Here's everything you need to know about the world of television for Tuesday, March 30th, 2021. I'm writing this from the Twin Cities suburbs, where AllYourScreens HQ is powered by pineapple chunks and some sort of unidentifiable hot tea.
Today's newsletter is shorter than normal and a bit late because I am suffering through some incredibly annoying broadband issues. On the upside, the Comcast tech person comes tomorrow morning...
A DEEP DIVE ON HGTV AND DISCOVERY+
The New Yorker's Ian Parker has an absolutely fascinating look at HGTV and how it is responding to the pandemic and to the launch of Discovery+. (On a side note, I'm extremely jealous about the level of access he got to do this story). The piece begins by discussing both HGTV's success in a linear TV world and the challenges that are facing even the biggest of cable TV brands:
But HGTV is a splendid, crenellated house in a neighborhood built on quicksand and termite tunnels. American cable-TV subscriptions peaked twenty years ago. The broader category of linear pay television—cable and satellite combined—peaked in 2009, when subscriptions were maintained by eighty-eight per cent of American households. Today, that number has fallen below sixty-five per cent, and more than three-quarters of American households have signed up for at least one streaming service. Scott Feeley, the president of High Noon Entertainment, a Colorado-based television production company that, last year, was making nine HGTV shows, recently said, “It’s hard for me to imagine that, in five years, anybody’s going to be paying for cable.” Michael Lombardo, the former head of programming at HBO, who now oversees television at Entertainment One, described the cable business as “running on fumes."
That's a reality that I thin a lot of industry analysts still haven't come to grips with yet. They talk about the challenges of the virtual cable business and how the traditional TV business is still like printing money. But the people in the trenches see the future coming and are frantically trying to restructure their businesses before it's too late. One of the challenges for HGTV is that while its programming is the ultimate example of "lean-back" television, is that a format that can draw an audience in a streaming age? HGTV's format certainly works NOW:
Michael Lombardo, who at HBO green-lit “Game of Thrones” and “Veep,” told me, “If I’m sitting there at the end of the day, I’m likely to go to HGTV. It’s relaxing, it’s slightly affirming.” He went on, “I watch ‘House Hunters,’ continually. I love ‘Love It or List It.’ ” Lombardo has detected—in himself and in others—a new resistance to ambitious television shows, of the kind that he used to buy. “I become annoyed when they command your attention,” he said, and laughed. “Is this just all a response to Trump’s four years—you know, P.T.S.D.? Or is this because nobody watches without a phone in their hand?” A sigh. “The television revolution was not supposed to end with me and you talking about ‘Home Town’ ”—in which a young married couple in Laurel, Mississippi, does home makeovers—“yet here we are.”
The long piece breaks down everything from the way HGTV develops shows to its increased willingness to try formats and approaches that they would have stayed away from in the past:
In 2019, Victoria Chiaro came up with an idea for a third season of “Restored by the Fords” that would extend beyond the fact that the hosts are siblings who find it hard not to smile when the other is talking. Episodes would be longer, and would tell a lavishly emotional story about people who were returning to the Pittsburgh area after living elsewhere—perhaps to a property with family history. In the case of the Carnegie episode, Vicki and Dave Sawyer, a retired couple, were moving back into a house where they’d lived earlier in life, and which was now occupied by their daughter and her family. In the past, HGTV had shied away from shows involving childhood homes: an inheritance story tends to start with death. And the network has often preferred to keep homeowners out of view in the scenes between the walk-through and the reveal. The new show would ask viewers to invest not only in the Fords but in the lives, and the old photographs, of returnees. The show was given a new title, “Home Again with the Fords.” An easy half hour of prettification—crash-bang-boom, a new countertop—would become an earnest hour-long journey: voyage and return. “Tie it to Vicki!” Anderson instructed the Fords during the shoot in August, as they discussed opening up a space next to the demolished kitchen, and turning it into an art studio. “Will Vicki like it?”
At the end of that afternoon, the Fords stood under a tree in the garden, to record observations that would be dropped into footage of the day’s action. Anderson reminded her talent of a further deviation from old bread-and-butter practice: “We’re not saying 'Demo Day' anymore.”
They had spent the afternoon demolishing. Sheepishly, Leanne Ford asked, “Am I allowed to say ‘demo’ ”—pause—“ ‘lition’?”
The article ends with a great description of the programming philosophy for Discovery+ and it's one that is often missed by people who don't watch the streaming service on a regular basis:
Even as HGTV had been maneuvering into emotion and drama, and trying to expand the network’s reach, its primary value to its corporate parent lay for the moment in the size of its library, which includes nearly nineteen hundred episodes of “House Hunters,” in its various formats. According to the executive, the appeal of Discovery+ would be less “Everyone’s talking about ‘The Queen’s Gambit,’ ” and more “That’s a lot of great shit I love.”
When the app launched, in January, its content was primarily searchable not by channel names but by subject matter: Relationships, True Crime, Home, Paranormal & Unexplained, Food. Subscribers have since found their way to more than fifty thousand of the fifty-five thousand hours of programming available. Michael Lombardo, the former HBO executive, was surprised to find that he had bought a subscription.
#FREEBLOCKBUSTER, THE FOLLOW-UP
My piece in yesterday's newsletter about a vision for a next generation Blockbuster received a lot of feedback - split pretty evenly between praise and horror. But Star-Tribune night homepage editor Vince Tuss passed along this piece from the Willamette Week, which highlights a local guy who's slapped together a combination escape room and video rental business he calls "Lockbuster Video":
The shelves are stocked with almost 1,000 honest-to-God VHS tapes, all from Rafferty's personal collection—mostly sci-fi (In Search of an Exit is a Twilight Zone reference), with a curious amount of musicals and golf videos, and nothing that was made after 1990.
He officially opened as a video store last week, while also reopening as an escape room. (To be clear, the only link between the current game he's running in the backroom—set in a mobster-run casino—is an '80s aesthetic. There is an escape room in South Dakota named Lockbuster that uses the video store chain as part of the narrative, but Rafferty says it has no connection to what he's doing.) But if you just happen to walk in off the street, Rafferty won't let on what lies behind the doors with the Employees Only signs.
Sure, this guy is kinda doing the idea as a goof. But it does show that my original idea isn't ENTIRELY insane.
1) All-Around Champion Series Premiere (BYUtv)
Ten of the best athletes in North America assemble to compete in the ultimate sports competition. The Catch? They won't be competing in their own sports; they'll be competing in each other's. The athlete with the most points at the end will be deemed All-Round Champion.
2) American Cartel (Discovery+)
A cop's murder exposes a gang with possible ties to Mexico's drug cartels.
3) Glad You Asked (YouTube)
This season features new perspectives from five inquisitive hosts and the world's foremost experts to offer an experiential journey that will empower audiences to better understand their world - from exploring the roots of residential segregation to playing hand crafted board games and taking tests that measure racial implicit biases. Joining season two is Vox’s lead race reporter, Fabiola Cineas, and the host and producer of the VICE documentary series Minority Reports, Lee Adams. They will unite with season one hosts Cleo Abram, Christophe Haubursin and Joss Fong to explore these critical questions while demonstrating various social experiments across the season.
4) Lifetime Presents: Women Making History (Lifetime)
An exclusive and intimate interview with the first female Vice President of the United States, Kamal Harris, revealing some of the women who helped shape her life and showcasing some of the extraordinary women who are helping to shape the future.
5) Octonauts And The Ring of Fire (Netflix)
When lava-spewing volcanoes start a chain reaction of disasters across the ocean, the Octonauts must work together to save their sea creature friends.
6) People Presents: Harry & Meghan's American Dream (The CW)
This special follows the lives of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle who stunned the world by existing royal life. One year later, they are very much living the American dream with multimillion-dollar streaming deals and a California mansion to call home with two-year old Archie. But a personal tragedy and ongoing tensions with brother Prince William and Kate have at times clouded their first year of freedom. This one-hour special will trace Harry and Meghan’s journey from royalty to celebrity.
7) Pooch Perfect Series Premiere (ABC)
Ten pet grooming teams face off.
8) Supergirl Season Premiere (The CW)
As Brainiac (Jesse Rath) lays close to death after trying to stop Lex (Jon Cryer), Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) and team soar in to save him, engaging in an epic battle with Gamenmae (guest star Cara Buono). After beating Leviathan, Supergirl turns her attention to Lex (Jon Cryer) who has used the Obsidian platform to brainwash half the world to love him and follow him at all costs, no matter what horrible things he does. Knowing how dangerous this makes her brother, Lena (Katie McGrath) enlists the entire team – Alex (Chyler Leigh), J’onn (David Harewood), Dreamer (Nicole Maines), Kelly (Azie Tesfai) and Brainiac – to help, but Supergirl realizes that the only way to truly stop Lex is to sacrifice herself.
9) 7 Yards: The Chris Norton Story (Netflix)
Tragedy knocked this former college football player down. Then he showed the world the true meaning of strength.
10) The Last Cruise (HBO)
Using intimate footage recorded by passengers and crew, this documentary is a first-person account of the nightmare that transpired aboard the ill-fated Diamond Princess cruise ship, which set sail from Yokohama, Japan on January 20, 2020 in the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
11) Unsellable Houses: Pop Quiz (HGTV)
Lyndsay and Leslie test fans' knowledge of selling homes as they update a split-level with modern, minimalist touches.
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