Focus on the family

Showtime ups production of kidvid originals

NEW YORK — What parents want, Showtime wants to deliver.

And what parents want, Showtime research shows, is original programming for their kids.

With premium channel competition for family audiences growing, Showtime is reinforcing its commitment to producing original family-oriented films and has half a dozen family movies in development.

Showtime will run 10 original family movies, increasing the number to 12 next year.

The Viacom-owned premium network spends $2 million on each originally-produced family film, said Frank Pintauro, senior VP, senior creative director, creative affairs for Showtime.

Two months ago, HBO said it would begin running original programming on its HBO Family channel, which launched December 1996.

Though Showtime’s increased commitment to family movies comes at about the same time as HBO’s expansion in the family area, Pintauro said that rival HBO’s activities have had no effect on Showtime’s plans.

“We have a great deal of respect for what HBO has done but we look at this as a 100-channel environment, and we’re one player and HBO is another player,” said Pintauro.

While 8-14 year-olds don’t pay the premium channel bills each month, Pintauro said it’s important to serve this niche as Showtime’s research indicates that the parents who do pay the bill desire original programming for their kids.

In addition, Pintauro said, the 8-14 age group is particularly underserved by other TV networks, which either target younger kids or older teens. Showtime hopes to hook these kids on the network so they’ll subscribe to Showtime when they become adults and begin paying their own cable bills.

“It’s the same strategy that Pepsi uses against Coke,” said Pintauro. “You target the younger audience in the hope that when they grow older they’ll stay with you.”

Showtime’s new family slate of original movies includes “Big and Hairy,” the story of a lonely boy who finds himself — and the meaning of friendship — with the help of basketball and a talented young Sasquatch. The film stars Richard Thomas and will premiere in November.

Another original movie, “In the Dog House,” scheduled to air in September, is a family adventure/comedy in which a family’s pet becomes the breadwinner after the head of the household is fired from his job. The film stars Matt Frewer (“Max Headroom”) and Rhea Perlman.

Showtime also has acquired “The Island on Bird Street,” a European co-production filmed in Wroclaw, Poland, and in Co-logne, Germany. The film tells the story of an 11-year-old Jewish boy living in a Polish ghetto during World War II. The co-production companies are April Prods., M&M Prods. and Connexion Film. Showtime will debut the film in September.

Continuing the original movie lineup, “Mr. Music,” which will air sometime in early 1999, stars Fleetwood Mac drummer Mick Fleetwood as a has-been record producer who hires a young teen for VP of talent as a publicity stunt and gets some surprising results.

“Stranger in Town” stars Harry Hamlin (“L.A. Law”) and Graham Greene (“Dances With Wolves”) in a suspense thriller about a 13-year-old boy whose single mother moves her family from the big city to a small town. They begin to suspect that a stranger who befriends their family is not who he initially appears to be. Showtime plans to premiere the film in October.

“Time at the Top,” scheduled to air in December, is about a 13-year-old girl who discovers a time machine that takes her back to 1881, where she is able to help another 13-year-old girl and her family.