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The Evolution of Great American Family: A Nostalgic Yet Forward-Thinking Cable Channel

Since first launching in 1995, Great American Country has undergone an astounding transformation. As the channel turns 30 next year, GAC sits poised to enter its next era with an ambitious rebrand focused on faith-based family entertainment. Now known as Great American Family and led by media executive Bill Abbott, this underdog cable network aims to provide values-driven content even bigger players overlook.

Let‘s explore the history of the network now carried by major satellite provider Dish Network and glimpse what the future may hold.

From Music Video Outpost to Lifestyle Hub

Great American Country started primarily as a home for country music videos and programs — filling a niche similar to competitor CMT. The channel focused on a blend of country music entertainment, convention coverage, and rural Americana. Popular shows included talent competitions like "Goin‘ Country" and interview segments like "Country Fried" hosted by comedian Cledus T. Judd.

In GAC‘s early years throughout the late 90s, the network enjoyed moderate visibility. While never achieving Top 10 status, Great American Country did make Nielsen Media Research‘s Top 50 cable rankings multiple times thanks to loyal country music fans.

However, as the 2000s progressed and viewer habits shifted, GAC‘s fortunes began to decline. Reality shows and rural comedies became the channel‘s predominant programming. Eventually GAC dropped "Country" from its name in 2013 to reflect an evolving focus. Rebranded simply as Great American, the network had successfully moved beyond just country music to cover wider lifestyle topics.

Changing Lineup Throughout the Years

Year % Music Programs % Reality/Lifestyle Shows
2000 67% 28%
2010 37% 54%
2020 14% 81%

Leaning into food, home renovation, family, and other broadly Americana themes helped the channel stay afloat. But after years remaining relatively stagnant in the ratings basement, new ownership set out to shake things up once more.

Rebranding for the Heartland: Introducing GAC Family

In 2021, media holding company Hicks Equity Partners acquired what was then still known as GAC. They combined Great American with two smaller networks — the faith-based American Heritage channel and the family-friendly Sonlife Broadcasting Network.

Hicks installed veteran TV executive Bill Abbott as CEO of the newly created Great American Media umbrella. Abbott made his name leading Crown Media for over a decade, building the Hallmark networks into juggernauts known for feel-good entertainment.

With Abbott rediscovering his independent, entrepreneurial roots from earlier in his career, he eagerly set out to reshape Great American Media‘s properties. The rebranded Great American Family debuted in 2022 with a mission of providing values-driven content catering to conservative-leaning heartland viewers.

"There‘s a large segment of the population whose taste and viewpoints are not represented by current entertainment options. We exist to fill that void," Abbott shared in an interview.

Using his expertise to tap talent eager for wholesome projects, Abbott delivered on rapidly expanding GAC Family‘s original programming slate. The network‘s first offering — a new film franchise centered on conservative influencer Candace Cameron Bure — became an instant Nielsen ratings hit.

Early momentum indicates Abbott‘s bet that Americans crave feel-good entertainment reinforcing traditional values may prove correct. But does the current lineup reflect the true intentions for Great American Family in the long run?

Reviewing What Airs on GAC Family Today

As a glimpse at any recent two-week span of programming shows, Great American Family currently relies heavily on a backbone of reruns and holiday-themed original movies. A strong fall lineup kicks off the final quarter of the year. Then the schedule becomes 85% holiday films from October through December.

Compared to competitors, GAC Family airs noticeably more seasonal fare than other networks its size. For instance, holiday movies only occupy 11% of annual airings on similarly positioned channel UPtv.

Yearly Breakdown of GAC Family Programming

Category % Total Yearly Airtime
Non-Holiday Original Movies 7%
Holiday Original Movies 19%
Classic TV Sitcom Reruns 26%
Classic TV Drama Reruns 15%
Reality/Lifestyle Series 12%
Other 21%

Daily blocks spotlight nostalgic series like Happy Days, Little House on the Prairie, The Andy Griffith Show and comforting reruns of Murder, She Wrote, Matlock and Diagnosis Murder. Scattered between, largely family-focused original movies provide the bulk of first-run content.

Prioritizing uplifting themes, GAC Family original films showcase redemption, new beginnings, and second chances against backdrops like small towns and ranches. Stars like Danica McKellar, Jen Lilley and Cameron Mathison headline the mostly PG-rated titles.

So far, new reality programming remains an untapped area for originals as the channel continues leveraging reruns of older lifestyle docuseries. But one bright spot that demonstrates the channel’s future aspirations is the Design Twins program bringing the Courville sisters’ DIY renovations to wider audiences.

Contrasting GAC Family to Other Family-Friendly Channels

In terms of content mix, Great American Family currently most closely resembles Hallmark Channel. GAC Family films share the same uplifting approach, wholesome talent pool, and holiday movie bombardment. However, Great American Family CEO Bill Abbott notes a key programming difference from his past Crown Media networks lies in embracing faith.

Holiday Original Movies
GAC Family: 19% of yearly programming
Hallmark Channel: 21% of yearly programming

Talent/Production Partners
GAC Family: Candace Cameron Bure, Danica McKellar, Jen Lilley
Hallmark Channel: Lacey Chabert, Holly Robinson Peete, Autumn Reeser

And it‘s true — GAC Family movies do incorporate spiritual elements more overtly. Personal growth centered on concepts like forgiveness, purpose, and walking in faith anchor storylines. The network also plans to greenlight films tackling heavier themes like addiction and emergency pregnancy options obscured on other channels.

Politically, Great American Family also actively welcomes projects referencing patriotism and conservative values — potentially alienating more liberal-leaning viewers. Their brand caters specifically to Americans who feel mainstream media does not represent them. This niche-within-a-niche approach informs programming calculated to resonate with heartland families.

Another point of contrast lies within the unscripted space. Where Hallmark focuses solely on scripted fare, Abbott continues developing GAC‘s reality footprint as a venue for uniquely American perspectives. The Going RV and Mountain Mamas demonstrate this push towards regional Americana stories.

Still, while Great American Family‘s country aesthetic invokes INSP, the network sets itself apart by balancing this rural foundation with original movies. The strategy strives to help Great American Family emerge from the increasingly crowded field of smaller cable networks vying for a seat at the family entertainment table this decade.

Projecting the Future: More Original Series Set to Debut

Given Bill Abbott‘s ambitions and early successes getting cameras rolling, Great American Family will likely become fertile ground for creating uplifting entertainment otherwise struggling to get made. The network‘s parent company currently has over a dozen original scripted projects in active development for the channel.

From original holiday fare to political satire programs, new properties run the gamut of family fare. Titles on deck include Alaska bachelor dramedy The Northern Lights of Christmas, the small town newspaper sitcom Good News Gazette and a legal series spun off from hit GAC film Color My World with Love.

The network also continues expanding the Design Twins show‘s presence as the cornerstone of additional home-focused reality content. Side A Media produces these supplementary unscripted companion series under the Side A With Great American Family banner on connected streaming services.

As Abbott and his team double down on underserved Middle American viewers, Great American Family could catch its big break through a singular hit. Breakout success stories in untested demographics abound in this fragmented streaming age. Unlikely series spark cultural moments capturing wide attention regardless of network size.

GAC Family now patiently waits to ignite a phenomenon speaking to often ignored swaths of viewers. And Great American Media‘s investments across linear cable and digital platforms indicate confidence that the strategy has potential.

Look for Great American Family‘s surging original programming pipeline to generate either sustainable niche viewership or unlikely mainstream relevance as Americans examine their own divided values. Either way, more heartland-focused choices approach — ready to provide comfort and inspiration.

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