Corporate and media executives join to launch TV family film night

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LOS ANGELES — Seeking to fill what supporters are calling an "unmet need" for clean family entertainment, two media companies have joined with two corporate giants to launch "Walden Family Theater" with plans for about 30 films this year.

The initiative is the result of a partnership between Walmart, Procter & Gamble, Walden Media and the Hallmark Channel, where the family friendly films will be shown, all on Friday nights.

The series began with "Return to Nim's Island" on March 15. The lineup will continue with "Hachi: A Dog's Tale" on April 12 and in May the premiere of "Space Warriors," starring Dermot Mulroney, Danny Glover, Josh Lucas, Mira Sorvino and Thomas Horn.

If the family movie night initiative sounds familiar, it is. Walmart and P&G sponsored a family movie night on various broadcast channels in 2010-11 with limited success, before halting the initiative.

The new venture, though, could have more potential for success. For starters, the movies will be on TV far more regularly — essentially, most Friday nights, allowing families to form a habit of coming back each week. That is in contrast to the old initiative, which was criticized for being too sporadic with too few movies. Additionally, the host channel Hallmark has a history of showing family-friendly material, in contrast to the broadcast networks.

"When you talk about bringing the dream team together of people who care about moms and care about families, with storytellers who have a proven track record of connecting with families, this is the dream team," Brian Wells, producer of Walden Family Theater, said of the partnership between the four companies. "... We're thrilled with this."

Of the 30 movies this year, six will be premiers. The four companies, Wells said, all are "involved in selecting which titles are going to be part of this."

"They're all involved in overseeing the development of the scripts and the casting — everything along the way," he said. "I think that's what sets it apart."

Walden has a history of releasing family-focused movies. Among its titles are the "Chronicles of Narnia" series, "Nim's Island," "Amazing Grace" and "Charlotte's Web."

Francis X. ("Chip") Flaherty, Jr., executive vice-president of Walden Media, said the company receives positive feedback about its movies from parents when it conducts surveys.

"They said they could go to the movies with their entire families," Flaherty said. "They went with their kids. They went with grandparents."

Parents, he said, reported they had no "winced" moments where they had to deal with a subject they'd rather avoid. Plus, he said, parents told Walden the characters in the films were positive role models.

Annie Howell, executive vice president for corporate communications and media relations at Crown Media Family Networks, which owns Hallmark, said Hallmark intentionally keeps its movies void of nudity, language and violence.

"We're proud of that," Howell said.

Hallmark, she said, always has an uptick in its ratings toward the end-of-year holiday season.

"The viewer knows what to expect and we deliver on that," she said of the holiday season. "It's not just women who love Hallmark movies. Men love them and kids love them, and teenagers and young 20s. That's why we believe there is a place for this type of entertainment throughout the entire year."

There is a market for family friendly films, Wells said.

"We think there is this unmet need out there, that there needs to be more options on there, that television can come back to having this kind of unifying impact on a family," he said. "Everybody can sit down, and not only will mom and dad love the movie, but also kids of all ages will be engaged with it, as well."