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Freeform is an American basic cable channel owned by Walt Disney Television, a unit of Disney Media Networks, a segment of The Walt Disney Company. Freeform primarily broadcasts programming geared toward teenagers and young adults – with some programming skewing toward young women – in the 14–34 age range, a target demographic designated by the channel as “becomers”. Its programming includes contemporary off-network syndicated reruns and original series, feature films, and made-for-TV original movies.
Since the network was launched on April 29, 1977, it has undergone various changes to its programming format and naming under its four different owners. The network was founded as a religious channel, the CBN Satellite Service—an extension of televangelist Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network. It evolved into a family-focused entertainment network in 1981, and was spun off into a for-profit company known as International Family Entertainment (IFE) in 1990, eventually becoming known as The Family Channel. As a condition of the spin-off, the channel was contractually required to maintain airings of The 700 Club and an annual telethon on the last Sunday in January; these conditions have applied to all future owners of the channel.
In 1997, IFE and The Family Channel were acquired by a joint venture between News Corporation and Saban Entertainment, resulting in its re-branding as the Fox Family Channel a year later. The new owners wanted to re-position the network towards younger viewers as a companion for their popular Fox Kids programming block. After the network began to struggle as a result of their changes, the venture was sold to Disney in October 2001, in a sale that also included Saban; the channel altered its name to ABC Family one month later on November 10, 2001. On October 6, 2015, Disney–ABC Television Group announced that the network would rebrand as Freeform, officially adopting that name on January 12, 2016.
As of January 2016, Freeform is available to 92 million households in the United States. Freeform’s president reports to the chairman of ABC Television Studios and ABC Entertainment.
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Outside of prime time, Freeform (as of October 2019) offers a slate of mostly reruns of contemporary comedy series and animated sitcom series, such as The Middle, Family Guy and The Simpsons. The channel previously aired America’s Funniest Home Videos 1994–97 Saget episodes in 2006–10 and Tom Bergeron episodes in 2010–14, and Whose Line Is It Anyway? in 2002–10.
The channel also produces some original programming, which (as of October 2019) includes shows such as The Bold Type, Grown-ish, Good Trouble and Siren. Until the debuts of Melissa & Joey (which ran from 2010 to 2015), and Baby Daddy (which ran from 2012 to 2017), Freeform (as ABC Family) had long faced minimal success with its original sitcoms, with its drama series often outlasting its comedies.
Freeform airs its original drama series on Monday and/or Tuesday nights, and since 2011 (beginning under the former ABC Family brand), has aired its comedy series on Wednesdays. The channel airs first-run episodes of its original series mainly between January and August, with films generally airing in their place during prime time on the aforementioned nights from September to December (the only exception since 2010, have been annual Halloween episodes of Pretty Little Liars that air as part of the 13 Nights of Halloween in October as well as the debut of the first third of season one of Ravenswood in October 2013); the first ten episodes (or as few as eight for new series) of each season of its original programs air consecutively, the season’s remaining episodes are broadcast following a hiatus of four to six months. Dating back to its existence as ABC Family, Freeform typically only reruns episodes of its original series in a marathon that airs prior to a season premiere, mid-season or season finale, or other special occasion, though the channel does air encore presentations of its shows that typically preempt programs that normally air at 7:00 and 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time during the rest of the week on these nights (with the previous week’s episode airing in the former time slot prior to the newest episode and a same-night encore of the newest episode on the evening of an episode premiere in the latter time slot).