If you’ve never watched the cable TV channel “Freeform,” you can be excused — it’s only been around for a day or so. A few weeks back, it was ABC Family, a channel which catered to teenage girls and young women. It’s still the same channel but with a new name, one which is designed to forsake the affiliation with ABC — a network for the parents of Freeform’s audience — and embrace their core audience to the exclusion of others. To get an idea of what that means, one need not look further than Freeform’s original programming. It features shows like “Pretty Little Liars,” a high school drama which was originally designed to be “Desperate Housewives” for the teenage set and “Switched at Birth,” which features two young women (who were, as the title suggested, switched at birth) as they come of age in modern America. Throughout the day, a young woman can find some made-for-her programming which a previous generation may have considered avant garde.
With one exception. A few times each day — typically mornings, with some additional hours on Sundays — viewers of Freeform will find something very different than the shows described above. During those hours, Freeform airs a show called the 700 Club.
For those who are unfamiliar with the 700 Club, it’s is a religious news/talk show. Wikipedia describes its content as a mix of “live guests, daily news, contemporary music, testimonies, and Christian ministry” throughout which “Christian lifestyle issues are presented.” The show was created by a controversial (more here) evangelist named Pat Robertson, who used it (and still uses it) as a talk show about, well, whatever he wanted, because he owned the channel it debuted on.
Robertson would later buy other stations and create the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), and in 1977, expanded the CBN to cable TV, launching the CBN Cable Network. In 1988, CBN Cable became the Family Channel, adding programming to match the name. Over time, the Family Channel’s programming became less and less religion-focused and more geared toward the secular; the New Republic called it “a weird mash-up of competitors Nick at Nite and the Game Show Network.” Nevertheless, it seemed to kind of work. In 1988, Fox bought the channel and renamed it Fox Family, and in 2001, Fox flipped the station to ABC/Disney, which renamed it ABC Family.
But the original sale to Fox came with a condition. As NPR explains, the agreement required Fox, and now ABC, to keep the 700 Club on the air. There’s some ambiguity, publicly, as to the details of the requirement — some sources say that the show is guaranteed two airplays each day, others say three — but there’s no doubt that Freeform has to continue broadcasting the show. (They do, however, do so with a notable disclaimer.) It does not get as good ratings as Switched at Birth or Pretty Little Liars, though.
From the Archives: Family Food: An apparently controversial episode of Family Feud.
Take the Quiz: The term “700 Club,” in Pat Robinson’s parlance, was a fundraising call-to-action from when he first launched his show — he wanted 700 people to donate $10 each to his cause. But there’s another 700 Club — the Major League Baseball players who have hit 700 or more home runs. Name them.
Related: The 700 club bobblehead dolls: Player 1, Player 2, and Player 3. (If you click those links, it’ll ruin the quiz, so do the quiz first.) And if you want to get ahead of things, here’s one for the next likely member of the club.