There have been quite a few lively discussions going on in the gardening blogosphere about the lack of quality garden-related programs on HGTV, DIY and others anymore. My blog (Compost Confidential) along with two of my favorites, Garden Rant and Red Dirt Ramblings (I’m sure there are others), have also addressed this less than obvious trend in the decline of real gardening on television anymore.
Having spent the last seven years in garden television personally, I’ve gained a new perspective on what goes on behind the scenes in determining the type of programming that ultimately hits the airwaves. We often fail to realize, with the exception of PBS, television production is a for-profit business. And like any other, that “P” word drives much of the decisions that are made. In this case, it’s what to air and what not to air, driven in large part by advertisers and the audience they are trying to target. As a businessman, I get that.
Real gardening shows just aren’t attracting as many generation X and Y and I.M (Instant Messaging) viewers as the networks and advertisers would like. If and when these impressionable viewers are sitting down to watch something, better make it quick. Make it bold too, over the top big. Makeover shows crowd TV time these days and Extreme Home Makeover tops the list. It’s got all the right components; a young, energetic hunky and sexy team of hosts, a great ‘feel good’ story and plenty of action. Tearing down, removing and rebuilding a new house in a week is about as good as it gets to stimulate all the senses. Count me as a fan too.
More importantly, it’s shows like these that are nailing the strike zone for advertisers. They have a dream, multi-generational viewing audience, prime time slot, and unlimited appeal to companies wanting to showcase a plethora of products. Which leads me back to my point of gardening television as it relates to advertisers. Think about the relatively small pool of businesses that see gardeners as their sweet spot, target audience. Television advertising is expensive. Given limited marketing dollars, if you were in charge of spending those dollars as efficiently as possible, you’re going to look at every option before committing those funds.
For example, take scenario number one. You’re the media buyer for Big Box Store with instructions to spend some of that money at HGTV for commercial time. Big Box wants their ads on the shows that their target audience is watching. It’s a simple matter at this point of picking the most appropriate fit; makeover or gardening?
Now, assume you’re still the buyer and your target audience is still the same. But now, the show they are watching is on The Learning Channel. So, are you buying time at TLC or HGTV? Lastly, put your shoe on the other foot. Assume you’re the executive at the network who is losing ad revenue because you’re not airing the content that the advertisers want. What do you do? The obvious answer; deliver the content the advertisers want, of course; makeover or gardening?
Notice in all of this media buying / network programming speak I speak of; nowhere is the viewer mentioned. An oversight? I think not. Indeed, the viewer has some say. If the program wasn’t appealing, no matter what the genre, it wouldn’t be on the air for long. Great programming is still the key to getting airtime, but advertising dollars are what pays the bills, keeps the lights on and ultimately drives the show’s longevity. Programming directors must consider both sides, but in the end, if you’re a “for profit” network, which show are you going to air; makeover or gardening?
So is there an answer? Well I think so. Your voice, and the power of your wallet matters; to the network and to the sponsors of those shows we loved and now miss. They should be hearing from us too. We all need to let them know that gardening is alive and well and so is the audience of shows about this great American pastime.
HGTV does not seem to be realistic anymore. Its simply entertainment in my opinion. It’s amazing how there is such a craze over the “tiny house” explosion! How about we put veggie and fruit gardens around the property of those tiny homes and add that into televising? I have created my own permaculture garden in my backyard as I save a lot of money and I eat a much more nutritional diet as a result of growing my own food- at least 2/3rds of it. There is a desire for people who live in apartments to grow their own food as well-that is why renting plots is so popular. I sure hope some big money-spending producer-who is not afraid of losing a few bucks- would take a chance and see how many people would tune into a show where people are learning to be self-sustaining by growing and harvesting their own food. Sure, its hard work but it is worth it in the long run, to enjoy food as it should be eaten-right out of the yard and not imported from sources half way around the world!
I would love to see a show that looks at what garden makeovers look like one/two years or even five years down the road. I can see it patterned on the Mike Holmes shows, except I would like to see those makeovers that work, and what the homeowner had to do to make sure it worked and what the long-term upkeep is. Now that would be a show worthy of a gardener watching. And I will admit that I used to be an HGTV addict, but no more.
Joe Lamp'l says
Hi Marty. I was once an HGTV addict too. In fact, it was actually my entre’ into my fist TV show on DIY Network with Fresh From the Garden. But as you elude to, now it’s pretty much all makeover shows. I can tell you, I seriously doubt that even a year later things look as good as they did when the filming took place. Unfortunately, it’s more about the instant impact and sizzle for the show than actually using best practices and plant choices for setting up a landscape design for success. Unfortunately, it’s also not financially or logistically practical to track a landscape makeover, over that many years. As much as I’d like to do that, for so many reasons, that’s just not practical. I doubt you’ll ever see that happen unless someone comes along and picks up years later from where the television makeover left off. And even that has it’s challenges with getting rights to show previous footage.
Great idea though and well worth pondering. Thanks for your thoughts!
I don’t see enough Garden programs on HGTV; I am disappointed in this. When we first got cable there were more than now.
Larry Kerger says
I am in agreement with you and only want to ask if anyone has ever seen those homes and gardens after a year or two? Having worked in the trades for a brief time I know that real quality comes with time and experience. Since most of those that end up receiving help from these shows are not able to keep things up or some times not even try I have my doubts about what the long term results will look like. It takes a real desire to make the kind of investment necessary to maintain a home or garden and as was pointed out too many want it now with out the understanding of what it takes over the long term.
I also thought I was the only one that has become very disppointed in HGTV’s lineup for quite some time now. I truly miss “gardening by the yard”, gardener’s diary, and there were alot more, that my memory now has escaped me, because now those are far and few between. There are very few educational now and so many that all they teach you is that if you have an enormous budget or win a “backyard” lottery of some sort (being found in a lowe’s where Ahmed is hanging out) , you can get ridiculously expensive, nonsense stuff, just for being in the right place at the right time… I would love to see one of the homeowner’s tax 1099 for the materials and labor for getting selected for “free stuff”! Anyways, just my opinion, I so much enjoyed the marathon that happened this past weekend, viewing your show “growing a greener world”! It may have just become my alltime favorites!!! I have so long been hungry for information such as yours. Thanks so much and keep up the great work, very educational and entertaining as well, it does not get any better than that!
I never write comments but this time i will, i thought i was alone on this i do miss gardening makeovers shows, they were fun and inspirational. one of my favorites was a gardens diary. i dont watch hgtv eanymore. is boring with mortgage programs mostly.($,$$$,$$$)
Right Ana. Gardener’s Diary was one of the best shows on TV. And one of the best horticultural experts on television or otherwise was the host of that show, Erica Glasener. She is a real jewel and it was a shame to lose access to someone of such expertise on television. I think we all cried when that show went off the air. But Erica’s a friend of mine and I’ll pass you kind words on to her. I know she’ll appreciate them.
As for the makeover shows, I think most of them are ridiculous! They’re unrealistic, over produced, and more about entertainment then useful information. Unfortunately, that seems to be what drives most of the shows these days, glitz over real substance.
Thanks for taking the time to comment.
Zina Tibbetts says
I agree with you, in fact I wish they would take the “G” out of their show because I’ve rarely seen any gardening shows. Quality gardening shows are so rare, that’s why I get so excited about every “Growing a Greener World” episode. HGTV should rename themselves the “Real Estate & Flipper Channel.”