Pop Takes Aim at 1980s and ’90s Nostalgia, Pop Culture-Hungry Viewers

The relaunch of TV Guide Network as Pop next week is an effort to tap into the ever-rising tide of pop culture fandemonium that drives so much conversation on social media.

Brad Schwartz, prexy of entertainment and media for Pop, told reporters at the Television Critics Assn. press tour on Friday that the cabler will function as a haven for the super-fan. Pop, set to bow Jan. 14, is launching with the tagline “We’re fans too.”

The focus is on viewers in their late 30s-early 40s who have nostalgia for 1980s and ’90s TV and pop culture.

“We’re building this for what we call the ‘modern grownup,’ ” Schwartz said.

There’s also an effort to capture the different facets of fandom today, from live events to the hyper-connectedness provided by social-media platforms.

“Being a fan today is an entirely different experience” than in decades past, Schwartz noted.

The relaunch has been in the works since CBS bought a 50% stake in the former TV Guide Network from Lionsgate in 2013. Pop is drawing on the resources of its parent companies to add more oomph to its programming with such initiatives as red-carpet specials produced using the infrastructure and branding of “Entertainment Tonight.”

“We were tasked to create an entertainment destination of a channel that was formerly a utility,” Schwartz said, a reference to TVGN’s history of offering mostly channel listings grids. He said that Pop’s overriding mission is to reflect the interests of fans with an upbeat attitude or what he called “that spirit of looking at the world with wide-eyed enthusiasm.”

Schwartz cited Jimmy Fallon’s gushy enthusiasm for celebrities and goofy stunts as an example of the tone of Pop shows (“We ask ourselves, ‘What would Jimmy Fallon do?’ ” Schwartz joked). That’s a conscious effort to differentiate Pop from the gossipy or snarky material found on E! and other entertainment-centric shows.

Pop’s inaugural slate of shows reinforce the focus Schwartz detailed during his presentation.

“Rock This Boat: New Kids on the Block,” a reality show following die-hard NKOTB followers on a fan cruise with the iconic band, is one of many new series Pop is pushing to tap into their fandom-intensive demo. The series, produced by Jarrett Creative Group with exec producer Donnie Wahlberg, will launch the rebrand, debuting on Jan. 14.

“Creating content around things inherently already have a fan following, we could sit as teammates with the audience and celebrate that spirit of fun,” Schwartz said.

“Queen of Drama,” premiering in April, targets soap opera fans. The docu-series from Thinkfactory Media explores the real-life world of soap stars including Vanessa Marcil, Lindsay Hartley, Crystal Hunt and guest star Joan Collins. Schwartz describes the series as “a soap opera within a soap opera about making a soap opera.”

Further pushing the nostalgia aspect, Pop will premiere “The Story Behind,” much like VH1’s “Behind The Music,” but rather highlighting the most popular, classic ’90s television shows — “Friends,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Beverly Hills 90210,” “Full House” and more.

The network will also exclusively air the CW’s 2008 remake of “90210,” as part of its “#Throwback” lineup, which also includes the original “90210” and “Melrose Place.”

Shenae Grimes Beech, who starred on “90210,” will co-host “PopSugar Now,” a daily entertainment news show covering award season for a younger audience with a “fun, optimistic celebration of what’s going on in pop culture,” rather than a “gossipy” take, Schwartz said.

Pop will also air “Entertainment Tonight’s” first-ever live Grammys and Oscars red-carpet coverage under the “Live With ET.”

“We have an audience expectation for it, going back to Joan Rivers on the red carpet at the old TV Guide Network,” Schwartz said, adding that the cabler’s advertisers also expect red-carpet coverage.

Schwartz revealed that the network expected to slate primarily reality programming for its first two years, but original scripted comedy “Schitt’s Creek” — a Canadian import starring Eugene Levy (“American Pie”) and Catherine O’Hara (“Home Alone”), and created by Levy and his son Daniel Levy — is the perfect fit for its schedule.

“As a small, emerging network, we have to watch out pennies very closely,” Schwartz said, which made network execs jump at the chance to license a show with stars that Pop’s target audience knows from their days on “SCTV” as well as such ensemble films as “Waiting for Guffman,” “Best in Show” and “A Mighty Wind.”

Schwartz called “Schitt’s Creek” a “dream of a show” with “really sharp cultural commentary about pop culture.”

Pop announced four fan-fueled series in development:

  • “Losing It,” from exec producers John Stamos and Morgan Spurlock, which features celebrities recounting their personal stories of losing their virginity with reenactments by puppets.
  • “Elvis Duran Project,” which will follow radio personality and host Elvis Duran. The docu-series is produced by Left/Right.
  • “Celebrity Inc.,” a product-launch show, which pairs celebrities with their dream product and an aspiring inventor to highlight the power of celebrity endorsement. “Inc.” is exec produced by Robert Friedman of Bungalow Media + Entertainment and Colby Gaines of Back Roads Entertainment.
  • “Worst Ever,” hosted by Christina Lakin (“Step by Step”) and produced by Thank You, Brain!, puts celebrities in the hot seat to tell their most embarrassing stories. Lakin also exec produces.

Pop will also premiere “Sing It On” this year, which is described as the real-life “Pitch Perfect,” following collegiate a cappella groups; new episodes of Alan Thicke’s show “Unusually Thicke” in the spring; and the return of “Big Brother After Dark” in the summer.


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