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Disney Tunes Into the Family : New Owner of Channel 9 Slates Sitcoms, Kids' Shows

July 28, 1988|DIANE HAITHMAN | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles viewers can expect the Walt Disney Company's first television station, low-rated KHJ Channel 9, to stick to the tradition associated with the studio's name.

"You can probably expect us to be a family-oriented station," said Rich Frank, president of Walt Disney Studios.

While Frank said that specific plans for the station have not been worked out yet, Disney has been busily stockpiling programming during the past year in anticipation of the $324-million deal that was approved last week by the Federal Communications Commission.

It has paid top dollar for off-network situation comedies including "Alf," "Perfect Strangers" and "Valerie's Family," and laid out a reported record-setting $300,000 per episode for "Who's the Boss?"

In addition, Frank said in an interview this week, Disney plans to use the company's own syndicated children's series "Duck Tales" and "Chip 'n' Dale's Rescue Rangers" for broadcast on its new station as part of its plan to capture the family audience.

Disney won't actually begin programming the station until December, Frank said, pending completion of the purchase from RKO General. Disney's acquisition follows a messy 22-year dispute over RKO's fitness to own a broadcast license.

He said the station will use its off-network sitcoms to counter-program the other independents in the important

6-8 p.m. time period, and that Disney is looking into what sort of original programming it might develop, "which is indigenous to the L.A. area, that Disney can put a special topspin on."

For example, the station might consider a show that originates from Disneyland, comparable to its "Videopolis" series on the company's pay-TV Disney Channel, he said.

Frank, who used to run KCOP Channel 13 in Los Angeles--which is now managed by his brother, Bill--was enthusiastic about the opportunities afforded by Disney's acquisition of KHJ-TV.

"We are a company that's based here in Los Angeles, and with Disneyland being here also this is a very important market for us," he said. "We wanted to invest in broadcast properties, and then to be able to invest in a broadcast property in our own back yard is just terrific."

Frank sees no danger of KHJ competing with the Disney Channel, the syndicated "Wonderful World of Disney" series on KTTV Channel 11 or the new "Magical World of Disney" hour slated for Sundays on NBC.

"I think one of the things you have to do when you get to be a company the size of Disney and you want to be in various media outlets is, you have to differentiate yourself in each of the different distribution modes," he said.

"We're not going to compete with the Disney Channel. It is national in scope and has lots more money to do programming on a national basis."

Frank said that, although Disney has recently expressed interest in buying TV stations in other cities, the purchase of KHJ does not signal that the studio is hungry to acquire a large group of stations across the country.

"I don't think you'll see us just out there trying to buy stations," he said. "We are interested in the broadcast business, we think it's a very good business to be in, and if we can make station purchases at the right price, it's an especially sound investment for the company."

Disney was not intimidated, Frank said, by the fact that KHJ is the weakest independent station in Los Angeles, often trailing in the ratings behind competing stations KTLA Channel 5, KCOP Channel 13 and Fox-owned KTTV Channel 11.

"It's very rare that the best station in a market becomes available," he said. "From my personal viewpoint, I'd rather have it this way. I don't think it's impossible to move up in a market, and our being Channel 9, a low-numbered channel, gives us an excellent chance to move up."

Frank would not comment on whether the studio plans to replace any of the station's current staff.

"It would be really unfair to the people who are there, whom we have not had a chance to work with at all yet, to start speculating," he said.

"If we speculate, the people who are there will be working with a cloud over their heads. Any changes we make in the station, the management that's already there may be perfectly qualified to carry out."

Charles Velona, general manager of KHJ, would not comment on the Disney takeover, referring all questions on the matter to RKO General.

One person who wasn't reluctant to talk about the change was Frank's brother, Bill Frank, president and general manager of KCOP. He predicts that Disney "will be a good competitor" but does not pose a major immediate threat to the other Los Angeles independents.

"I don't think that they realistically will climb out of last place for a couple of years at least," he said.

"Everybody's expecting them to come in and spend an absolute fortune (on programming) to drive up their market share, and that's not necessarily what I expect them to do," he continued. "I think they're good showmen, judging from their movies and the way they run their theme parks; if anything, they are fairly frugal businessmen and I expect the same will be true of them in television."

For his part, Rich Frank does not mind competing with his brother.

"I sort of think it's actually fun--we've competed our whole lives," he said. "He (Bill) is a great general manager; I'd say that if he were not my brother. KCOP came up from last place. He's going to be a tough competitor.

"But it will make winning a little sweeter."

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