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Walmart’s and Procter & Gamble’s family-friendly primetime gamble

The folks at CNBC were flummoxed by the idea that Walmart and Procter & Gamble were teaming up to buy time on NBC to air the family-friendly TV movie “Secrets of the Mountain” — so much so that they even had me on “Power Lunch” last week (above) to explain it. (By the way, they didn’t feed me lunch. Hey, if I’m going on ‘Power Lunch,’ I want lunch. And a powerful one at that. But I digress.)

They’ll probably be equally puzzled to learn that NBC has now agreed to sell time to Walmart and P&G to air a second TV movie/backdoor pilot as well. Go here to read about “The Jensen Project,” starring Kellie Martin, Brady Smith, Patricia Richardson and LeVar Burton.

Like “Secrets of the Mountain,” the new movie is produced by Canada’s Muse Entertainment.

Of course, it’s not exactly new news that an advertiser would take programming into their own hands. P&G, after all, has produced soap operas for years, and also isn’t a stranger to producing primetime fare. In the 1990s, under its deals with Paramount and Sony, P&G was even a partner on series such as “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” and “The King of Queens.”

For NBC, it’s a low-risk gambit. “Secrets of the Mountain” will air on Friday, April 16 — and Fridays are already a low-rated night for the nets anyway. (“Jensen” will likely air on a Friday as well.)

If “Secrets of the Mountain” or “Jensen” are surprise successes, then the Peacock can be more actively involved in turning the movies into series. If they bomb, then there’s still little downside for the Peacock, other then yet another low-rated Friday.

The movies are low-cost enough that Procter & Gamble and Walmart also won’t likely feel much of a sting if they don’t work — and let’s face it, they probably won’t work. It does seem like a slight waste of time and money, but both companies are co-chairs for the Assn. of National Advertisers’ Alliance for Family Entertainment, and have been aggressively looking for ways to push family-friendly fare into primetime.

(As I mention above, however, it’s not like family-friendly fare has disappeared from primetime — it has just evolved. The era of “The Waltons” is long gone, but series like “Modern Family” and “Life Unexpected” — not to mention reality shows like “American Idol” and “The Amazing Race” — rep a modern family sensibility.)

The Alliance for Family Entertainment recently replaced the Family Friendly Programming Forum, which was launched in 1998 to fund family-friendly scripts — including “Friday Night Lights,” “Gilmore Girls” and “Everybody Hates Chris.”

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