and “The Cosby Show” as series that similarly broke through in the off-net business.
Mr. McPherson notes that “My Wife and Kids,” “8 Simple Rules” and “According to Jim” have already been picked up for the next season on ABC as building blocks for its Tuesday and Wednesday night lineups. He expects “Bonnie” and “Less Than Perfect” to come back as well, while “Scrubs” could soon be getting a multiyear pickup on NBC.
Several new series are already in development from the company. One, from Michael J. Fox, is based on his experiences as a father, and another, from Bob Stevens and Jamie Tarses, follows a couple who adopts a child.
“From a syndication standpoint, family shows can run in a lot of places because viewers aged 12 or 50 can relate to the content,” he said, noting that the strong male presence on the series translated to strong male 18 to 34 and male 18 to 49 demos. “We have found that by making sure that there is always a strong parenting point of view we can make these shows both fit in and stand out on the schedule. I’m proud of being able to something for television that doesn’t have to rely on nudity to find audiences.”