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HGTV Puts More 'E's' Before Eyeballs

Home & Garden Television has added another vowel to its programming mantra.

The E.W. Scripps Co. service has long preached that its viewers can take away ideas, inspiration and information — three "I's" — from its shows.

But as HGTV — now in more than 80 million homes — has evolved, it has become more intent on furnishing programming predicated on three "E's": entertaiment, energy, and excitement, said senior vice president of programming Michael Dingley.

Seeking fun

The gambit toward more story-driven and lifestyle-oriented shows has already played well for HGTV, which averaged a 0.8 primetime household rating in the first quarter, the best span in the network's history.

"We're staying true to our mission of supplying ideas, information and inspiration to folks who love 'home how-to,'" Dingley said. "But we've moved beyond the core and tried to put more people in the tent with shows celebrating things that are fun and what we love about our residences.

"Now, we're programming more to home enthusiasts."

Network executives talked up that message in upfront presentations to advertising agencies in New York last week. HGTV will roll out 1,200 hours of new programming the rest of 2003 and into 2004.

That pipeline is actually "a couple of hundred hours less" than in past years, according to Dingley. "We're scaling back the number of shows, but adding more dollars to the ones we're making. We're investing more programming dollars overall."

'Divine' work

Bowing in July is Divine Design, in which Canadian interior designer Candice Olson tackles different design dilemmas in each episode. Her team redesigns a space from a sketch, down to the last accessory.

The network has ordered 26 episodes from Fusion Television, Dingley said. The first 13 installments, in which HGTV had some production input, aired in Canada during the first quarter. The network will be more hands-on with the second batch, production for which is just beginning.

HGTV has also ordered 26 episodes of Outer Spaces, a landscaping series that will give a homeowner a completely redesigned backyard. It is slated to debut in October.

In January, HGTV will unveil Date With Design, a series described as "The Dating Game
meets Designing for the Sexes." The premise: a single woman picks one of three bachelor pads to redecorate. He then comes home to see his newly redone quarters and meets the person who could become his new love interest.

On the specials front, Rock Gardens
will debut in mid-October and give viewers a glimpse into the private gardens of Jefferson Airplane's Grace Slick, Mickey Dolenz of The Monkees and Mark Hoppus of Blink 182. Dingley joked about being "careful with close-ups."

Following success with a previous special that examined shag rugs and other items found in the homes of the 1970s, Dingley said HGTV will get nostalgic again with a look at carefree and psychedelic home décor and design in That '60s Home
(October) and a glimpse at postwar and All-American life represented in That '50s Home
(first quarter 2004).

Hollywood homes

There will also be three sequels to The Homes That Made Hollywood, with specials examining famous and infamous residences owned by Tinseltown imagemakers and film stars of the 1940s and 1950s.

As HGTV continues to evolve, Dingley emphasizes the network will not stray from what has made it successful.

"Some reporters and other observers are coming up to us and saying that we're a reality programmer," he said. "For the most part, reality shows are an oxymoron because these contests and situations are not real life. Focus groups have told us that our shows are 'realer than reality.' Our programming is for real people facing real problems and we have real solutions."

Dingley said others are now finally noticing that HGTV has shows similar to TLC's hit Trading Spaces.
"Well, we've had 'surprise' and 'makeover' shows for years," he continued. "When those programming trends end, we'll still be here serving our audience."

Iwata in the house

Brought on to help last week was Mary Ellen Iwata, signing on as vice president of development, leaving TLC, where she was vice president of development and special projects.

In her new position, which begins May 31, Iwata will oversee all elements of programming development, working with production companies to solicit and develop new program proposals and show ideas.

She'll report to Dingley at the network's Knoxville, Tenn., headquarters.