HGTV Canada, U.S. pair up on new series

Property, design-themed shows popular cross-border

TORONTO -- HGTV U.S. has a makeover idea for changing times: Share new series concepts and costs as you co-produce more Canadian-made shows with sister HGTV Canada.

Over the past year, HGTV U.S. bought the first seasons of seven Canadian property- and design-themed shows, including the top-rated "Income Property," and secured impressive ratings for the Canadian imports on its schedule.

The U.S. cable channel recently came on board to co-produce with HGTV Canada the second seasons of six of the indie Canadian shows, and it bought the second season of the seventh, "For Rent."

HGTV U.S. president Jim Samples said the stepped-up cooperation started in July 2008 when programmers from both networks met in Toronto to talk development slates and market trends, and discovered common ground on how to pursue audiences as the property market cooled.

Ongoing conversations remain about more than after-market sales. "I see that (cooperation) as a real competitive advantage for us to have a second set of eyes and ears, to say, 'What do you think of this show?' " Samples said of his Canadian partners.

The cooperation varies between shows. Samples, who jumped from Cartoon Network to HGTV U.S. in October 2007, points to "Property Virgins," a show about first-time homebuyers that bowed on HGTV Canada. Once HGTV U.S. signed on as a co-producer, the Canadian producer agreed to shoot half the episodes stateside.

Then on "For Rent," Samples was wary early on about a property series targeted at renters for an HGTV U.S. audience dominated by homeowners.

"We put it on, and guess what, it just did phenomenally," Samples recalled.

Other co-productions suited to a sluggish property market include "The Stagers," where a designer revamps a hard-to-move house for a quick sale, and "The Unsellables," where ugly and unsellable houses are turned into real estate gems.

The two HGTV networks also aim to turn their programming away from the frenzied bidding wars of better times to more design shows where homeowners renovate and remain in their homes.

Closer cross-border ties didn't come overnight. HGTV Canada has acquired programming from HGTV U.S. via an 11-year-old output deal, and the two networks earlier co-produced two Canadian-made shows, "Buy Me" and "Junk Brothers."

But until last year, both channels mostly kept to their separate ways.

Anna Gecan, vp content at HGTV Canada, argues the two HGTV networks now see benefits in reaching across the border to fully finance series and enable up to 26 episodes per season.

"You not only share costs, but it (co-productions) can be a win-win-win situation that includes that Canadian producer," Gecan said.

Samples added that the Canadian shows have proved surprisingly ripe for American audiences.

"Our viewership on balance is more suburban than urban. And HGTV Canada has a larger urban viewership. So that has allowed us to bring on more programming that has a really fresh, urban feel that appeals to younger audiences," he said.