So long, reruns of 'Family Ties.' Network owned by Discovery and Hasbro to push for family viewing

Like one of the little kids who watches its programs, The Hub Network will soon attempt to see if it can reach beyond its grasp.

The network, jointly owned by cable programmer Discovery Communications and toy maker Hasbro, expects to gradually abandon the reruns of “Step by Step,” “Family Ties” and “Sabrina, The Teenage Witch” in favor of originals designed to lure kids and families together. The first step in that effort is “Parents Don’t Just Understand,” a 22-episode reality series from Endemol’s 51 Minds Entertainment hosted by Joey Fatone that  is slated to debut in the fall. The series will let kids and parents get a peek at what it’s like to live inside each other’s shoes.

“We have to cut the umbilical cord to old sitcoms,” said Margaret Loesch, president and chief executive of The Hub Network, who expects The Hub to have six original series for primetime over the next 18 months. “It’s not easy. It’s expensive. And it takes real commitment. But we are past that point. We feel this is the right time for us to do it.” The Hub will continue showing movies in primetime, she said, and its daytime focus will remain on shows aimed mostly at children.

Toddlers have growth spurts, and so too do cable networks. They often start out running acquired programs that fit with the theme under which they were created, but find the repeat strategy often has limits. To make a true mark, Hub must – much like FX, AMC and Nick at Nite before it – develop signature original shows that sharpen its identity to viewers and advertisers

The network does so at a competitive time. Since the network debuted in 2010, Walt Disney’s Disney Junior has launched and gained tracition with programs like “Doc McStuffins.” NBCUniversal has purchased the entirety of preschooler network Sprout that it did not own. Nickelodeon has been investing more heavily in its flagship network and Nick Jr. since it was affected by ratings woes in 2011 and 2012.

Loesch believes The Hub can find a broader audience by doing what its rivals don’t. Disney primetime programming remains a place for kids, she said, while Nickelodeon’s “Nick at Nite” lineup is largely for adults. “I think that we are sandwiched right in between,” she said. “There is an opportunity.” The network will invest “scores of millions of dollars,” she said, declining to be more specific, noting only that “a significant amount” would be invested in the new programs.

Executives at The Hub have been mulling the move for the past year, Loesch said.  They noticed how its one of its few original primetime shows, “Family Game Night,” was very well received by viewers. After running the idea by the network’s board of directors, executives sought more validity for their theories. Working with Ipsos, The Hub found 86% of parents in a survey enjoyed spending time with their children by watching TV programs with them, said Loesch.

Advertisers also expressed support for the idea, said Nicole Cleary, Hub’s vice president of national ad sales. She expects the new primetime direction to help The Hub attract more advertising from auto marketers, wireless companies, and travel and tourism sponsors as well as help grow ad revenue from advertisers who already support the network.

Loesch likens the programming idea to one that was popular on ABC in the 1980s and 1990s. During that time, the network created a block of family-oriented programs on Friday nights. Among the shows that came to notice during that era: “Family Matters,” “Perfect Strangers,” “Step By Step,” Boy Meets World” and “Full House.”

The programs won’t shy away from serious matters, the CEO said. “We want to make them meaningful” and have them “generate discussion,” she said.

“Parents Just Don’t Understand” will place parents in the midst of their kids’ overscheduled lives while offering children a taste of what it might be like to be responsible for keeping things going at home and at work. Host Fatone will serve as an exec producer of the series along with Christian Sarabia and Rabih Golam.

The Hub has already taken steps to get viewers to see the network in a different way. Since January, the outlet has modified its logo and sported a new tag line, “making family fun.” One recent new promo shows parents and kids horsing around in yards, homes and other environs.

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