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TV Family Movie Night: a ‘giant experiment’

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Parents who long for wholesome television they can watch with their children have a chance to grab broadcasters’ attention with the next installment of Family Movie Night August 6, and the only tool they need is their remote.

That night, “Who is Simon Miller?” — the seventh installment of Family Movie Night — will air on NBC at 8 Eastern. It’s a spy drama that shows how a family pulls together to find their missing father.

The movies are sponsored by two of America’s largest corporations, Walmart and Proctor & Gamble, and can only continue if families plop down on the couch and “vote with their remote,” said Brian Wells, the executive producer of all the family night films. The next two Family Movie Nights are scheduled for Sept. 3 and an undetermined date in December.

“There is this big, fat, giant experiment going on right now through Family Movie Night with the networks and even the networks that aren’t involved that are all watching this to say ‘Boy, do families really show up for this kind of content or not?'” said Wells, who is the chief creative officer for Fly Over Studios.

Parents often find that daytime programming offers shows for children but that the evening lacks shows or movies that are both appropriate for them and engaging for adults, said Susan Fisher, co-founder of Moms for Family TV.

“There’s great stuff out there for kids, but there’s not that much in the middle that you could watch at 8 o’clock,” Fisher said.

Past family night movies have had moderate success, with audiences ranging from 2 million to 7.5 million viewers. However, to catch Hollywood’s attention the movies needs to bring in an audience between 10 and 20 million people.

Although audiences have not been huge for the films, advocates for family entertainment praise the effort.

“If I were to compile a Top 10 list of the most positive developments within the world of entertainment, somewhere on it would be an entry that reads: The Walmart/Procter & Gamble Family Movie Night films,” Bob Waliszewski, director of Focus on the Family’s Plugged In Online, wrote in a blog.

Waliszewski added that movies were not the two corporations’ “sweet spot” and that they will have to defend money spent for family-friendly television to their stockholders if the films do not have greater success.

For now, the movies appear sporadically on different networks, which could explain why why they have not drawn large audiences. Ben Simon, Walmart’s director of brand marketing, said the intent of Family Movie Night is to eventually have the movies air on the same network and night so families could schedule weekly television time together.

Simon also said Family Movie Night’s intent is to redefine family-friendly programming so people in entertainment will understand that it can be authentic and deal with real issues.

“The more we can show the broad-based industry that there are a lot of adults, families, parents and kids out there who want to watch this type of programming, we think will start to have kind of an impact on some of the current frameworks that are existing in the media and entertainment space,” Simon said.

Wells said the national ads that air during the family movies have all been screened so parents don’t have to “dive for the remote.” Parents can also expect commercial breaks to engage their children with trivia and other playful elements, Simon said.

“What we’ve tried to do is create kind of an oasis for the whole family where the whole end-to-end experience of the programming and the advertising, the commercialization of the time within the movie, is actually tuned to be appropriate for the whole family,” Simon said.
Whitney Jones is a student at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and an intern with Baptist Press. For information on Family Movie Night, visit familymovienight.com, Facebook.com/familymovienight, or Twitter.com/FMNIB

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  • Whitney Jones