If you weren’t aware, ABC Family is about to go through a transformation. Beginning next week, the network will no longer carry the ABC or Family in its title. Instead, we will now be treated to the edgy, youthful aura of Freeform:
ABC Family changes its name to Freeform in January 2016! The network’s new name reflects our ongoing priority to super-serve Becomers, fans on that epic adventure of becoming an adult—from first kiss to first kid! ABC Family President Tom Ascheim says, “Freeform evokes the spirit and adventure of our audience” and that “Freeform will deliver new, exciting original content as well as all the favorite shows our viewers already love on ABC Family.”
Now, with this new name comes a new look and a focus on putting their newer programming at the forefront, like Pretty Little Liars and Shadowhunters. But there will be one show that’s sticking around from the olden days of ABC Family, before Disney was even the owner. Tune in at 10 a.m. any morning or 11 p.m. any night and you’re bound to see Pat Robertson on The 700 Club, informing housewives why their used clothes may be haunted and why husbands should take their wives to Saudi Arabia for a good old fashioned beating.
There’s a good reason for this. Robertson and The 700 Club gave the Family Channel its start. And once it went up for sale in the late ’90s, the televangelist and former presidential candidate made sure his show always had its spot, according to TV Insider:
ABC Family/Freeform began in 1977 as CBN, part of Robertson’s religious mission. By the late 1980s, the channel had gone mainstream and adopted the name The Family Channel. The network became too profitable to remain a part of Robertson’s nonprofit CBN, and was spun off in 1990 as International Family Entertainment.
At the same time, CBN and IFE struck a deal to keep The 700 Club on the network in desirable time slots. Robertson sold the Family Channel to Fox Kids in 1997, keeping the stipulation that CBN can program The 700 Club on the channel, no matter its name, in perpetuity.
When Disney/ABC bought Fox Family Channel for $5.3 billion in 2001, it too was saddled with that agreement. The deal says The 700 Club can’t be buried in the middle of the night, but must air during certain dayparts.
Can you imagine the depression involved with getting your hands on a fresh TV network and then realizing there’s a big black hole run by Pat Robertson in the middle of your programming block? Not only that, but TV Insider points out that there is no incentive for Robertson or his family to opt out of the deal:
According to insiders, Disney has approached Robertson in the past about buying him out and removing 700 Club from ABC Family. But the price he’s requesting is astronomical. CBN’s most recent tax audit claims that its airtime on ABC Family/Freeform is worth $42.4 million annually. CBN pays Disney/ABC around $1.2 million a year to cover the direct costs incurred by ABC Family for giving up the program time.
A nonprofit religious organization, CBN’s total assets are worth more than $320 million. “It’s shocking how much money they make off that show,” says one insider. “They are tough, shrewd businessmen.”
As we saw most recently in John Oliver’s televangelist segment, and with several years of monitoring by groups like the Trinity Foundation, this kind of money shouldn’t be much of a surprise. None of this should be a surprise. Someone like Pat Robertson doesn’t stick around for decades without knowing his business, even if it sometimes results in failed political campaigns or predictions for the end of days.