Observers don't expect afternoon p'gramming block to last

HOLLYWOOD — Having been orphaned by the ABC/Fox Family Channel deal, Fox Kids Network is about to be placed under the oversight of Fox TV Entertainment chair Sandy Grushow.

Move had been in the cards ever since Disney acquired Fox Family Worldwide from News Corp. and Haim Saban. Fox Kids — which currently programs a weekday two-hour block and a Saturday morning slate — was not a part of the deal.

Sources said office space is being readied at Fox headquarters on the 20th Century Fox lot to make room for Fox Kids employees.

But it’s still unclear which Fox Family/Fox Kids execs will move back in with Fox. Net execs are also still playing around with reporting structure.

Move reunites Fox Kids with its network cousin. The block, then branded “Fox Children’s Network,” launched in September 1990 as a joint venture between the net and affils.

News Corp. spun off Fox Kids into a joint venture with Saban Entertainment in 1996 and bought out their affiliates’ interest in 1998 as part of a deal to help pay for the net’s pricey NFL football package.

The future of Fox Kids Network has been foggy for some time, and now that it’s under Fox’s control, insiders speculate that this season could be the net’s last in its current form.

Affils have been pushing Fox to exit the kids’ business for sometime, especially on weekday afternoons. The kids marketplace is also not as attractive as it once was to Fox now that cable players like Nickelodeon have come to dominate the marketplace.

Fox has a long-term deal to program the afternoon slots, however. Fox Kids’ weekday schedule runs from 2-4 p.m. starting this fall; the net shifted the block back an hour per affiliate requests.

Even if the weekday programming is dropped, it’s unclear whether Fox Kids would completely disappear, however. It continues to fill stations’ requirement to air three hours weekly of educational programming.

One reason observers don’t expect the block to last is that the content will have to be licensed from Disney in the future. What News Corp. owns is the time on the stations.

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