Pickups extend philosophy of character-based unscripted skeins

HGTV is revving up its push toward more character-driven content by moving three unscripted series into production, while eyeing many more.

Available in 99 million homes and averaging 5.8 million viewers nightly in primetime, HGTV has more than 30 projects in development for 2012. According to Nielsen, it is cable’s No. 1 network among women 25-54 with a household income of at least $125,000 annually — “something we are very pleased about and will work very hard to keep,” HGTV senior veep and g.m. Kathleen Finch told Variety.

“Characters are what really build a brand like ours,” Finch said. “We have a face to put on the ‘Today’ show; we have a face to put on the cover of a magazine.” In fact, HGTV Magazine is about to launch, with the first issue hitting newsstands in October.

First of the new crop of series to hit the air will be “Junk Gypsies,” featuring sisters Amie Sikes and Jolie Sikes-Smith, who transform homes with found junk. HGTV is hoping the sisters’ outgoing personalities, interesting clients (including figures from Hollywood and country music) and avid social media presence will help attract viewers.

In fact, HGTV discovered the sisters online.

“Very often, consumers hear about experts in our category online before they do on television, and so we’re carefully monitoring online talent,” Finch said. “Because (the sisters) have such a big online following, we’ve decided to premiere their show on Facebook (on Nov. 25).”

Series, which received a 13-episode order, will sneak-peek on HGTV on Nov. 27.

Also on tap to premiere before year’s end are “Kitchen Cousins” (13 episodes), which features a New Jersey-based construction company run by telegenic Anthony Carrino and John Colanerithat focuses on transforming kitchens, and “Weekends with Luis” (seven episodes), in which Miami-based contractor Luis Bosch helps homeowners with renovations completed in a weekend.

Finch said that the embrace of character-based programming dovetails with Scripps’ philosophy for its other channels, such as Food and Travel, and can be seen in such shows as “Dina’s Party,” featuring “Real Housewives of New Jersey” alum Dina Manzo. “Dina’s” premiered Sept. 10. “I think one of reasons the Scripps networks are so successful is that we’re very mindful of the fact that in order to carry information to viewers, we need fabulous people front and center,” Finch said.

Another way to build attachment to personalities has been to use HGTV’s “Design Star,” to launch series, such as “Donna Decorates Dallas” with “Design Star” finalist Donna Moss.

It also helps to be nimble. HGTV turned around an initial five episodes of “HGTV Great Rooms” with Meg Caswell so quickly that it premiered Saturday, only five nights after TV auds saw Caswell crowned champion of the sixth season of “Design Star” on Sept. 12.

That flexibility allows HGTV to explore numerous different concepts and personalities without much fear or regret.

“We have significantly increased our development pipeline this year, by about 75%,” Finch said. “We are producing a large number of pilots. If they catch fire, then we’ll go and make a full order.”

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