ABC's fall lineup is all in the family

May 18, 1993|By New York Times News Service

It may not have been a winning theme for the Republican Party, but ABC has seen how successful "family values" can be in the television business.

And so when ABC presented its fall lineup of prime-time shows to advertisers last week, it sounded the family theme like a call to arms. Ted Harbert, the president of ABC Entertainment, pointed out that the network's founder, Leonard Goldenson, had created ABC expressly as the network that would be watched by the young postwar families. In its programming, it always took children into account.

For last week's presentations, the network even added a new demographic chart to the standard array it always brings out at such events. This one spelled out ABC's strength in this important category: viewing in households that have families of four or more people.

Though the network has collected information on this grouping for some time, it had never before made it public, said Marvin Goldsmith, the president of ABC sales and marketing.

The reason for the change was obvious: While CBS won the overall household rankings last season, ABC dominated this narrower category. With these large-family audiences ABC averaged a 7.6 rating,compared with a 6.3 for CBS, a 6 rating for NBC and a 4.9 for the Fox network. (Each rating point represents 931,000 homes). Among shows returning next season, ABC had 8 of the 10 highest rated among families of four or more.

In putting together its list of new shows for the fall, ABC set out to "drive the point home," as Mr. Goldsmith put it. The new ABC schedule has the look of a family photo album. The network is adding six new comedies about families of four of more, in the belief that big families like to watch shows about big families.

Not one new ABC comedy is set in a workplace, as NBC's "Cheers" or CBS's "Murphy Brown" are. There are no comedies about adult relationships, like NBC's "Seinfeld" or "Mad About You." All the new ABC comedies have children as essential characters. One, "Boy Meets World," is told from the point of view of an 11-year-old.

Two shows with married parents have two children each. A married couple in another show has three. The three other comedies center on single mothers raising families, and they have at least three children each (one has four). So every family configuration on ABC adds up to that magic family of four or more.

ABC knows it can turn that magic into ratings -- and revenue. Mr. Goldsmith said the network's schedule is ideal for advertisers sellingpackaged goods, food products or anything that families consume. "The people who watch our shows are the people who go out and buy products," Mr. Goldsmith said.

The competition acknowledges that ABC has all but cornered the family-viewing market. David F. Poltrack, the senior vice president of research for CBS, said, "It's obviously an effective marketing strategy." But he asserted that ABC's strategy can have a down side.

"Most of ABC's viewing, especially in their 8 o'clock shows, is child-driven," Mr. Poltrack said. "The primary viewer for them is a child." In other words, the child picks the show that the family watches.

Mr. Poltrack cited statistics showing that among households where a child is present, ABC owns 14 of the 20 highest-rated shows. But in households without a child, CBS has 9 of the top 20, and ABC only 6.

Further, Mr. Poltrack said, adults pay less attention to the shows their children select and often watch them only because they want to spend time with the children.

He added that in terms of qualitative ratings, research periodically conducted by the networks in which adults are asked which shows they like, they never choose children-oriented shows.

"This makes a difference with advertisers looking to reach adults with their products," Mr. Poltrack said.

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