Could a family-friendly show rise to the cultural popularity of "Breaking Bad" while staying true to its values? Yes, says Dale Ardizzone, chief operating officer of cable network INSP.
The network — known mostly for re-airing older, more values-based TV shows like "The Waltons" and "Little House on the Prairie" — has enjoyed a big ratings growth spurt this year and is available on more than 2,800 cable systems nationwide, including DISH and Comcast.
INSP announced at the Family and Faith-Based Entertainment Summit in Los Angeles recently that it plans to produce its own original programming in the near future.
Ardizzone told the Deseret News National Edition that the programming will be every bit as compelling as other popular original content while staying true to INSP's core values of family and morality.
Define INSP’s programming and what it accomplishes.
Dale Ardizzone: We view ourselves as family entertainment. We’re careful about what we put on, not just in terms of our content, but in terms of our commercials.
We’re very much lunge-free: You never have to lunge for the remote to change us because content is offensive, and that includes commercials. It’s made for some interesting discussion between our sales team and our programming team, but we’re very committed to that.
I think it’s about programs that celebrate family, celebrate values, celebrate morals and celebrate the American spirit.
What need does INSP feel it addresses?
DA: I feel there is a need for wholesome content. If you look at what’s successful right now, the way the ratings are going, there’s a real demand for content that embodies family values.
A number of people have grown disillusioned with some of the offensive things that are on television. Candidly, there are some good networks out there who air great content and then they’ll put up a commercial that will really make you uncomfortable in front of a kid or a parent.
Part of what we want to do is make sure the stories, the dramas, the comedies are compelling, have that good vs. evil, things that we can all identify with, things that we all know from our past and comfort level for where we are with our own families. And that echoes throughout the day.
Why aren’t more networks doing what INSP is doing?
DA: We’ve tried to carve our own niche, and by having a lung-free theme, we’ve been able to set ourselves apart. But I think there’s been a perception that you had to have conflict to some extent, even unresolved conflict in every show. You had to have some violence, it had to be edgy.
But when you look at what succeeded at the box office and has succeeded on television, the reality is there’s a real market for content that doesn’t have to cross the line. It can be real and challenging and can invoke thoughts and feelings. I think there’s a large segment of people who have grown tired of things being offensive.
You’re seeing it more and more, and frankly, it’s not a political thing, it’s not a religious thing, it’s just an overall sense of what am I comfortable with? What kinds of values and traditions and thoughts do I want my family to have? Regardless of who and where you are, those are universal themes.
What advice would you give to families that struggle with what to watch together?
DA: You have to look at your family and you’ve got to decide what values and morals do you want them to be influenced by? Television is a major influence. We can’t avoid that.
We know that when parents are working or juggling a lot of responsibilities at home now, it’s not uncommon to have the television on and put kids in front of the television from an early age. We emulate what we see, what we hear, what we think is acceptable.
I think one of the challenges with the violence on television today is that we begin to become desensitized to it and that translates into real life. Now, do we think that if one show airs that’s a little violent all the sudden the world’s going to hell in a hand basket? Of course not. But the more you watch violence and inappropriate things, the more you become desensitized to it.
Any of the shows we air — from “The Waltons” to “Little House on the Prairie” to “Jag” — I mean, these are not mistake-free people. It’s taking responsibility and owning up to mistakes. Who here wouldn’t look at “The Waltons” and say, "I don’t want my family to be that way”?
Yet, we’re not trying to force it down people’s throats. I think we’re saying these are the options available. With the "Moments" [PSA] series that we’ve created, we’ve found a way to condense that down to two minutes. The clip that we showed today talked about honoring the homeless, treating them with dignity and taking social responsibility for what you’re supposed to do.
A father showing his son that there is a way to live your life and that means, at times, helping those in need. We condensed it to a minute and a half and everyone walked away knowing what we were talking about. Those are the things that families are looking for and that I think will impact them.
Do you feel like the onus is on the viewer to find family-friendly content, or is it on the entertainment industry to provide that kind of content?
DA: I think it’s a shared responsibility. Obviously, each of us is responsible for the content we put on in our house and what our children watch. But most definitely, the industry and the individual networks have a responsibility for promoting who they are, what they are and reinforcing those themes.
We’ve tried to come up with some whimsical ways to promote [who we are] in ways that make you chuckle, resonates with you, but in the end, drives home the importance of family.
Is there a disconnect between mainstream entertainment and people who are looking for a certain type of content that speaks to the entire family?
DA: I think that mainstream media has, in many ways, looked at it with more tunnel vision than they need to. Everything is based on ratings and results. I wouldn’t say they’ve missed the mark, I’d say they’re looking at a boat in the harbor and the reality is, there’s an entire sea of ships.
There is a market for family-friendly content, and I think they’re starting to come around to it. Certainly producers like Mark Burnett who have done both mainstream and things on the more faith-based are bringing that to light.
There’s been a lot of both family and faith-friendly content that has really seized people, but I think there’s a little bit of a misconception that there may not be a real demand for it.
What lies ahead for INSP and its venture into original content?
DA: We’ve laid out a map in terms of the themes we want to capture, so our plan is to move forward with original content that is consistent with our theme and that could be with movies or series.
We’re well on our way with the "Moments" pieces, and we intend to continue to develop those and market those not just on our network. For us, it’s all about taking what we have discovered as a real demand and finding new content to put out there in different ways.