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HGTV, like all legacy Discovery channels, can no longer program exclusively for cable. There’s also streamer Discovery+ to think of, and, in a few months, the parent company’s HBO Max replacement that will also include the sprawling lifestyle roster. So, naturally, orders aren’t slowing down.
The latest re-ups are particularly interesting — not just because they feature newer faces on a network dominated by longtime talent but because they each star people of color working in a TV genre that was once almost exclusively white. The series, Egypt Sherrod and Mike Jackson’s Married to Real Estate and Rico León’s Rico to the Rescue, are getting a respective 12 and eight new episodes tacked onto their current orders.
Kathleen Finch, Warner Bros. Discovery US Networks Group chair and chief content officer, discussed the orders (and the push behind them) with The Hollywood Reporter over email earlier this week. “The WBD portfolio of networks attract a huge percent of the cable audience each night, often over 30 percent,” says Finch. “Those multiple millions of viewers represent an increasingly diverse audience so it’s crucial that our networks reflect that diversity. We’re very good at developing talent into our next roster of household names, and we’ve definitely got some superstars in the making with this team and with others in development.”
Developing new talent, such as Sherrod, Jackson and León, is particularly important at this juncture as proven lifestyle stars are commanding massive overall deals in recent years. Guy Fieri and Bobby Flay both re-upped at HGTV sister network Food Network to massive paydays in recent years, while others have left — like Giada De Laurentiis’ who left for Amazon in February. HGTV recently locked flagship talent Drew and Jonathan Scott to another three-year deal, though it famously lost Fixer Upper stars Chip and Joanna Gaines in 2018 prior to the couple setting up their own WBD-backed network and platform.
While Married to Real Estate and Rico to the Rescue air on the linear channel, in HGTV’s primetime block, they’re also both airing on unscripted-focused streamer Discovery+ and will eventually also run on the upcoming HBOMax replacement — alongside all of the WBD streaming offerings. Given the potential for the new platform to expose new audiences to HGTV, Food Network and other Discovery networks content, I asked Finch how they were considering those viewers when making programming decisions going forward.
“A great example is Trixie Motel, produced by the HGTV team,” says Finch. “It follows drag queen Trixie Mattel as she renovates a stylish Palm Springs resort. The series is incredibly fun, has great design and renovation takeaway, has been great for a streaming audience and probably caused a lot of people to watch a home renovation series who probably never thought they would. We’re able to push the envelope with streaming audiences — both because they’re younger and because we aren’t limited by nightly scheduling grids where flow is crucial.”
Streaming also opens the door for a bit more narrative, and that’s not absent from many new HGTV and Food Network commissions. Like Fixer Upper, Home Town and Flip or Flop before it, Married to Real Estate is just as much a family docuseries as it is service TV. Fans have responded, the first seven episodes of the second season drawing more than 10.8 million total viewers to date. But the homes, notes Finch, will always take priority.
“Blending our more traditional, service-journalism lifestyle content with elements of docudrama is great, but only if it’s authentic to the story telling,” noted Finch. “Adding drama for the sake of drama doesn’t work for our sophisticated fans. That’s not why they come to our networks.”
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