When ABC Family transformed itself into Freeform in a total rebranding of the network during the winter of 2015, the newly minted title aimed to draw what the company called the “Becomers” — the generation who grew up with ABC Family or, more specifically, the millennial generation. In a way, breaking with ABC Family was an ingenious idea that could allow Freeform the freedom to add series and movies which may not have aligned with their previous branding, which was aimed primarily at younger viewers and families. People enjoy continuity in their lives and to have an entire network follow you as you navigate life is pretty damn cool. Too bad Freeform isn’t taking advantage of this.
For those of us who didn’t grow up watching the network, ABC Family was well-known for its marathon specials, specifically around Halloween and Christmas, aptly titled the “13 Nights of Halloween” and the “25 Days of Christmas.” During those 13 nights, there was never a shortage of spooky airings that walked the line between terrifying and family-friendly; the perfect addition to a brisk October evening. Airings of staples such as “Hocus Pocus” and the Tim Burton films have never failed to draw in a large viewer base, adult and child alike, and the continuous showing of these films provide a nice reminiscence for those of us who grew up on the franchises. In many ways, Freeform has succeeded in keeping with the early 2000s programming, accomplishing its mission of keeping the classics in the lineup. However, it fails in truly incorporating movies which would appeal to this same generation.
Maybe things were scarier when I was 11, but ever since the switch to Freeform, the channel that’s running is not at all reminiscent of the original “13 Nights.” I guess one could argue that “Monster’s University” is scary for some — monsters for the kids, crippling college debt for the adults — but then again, it’s a little far-fetched to replace Burton classics such as “The Corpse Bride” with an airing of the “Twilight” saga. While it’s easy to understand the reasoning there (vampires = Halloween), it’s hardly a replacement for classic thrillers.
Again, we could argue that some of the Halloween movies Freeform has been running might have been considered frightening to our younger selves, but in looking at the lineup, it’s clearly not the case here, as “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” has been added to this year’s “13 Nights,” and the only thing remotely scary about that movie is Johnny Depp. The lack of scare is odd, since the conception of the network was built around the idea of appealing to an older audience. Given this premise, it would only make sense to air movies which were special to our generation at different times in our lives. Flicks such as “Halloweentown” and “Hocus Pocus” would give us that old sense of nostalgia while newer horror flicks such as “Paranormal Activity” or “The Conjuring” would appeal to the older audience Freeform is attempting to target.
In the early 2000s, we were graced with the peak years of the “13 Nights” promotion. Not only were the “Halloweentown” movies running constantly, but so were scarier films, such as “Poltergeist” and “Stephen King’s ‘It’.” Given the network’s recent additions to “13 Nights,” it’s almost shocking to see Freeform moving in reverse and giving rise to more family-friendly films that barely pass as Halloween movies. With the recent passing of Debbie Reynolds, now feels like the opportune time to have run the “Halloweentown” movies, especially because the cast recently reunited to honor the late-great Reynolds. This isn’t an isolated event, though, as recent remakes of Halloween originals (see: “It” (2017)) also feel like missed opportunities.
When “Hocus Pocus” aired sporadically last year, much to the disappointment of viewers, Freeform rethought their strategy. This Halloween, the ’90s comedy masterpiece will run for 24 hours straight, marathon style and not unlike TBS’s 24 hour airing of “A Christmas Story” on Christmas Eve. In keeping with the Freeform tendencies to air theme-specific weekend marathons, a Tim Burton marathon will also run this year — sans “Corpse Bride,” unfortunately. Still, these marathons act neither as a replacement nor an exception for Freeform’s shortcomings in providing a lineup which is true to its network mission.
Even though some of the original “13 Nights” films have admittedly fallen away into the ABC Family graveyard, what is ultimately lost is the purpose of switching over to Freeform in the first place. That, and we can’t help but miss “Halloweentown” and Disney’s “Under Wraps.” Because who wouldn’t love a mummy (Bill Fagerbakke, “Blackish”) dancing alone to “All by Myself”? Same, mummy. Same.