Plum Tackles 'Rich' Media

It's a fairly typical day for Joe LaPolla in the Hamptons: lunch at Estia's Little Kitchen in Sag Harbor, hobnobbing with various in-crowd types at Sag Main Beach, popping in on some artist friends in East Hampton, dinner with colleagues of varying degrees of fabulousness at Surf Lodge out in Montauk.

But unlike most in and around Long Island's famed summer hot spot, LaPolla is working. Formerly the VP of programming at Oxygen, he's the new general manager at the Hamptons branch of Plum TV, the eight-channel regional cable network for the rich and famous.

Each of the Plum outlets—they're also in Aspen, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, Miami Beach, Sun Valley, Telluride and Vail—offers a mix of network fare, such as the talk show Connections With Jennie Saunders, and local programming, including regional versions of the Today-ish Morning Noon & Night and unique Web content. For LaPolla, the latter includes Friday's The View-inspired gabfest The Juice, a pair of new reality shows and, starting July 26, the week-long Hamptons Shark Hunt (not coincidentally, Shark Hunt starts a day before Discovery Channel's Shark Week). “We'll start with [socialite] Kelly Bensimon diving with sharks,” LaPolla says, “and end with a special on Montauk fishermen, and the man who Captain Queeg [from The Caine Mutiny] is based on.”

Plum was hatched in the summer of 2004 by Tom Scott, the creator of the Nantucket Nectars beverage company and former owner of Nantucket Television, Chris Glowacki, former CNBC senior VP, and film producer Cary Woods. The network reaches some 16.4 million “tastemakers and trendsetters,” according to its Website, and continues to seek out new markets. Rob Gregory, Plum's sales and marketing president, mentions Napa, Park City and Jackson Hole as possibilities; he says anyplace with the holy trinity of C's—concentration of wealth, community, and culture—qualifies. “The concept would work internationally as well,” he believes.

Gregory says Plum, which airs on local cable systems, has shattered two myths: that community television can't be engaging, and that rich people don't watch television while on holiday. “If the programming is relevant, they'll be deeply engaged in it,” he says. (Yes, the rich are just like us.)

While the glum economy has curtailed countless summer plans, Plum executives say the jet set remains mostly unaffected, even if they're slightly more subtle in their consumption.

Plum's advertising is a mix of national, such as American Express and Bank of America, and local, such as the Vineyard garden center Jardin Mahoney and the Hamptons department store Hildreth's. While he won't share specifics, Gregory says ad revenue is on pace to double this fiscal year; he says business is “only slightly” affected by the economic downturn. The Vineyard channel, for one, gets around $7,500 for a yearly 30-second spot, which airs four times a day.

TV experience is not necessarily a prerequisite at Plum. Gregory was the publisher at Rolling Stone, and Tina Miller, general manager of the Martha's Vineyard outlet, was a chef and cookbook author. “They wanted local knowledge and entrepreneurial spirit more than they wanted TV experience,” says Miller, who grew up on the Vineyard and whose father built the iconic Black Dog Restaurant, source of that ubiquitous T-shirt.

Indeed, local cred rules on Plum. Miller, with a summer staff of 18 (it shrinks to eight in the off-season), tapped Vineyard chef/farmer Chris Fischer for the popular “farm to table” show Edible Island. LaPolla says the Hamptons channel will debut Out East With Luigi Tadini, a reality show about the young socialite who was dubbed “possibly the most handsome man about Manhattan” by Fashion Week Daily, as he plans his birthday party.

Of course, providing engaging local content means navigating the outsize egos in these communities. The Hamptons channel steered clear of the messy Christie Brinkley-Peter Cook divorce proceedings; LaPolla claims the station favors entertainment over hard news. “You have to be respectful or you're out,” says Miller, who adds that “people do love to see themselves on TV.”

Plum will walk that slippery slope when it debuts an as-yet untitled TMZ-inspired gossip show down the road. “These places are packed with really wealthy, interesting and sometimes crazy people,” Gregory says. “Very interesting things happen. If you're around all the time, you're going to pick up some interesting content.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.