A cable TV channel owned by The Walt Disney Company.
It started in 1977 as the CBN Satellite Network, then CBN Cable Network ("CBN" standing for "Christian Broadcasting Network"), owned by controversial right-wing evangelist Pat Robertson. When it started as CBN Satellite, it originally focused exclusively on religous programming, but when it was rebranded as CBN Cable, it began to be modeled after the over-the-air independent stations CBN also owned at the time; this resulted in a mix of religious shows and secular, family-friendly programming, including older reruns and some original shows.
In 1988, the channel was renamed as The CBN Family Channel; two years later it was spun off and the name was changed to The Family Channelnote , as the channel had begun to make too much money for non-profit CBN to keep it around. Through all the CBN/Family Channel years, though, outside of the hours devoted to The 700 Club and its surrounding programming it was probably known more for being the place your grandfather got his fix of Westerns with Gunsmoke, The Big Valley, and Bonanza, or where obscure Game Shows got rerun (and in turn, sometimes attracted a cult following). Outside of those shows, also in the mix were reruns of family-oriented sitcoms and drama, plus cartoons (notably dubbed anime such as Superbook, Flying House, the World Masterpiece Theater version of Swiss Family Robinson, Honey Honey, and oddly given the channel's ownership, the first U.S. broadcast of Mazinger Z prior to that show's syndicated release as Tranzor Z). In the early 1990s, the network started original programming such as Big Brother Jake (think Charles in Charge, minus the hijinks of teenage hormones), and the television version of Maniac Mansion, which owing to where it aired was severely Bowdlerised. Soon, though, most of the network's original efforts devolved to the usual low budget family game shows found on cable at that time, including the second iteration of Shop 'Til You Drop.
The Family Channel, which was by this point co-owned with the library of MTM Enterprises, was bought by Fox in 1997, and renamed as the Fox Family Channel (or often just Fox Family) the next year, and became primarily a hub for programming from Fox Kids and Saban Entertainment, and programming imported from or co-produced with Teletoon. The early look of the network, with the "twister" logo, was modelled after Canada's YTV, including an equivalent to YTV's The Zone, known as The Basement; other blocks included Captain Kangaroo's Treasure House (named after and featuring Saban's Captain Kangaroo revival). The channel, along with Fox Kids, was sold to Disney in 2001 because not only did Fox have no idea what to do with a network devoted to families but the network struggled in ratings- they needed to sell it to avoid further money drainage. This was thanks to infighting between Fox and Saban over who ran the network, mediocre reaction to their new programming (often seen as their attempt to be a cut-rate Nickelodeon), a mass exodus of older viewers who loved the Westerns and game shows they had before, and the restrictions of their contract for the purchase of the network. An attempt to create two spin-off channels with sex-segregated children's programming, the Boyz & Girlz Channels, also failed because of a lack of interest and viewers questioning excluding one gender from an entire channel (though it could be said that these days, the Disney Channel and Disney XD have the near-same concept). Even adding Major League Baseball coverage (shared with FX) that had previously aired on Fox SportsNet didn't help.
That same year, the channel's name became ABC Family, the Fox Kids block met its end the next year, and its programming moved to ABC Family (and Toon Disney) as "Jetix" (the name was introduced in 2004; previous to that the programming had aired on ABCF under the internal name of there "ABC Family Action Block"). The early ABC years were spent converting the network to a place to re-air ABC programs, which was botched by the network realizing that only programs from their internal studio could get a second ABC Family run, with other outside producers heavily objecting to the arrangement. By 2005, it had seemed to become a place for cheap reality programming and non-stop reruns of The Bachelor.
Disney planned to revamp the channel into a young-adult-aimed channel named "XYZ," but these plans were scrappednote . The network also has to give up a full day of programming in late January so Robertson can air his annual CBN Telethon, but these days the only thing that's lost is the usual Sunday movie marathon.
The channel eventually abused a loophole and changed their slogan to "A new kind of family". It was pretty much ABC Family's way of saying that they may have to keep "Family" in their name, but that won't stop them from becoming a not-so-family-friendly channel. From then on, the channel began airing programs with sexual content and other edgy material you wouldn't normally associate with a network with "Family" in the name. Eventually, ABC Family also got actual original programming too, mainly targeting young women. The end result is something akin to being the Adult Swim to Disney Channel... or the channel itself being "Teen Disney", the channel's answer to TeenNick (Minus the old Disney shows in it).
In March 2012, the network gained a Canadian counterpart in ABC Spark, which replaced Dusk (formally, a horror film network called Scream). ABC Spark is bound by none of Robertson's requirements, and outside of some programs already claimed by other channels (like Pretty Little Liars, which was one of MuchMusic's stalwart shows), carries most of ABC Family's original shows, and even rerun shows.
2015 is notable for bringing in a series of revolutionary events. Their original show The Fosters gained some extra buzz for boasting what has been said to be the youngest same sex kiss in television history. A few months later, it started airing its first Reality Show, Becoming Us, about a teen couple dealing with their transgender mothers.
Finally, on October 6th, ABC Family management confirmed that the network would be renamed once again, to Freeform. The new name is an attempt to re-position the channel towards millen—. er, "becomers", and rid itself of any lingering presumption of wholesomeness implied by the use of the word "Family"; a programming strategy that led to ABC Family being targeted regularly by moral guardians and viewers who felt there was severe brand dissonance. This move also debunked a prior rumor that a contractual obligation from network founder Pat Robertson was the reason the "Family" name was kept on the channel. (Sources, such as James B. Stewart's Disney War, merely said that the name "Family" was written into previous contracts with cable companies.) The new branding launched on January 12, 2016 to coincide with the premiere of Shadowhunters.
The channel is notable for two popular seasonal month-long blocks of programming, 25 Days of Christmas and 31 Days of Halloween. The station had holiday blocks prior to Disney but were routinely of the direct-to-home variety; once Disney and its expanded, popular library and rights took over, the channel began to air more mainstream, holiday-themed movies (such as Home Alone and The Santa Clause) from morning through primetime every day through the first 25 days of December, providing viewers with a Christmas staple at most hours of the day (whereas other competing channels usually just offer them in the prime time block). Freeform saw such a noticeable bump in ratings that Halloween followed suit, originally starting with 13 Days of Halloween and eventually expanding to 31 covering the entire month of October. Of note, this block was the genesis of Hocus Pocus's revitalization amongst younger generations after a middling theatrical release in 1993; its newfound popularity both garnered it a sequel and its own 24-hour marathon during 31 Days of Halloween.
Freeform is still contractually obligated to air The 700 Club. They do their damned best to make sure nobody watches it and to make everyone know they do not stand behind anything Pat Robertson has to say: they bury the show at 10AM, 11PM, and 3AMnote , airs commercials before it (after the closing credits of the previous show), shows a very snarky disclaimer which encourages viewers to watch Freeform programming on other legit sources while completely disavowing the views expressed by the program, and remove all Freeform branding from the screen during the show's airtime. Considering the very controversial views presented by Robertson's crew and 700's socially conservative demographic directly clashing with the socially progressive one Freeform aims for, the way the network screws it over is not that surprising. Despite the fact that 700 also airs on local stations and religious network TBN, CBN refuses to terminate Freeform's contract to air the show, much to the chagrin of Disney.
Disney acquired 21st Century Fox in 2019, which gave them ownership of FX Networks, and reunified Freeform with the former corporate sibling. Freeform has began sharing programming rights with FX; namely two adult animated comedies seen on their "other" former corporate sibling.
Original shows:Bold indicates ongoing or upcoming programs.
- 10 Things I Hate About You (2009-10)
- 2nd Honeymoon (1987-88; as CBN Cable Network)
- The 700 Club (1977-present)
- Alone Together (2018)
- Another Life (1981) (1981-84; as CBN Cable Network)note
- Baby Daddy (2012-17; as ABC Family)
- Baby Races (1993-94; as The Family Channel)
- Becoming Us (2015; as ABC Family)
- Beyond (2017-18)
- Big Brother Jake (1990-94; as The Family Channel)
- Boggle: The Interactive Game (1994; as The Family Channel) note
- The Bold Type (2017-21)
- Bunheads (2012-13; as ABC Family)
- Chasing Life (2014-15; as ABC Family)
- Cloak & Dagger (2018-19; part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe)
- Cruel Summer (2021-present)
- Dancing Fools (2013; as ABC Family)
- Dead of Summer (2016)
- Disney's Fairy Tale Weddings (2017-18) note
- Edgemont (2000-04; as ABC Family, originally broadcast by CBC)
- Everything's Gonna Be Okay (2020-21)
- Falcon Beach (2006-07; as ABC Family)
- Family Challenge (1995-97; as The Family Channel) note
- Famous In Love (2017-18)
- The Fosters (2013-18; as ABC Family)
- Good Trouble (2019-present)
- Freak Out (2014-15; as ABC Family)
- Ghost Stories (1997-98; as The Family Channel)
- Great Pretenders (1999-2002; as Fox Family) note
- Greek (2007-11; as ABC Family)
- grownish (2018-present)
- Guilt (2016)
- Higher Ground (2000; as Fox Family)
- The Home And Family Show (1996-98; as The Family Channel)note
- Huge (2010; as ABC Family)
- It Takes Two (1997; as The Family Channel) note
- Jane by Design (2012; as ABC Family)
- Job Or No Job (2015; as ABC Family)
- Jumble: The Interactive Game (1994; as The Family Channel) note
- Kal Penn Approves This Message (2020)note
- Kevin From Work (2015; as ABC Family)
- Kyle XY (2006-09; as ABC Family)
- The Legend of Prince Valiant (1991-93; as The Family Channel)
- Lincoln Heights (2007-09; as ABC Family)
- Love in the Time of Corona (2020)note
- The Lying Game (2011-13; as ABC Family)
- Madeline (1990-91; as The Family Channel)
- Make It or Break It (2009-12; as ABC Family)
- Maniac Mansion (1990-93; as The Family Channel)
- Masters of the Maze (1994-95; as The Family Channel)
- Maximum Drive (1994; as The Family Channel)
- Melissa & Joey (2010-15; as ABC Family)
- The Middleman (2008; as ABC Family)
- Monica the Medium (2015-16; as ABC Family)
- Motherland: Fort Salem (2020-present)
- The New Addams Family (1998-99; as Fox Family)
- The New Original Amateur Hour (1992; as The Family Channel)note
- Next Step Reality: NYC (2015; as ABC Family)
- The Nine Lives of Chloe King (2011; as ABC Family)
- Ohh Nooo! Mr. Bill Presents (1998-99; as Fox Family)note
- Paranoia (2000; as Fox Family)note
- Party of Five (2020)
- Power Rangers
- Pretty Little Liars (2010-17; as ABC Family)
- Ravenswood (2013-14; as ABC Family)
- The Perfectionists (2019)
- Recovery Road (2015-16)
- Ruby And The Rockits (2009; as ABC Family)
- The Secret Life of the American Teenager (2008-13)
- Shadowhunters (2016-19)
- The New Shop 'Til You Drop (1996-98; as The Family Channel)note
- Shopping Spree (1996-97; as The Family Channel) note
- Shuffle: The Interactive Game (1994; as The Family Channel) note
- Single Drunk Female (2022-present)
- Siren (2018-20)
- Small Talk (1996-97; as The Family Channel) note
- So Little Time (2001-02; as Fox Family)
- Startup U (2015; as ABC Family)
- State of Grace (2001-02; as Fox Family)
- Stitchers (2015-17; as ABC Family)
- Storytime with Thomas (1999-2000; as Fox Family) note
- Switched at Birth (2011-15, 2017; as ABC Family)
- Thursday Night Baseball (2000-02; as Fox Family) note
- That's My Dog! (1991-95; as The Family Channel)
- Trivial Pursuit (1993-94; as The Family Channel) note
- Twisted (2013-14; as ABC Family)
- Unrelated (TBA)
- Wait 'til You Have Kids!! (1996-97; as The Family Channel)
- Wild Animal Games (1995-96; as The Family Channel)
- Wildfire (2005-08; as ABC Family)
- Young & Hungry (2014-18; as ABC Family)
- Zorro (1990-93; as The Family Channel)