Smith named prexy of Fox Family Channel, Kids Net

Longtime Fox Kids exec Maureen Smith has climbed atop the Fox Family tree.

Smith was named president of Fox Family Channel and Fox Kids Network on Monday, filling a post that had been vacant since the departure of Rich Cronin in May.

Smith had been serving as interim president since that time, overseeing the day-to-day operations of both the Fox Family cable channel and the broadcast Fox Kids service.

Under Smith, Fox Family has undergone another revamp in recent months. Hoping to target more older viewers without alienating its kid constituency, the network recently added series such as “Freaks and Geeks” and “Providence” to its primetime stable.

‘Wonder’ rights

The network has also sealed a three-year deal for the rights to all 115 episodes of the dramedy “The Wonder Years,” which Fox Family will start airing in fall 2001. Nick at Nite most recently aired the off-net series, which is distributed by Warner Bros.

“My goal is working toward my vision of a true family channel that is not kid-driven 24 hours a day,” Smith said. “Our No. 1 challenge is to really let people know ‘family’ doesn’t always mean it’s just for kids.”

Smith will continue to report to Haim Saban, chairman and CEO of Fox Family Worldwide, who made the announcement Monday. Prior to her new post, Smith served as exec VP of Fox Family Channel and general manager of Fox Kids Network.

“Maureen’s background in programming, marketing, research and promotions make her the perfect candidate to lead both networks into distinct and top performing entertainment outlets,” Saban said.

Family matters

Besides altering its primetime sked, the cabler has also redesigned its logo, placing a greater emphasis on the word “family,” and launched a new marketing campaign from BBDO that incorporates the tagline “Grown-ups are family too.”

“We knew we wanted a new look, one that was cohesive to all we do,” Smith said. “We’ve finally found a way to look very adult-friendly. We’re ‘family’ with a little bit of Fox –family is the main dish, and Fox is a little bit of pepper.”

Fox Family execs reporting to Smith include general manager Tracy Lawrence; senior VP of scheduling and marketing strategy Tom Cosgrove, senior VP of on-air promos Patty LaVigne; senior VP of corporate public relations Nicole Nichols; and senior VP of marketing Doug Yates.

Sources say Rob Sorcher, exec VP of programming and production, has relocated to the East Coast and is pursuing other opportunities. Tom Halleen, VP of original movies, acquisitions and scheduling, is expected to be named to the senior programming post as soon as today.

Bumps for Fox Family

It’s been a rough road for Fox Family Channel, which first relaunched in 1997 after News Corp. and Saban acquired the network from televangelist Pat Robertson. The net’s original offerings, including a remake of the classic sitcom “The Addams Family,” fell short of expectations.

With the network posting mostly disappointing numbers, Cronin departed in May after almost three years as president and CEO. Other departures, including that of Fox Family Worldwide ad sales chief Rick Sirvaitis, followed.

Saban in for now

Meanwhile, uncertainty has swirled around the uneasy partnership between News Corp. and Saban over Fox Family and Fox Kids. While News Corp.’s Peter Chernin has told reporters that Fox will eventually take over the properties, for now Saban has opted to remain half-owner of Fox Family Worldwide.

“We don’t anticipate anything in the near future, but if a change comes about, we’ve already got a team in place,” Smith said. “It will continue to be business as usual.”

Most recently, Fox Family scrapped its digital nets the Boyz Channel and the Girlz Channel in August, less than a year after they were launched.

Instead, Fox Family has turned its focus toward acquiring more big-ticket off-net fare and developing more broad-appeal original series. As part of that renewed push, Smith said the channel has opted to produce more pilots rather than go straight to series.

“We want to make sure we pick the cream of the crop,” she said. “Pilots are a better test. They let you know how it’s going to come together.”

Fox synergy

Smith said the channel has a number of one-hour dramas and half-hour series in development and close to being greenlit. She also hopes to forge more partnerships with other Fox properties.

“There was not enough in the past in terms of program sharing,” she said.

Smith first joined Fox Kids Network in 1996. Before that, the exec was VP of children’s research at Fox. She first joined Fox at its launch in 1986 as a research analyst on “The Late Show With Joan Rivers.”

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