Lifestyle FAQs

Vanessa Case
January 1, 2007

Vanessa Case
VP of content, Life Network and National Geographic Channel, Alliance Atlantis Communications (Canada)

What’s the newest and most exciting trend in lifestyle programming?
Our research and direct responses from viewers suggest TV watchers are looking for relatable topics presented in a format with humor, drama and real characters that are larger than life. They want to be entertained first and foremost, with a lesson and ‘how-to’ message organically worked into the program. Viewers want hosts, experts or real participants of lifestyle TV to experience situations they can relate to, but might never want to be in. For example, in the program ‘Til Debt Do Us Part, participants all face serious financial crisis and are truly unaware of how dire their situation is. Financial expert Gail Vaz-Oxlade puts them through a series of tests, challenging their spending willpower and commitment to improving their situation long term. This series takes a relatable topic – personal finances – and presents it with honest drama, conflict and humor. What’s been done to death? What’s made it into the ‘don’t pitch me’ file?
Expert interventions and life coaches. Experts and their talents remain a key ingredient for many lifestyle programs, [but] we need to work on finding new ways to introduce them to the viewer, new ways to use their expertise and solutions.

Viewers are savvy to the traditional lifestyle formulas. To keep them coming back and ensure they are watching a program from end to end, a new presentation and style must be introduced. An example of where we’ve done this on Life Network is with a new show called Up Rooted. Expert hair stylist Rykr takes his show on the road to not only make over small towns throughout North America, but to find inspiration once again from everyday people. We watch a master of hair – having once cut and styled for A-list celebrities – exchange a cut, an up-do and some grooming techniques for a room, a meal and a bus ticket to the next town. It’s not your typical makeover show, nor is it a travelog. It’s a combination of many successful formats and is led by a truly engaging character.

What factors are having the greatest influence?
Successful casting is influencing how unique and entertaining lifestyle programming can become. There are many examples of superior casting that gives viewers top entertainment in non-dramatic programs – Survivor, Project Runway, and Nanny 911, for example. Viewers have come to expect this level of casting with every show. Without strong characters to lead new program ideas, viewers’ attention will be short lived.

Reality TV is another player influencing the development of new lifestyle programs. With reality – including game shows and variety/performance shows – remaining a key genre in many networks’ primetime schedules, it’s attracting the same type of viewer who would regularly tune into lifestyle series. To keep the viewer coming back to lifestyle, we need to address the points mentioned before: relatable topics, unique and dramatic presentation, strong casting, and organic learning with entertaining the viewer being a top priority.

What are your predictions for the lifestyle genre?
It will have a very dominate place in schedules to come. Quality of lifestyle series has improved significantly over a short period of time and continues to do so. They’re being created to run seamlessly within a primetime schedule, around dramatic and/or comedy programming. Lifestyle will grow in its mass appeal, able to adapt quickly to changing trends and viewer patterns. Also, with lifestyle programming able to produce mass inventory much quicker than fiction programs, it has the staying power in schedules year round.

Kent Takano
VP of programming, Fine Living TV (US)

What’s the most exciting trend in lifestyle?
We’ve rebranded ourselves as a time and money network and hopefully we’ll be well received. Nobody else is doing it, and we’re either doing something really right or people are staying away from it for a reason.

People don’t have time, so we’re working on time management. Before, Fine Living was more like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Our demo is well off, but we’re helping them manage their time and money. (You can never have too much of either.) People don’t have time on the weekends. They want to spend it with family, and with their significant other. This is about giving them strategies on how to spend [both], more than telling them where they need to be, where they need to vacation.

What’s been done to death?
Don’t pitch me shows on wealth. How-to’s – such as how to buy fine art or a yacht, and renting your own private island – aren’t what we’re interested in. We don’t want access to be about money. We want it to be about time.

What’s influencing the lifestyle genre?
According to the research we’ve done, if you look at the demographic of our audience, they’re making $75,000 and up annually. As you get higher and higher in the money range, you generally don’t have time. You don’t have time to look for a car. You don’t have time to look for a second car. You’re not buying Lamborghinis and Porsches. [Viewers are] driving Camrys and Honda Odysseys. They like the finer things in life and they’re going to do their homework on what they buy. The audience spends time on what they’re passionate about and spends money on what they’re passionate about.

What are your predictions for the lifestyle genre?
The lifestyle genre is just going to get bigger and bigger. At some point it will feel like it’s saturated, and it may get watered down, but there’s more money there. There’s always going to be advertising money.

Mary Ellen Iwata
VP of development, HGTV (US)

What’s the newest and most exciting trend in lifestyle?
People will always be interested in anything home-related. They always want to know how to make their space feel comfortable and look nice. If fixing up their space adds value to the home, that’s even better. That seems to be the trend that will never go away – people want to know what improvements and additions add value and what detracts from the value of their homes. [Also], in the shelter category, I would say that building and living ‘green’ seems to have become much more mainstream. Everyone is talking about it, and I think it will get even bigger in the coming years.

What’s been done to death? What’s made it into the ‘don’t pitch me’ file?
Competitions, fake deadlines for makeovers and renovations, and gimmicks. Homeowners do not want to know how to do things in a hurry. They want to know how to do things the correct way without false deadlines. Homeowners want to know how long a project will take and how difficult it is. [Viewers] don’t really want to see how fast it can be done just for the sake of doing it quickly.

What are your predictions for the lifestyle genre?
I think people are a lot smarter these days and their expectations are higher. They are getting their information from all sorts of places, not just from tv. The Internet has had a huge impact on all of television, and all programmers are thinking about multi-platforms when they develop ideas. If they aren’t, they should be. At hgtv, we think of all the possible places our ideas can live: on-air, online, in books, VOD…

Chantal Rutherford Browne
Commissioning executive, UKTV lifestyle channels: UKTV Style, UKTV Food, UKTV Gardens (UK)
What’s the newest trend in lifestyle – what are viewers clamoring for?
Lifestyle has moved on from ‘makeover’ in the traditional sense to ‘make better.’ Everyone is searching for a great sense of permanence in a rapidly changing world, and lifestyle TV is reflecting that. We no longer want just a hollow, vapid and vacuous makeover, we want something that will make our lives better in the long term: better relationships, healthier life, greater happiness with a feeling of contentment and fulfilment.

At UKTV, we have been focusing on one-hour, narrative-led doc series that are about how people’s lives can change for the better and for the long term. For example, in our series Spa of Embarrassing Illnesses, we send eight hopeless cases for an emotional, spiritual and physical detox in a bid to cure them of their debilitating ailments. Not only did we get back eight healthier, more positive, refreshed individuals who’d spent 14 days taking coffee enemas, we also got a terrific 10-part series that made you weep, laugh and squirm in equal proportions. At the bottom of it all – excuse the pun – it was an empathetic piece of telly that really resonated with the audience. Happy endings, stories with a heart and a soul; altruism is the latest watchword in my book. This is what is hitting home and what the audience is asking for more and more.

What’s been done to death? What’s made it into the ‘don’t pitch me’ file?
I think we’ve seen the back of the traditional makeover show, where the contributors are the mere puppets of the director. I don’t think for a moment that we have seen the last of shows where there is a furnishings or design makeover element, but if we see it now, it is usually matched with a life that is changing at the same speed as the color of the kitchen walls.

What factors are having the greatest influence on the genre?
The greatest influences for me are the factors influencing modern Western life. We are obsessed with health, obesity, affluence, longevity, a demand for happiness, personal fulfilment, wealth creation, the ability to acquire cheaper and cheaper products – and on top of all of that we want to look great, have fabulous sex, great kids and a perfect home – so, no small order then! We are [also] beginning to look around us and feel a little bit guilty. So, we want our Starbucks double shot macchiato in a biodegradable cup, we want our carrot cake with wholemeal, stone-ground flour and we want to eat it, too. We have recently created a 360-degree project about local food, Local Food Heroes, which is proving a great ratings success both on the Web and on linear TV. It is at the heart of the channel and its audience, tapping into real food values about having locally homegrown and cooked produce that hasn’t had to cross the globe before it hits our plates.

Charles Nordlander
VP of development and programming,
Allison Page
VP of primetime programming, Food Network (US)

What’s the newest trend in lifestyle?
Nordlander: What we’re looking for is the next generation of food experts – young people who are in the food business and doing it on their terms, in what’s very often an unorthodox way. I think it’s a matter of a combination of strong, memorable characters and very compelling storytelling. Ace of Cakes is one example and we’re looking for other opportunities, whether it’s in the catering business or the restaurant business, wherever the food business is being done.
Page: We found that type of storytelling comes through, and the real immersion into a lifestyle and a food world is something that our viewers are responding to very positively.

What’s been done to death?
Page: Because our topic is so narrow, nothing has really been done to death. There are areas that we’re less interested in, that we get pitched a lot. For instance, wine programming and kids’ programming. But again, because it’s just such a narrow topic, we really want to listen to anything because there are always new ways of presenting the same content. If it’s a specific host, a specific format, we may change our mind. You never know, so we don’t want to turn anybody away.
Nordlander: [One thing that's tired now is] the standard magazine show of the past with a lot of disconnected segments and not a strong story line.

What factors are influencing lifestyle?
Page: I think talent is the biggest influence for us. Our viewers are on a first-name basis with many of our talent and feel as if they know them personally. So a really strong talent can only drive a show for us in any format. In terms of when we think about pitches and directions we’re going in, talent is at the forefront of our mind because it’s so important to our success.

What are your predictions for the genre?
Page: I think we’ll see more docusoaps and fewer news-magazine formats. I think talent will continue to dominate our arena.

Amanda Stevens
Acquisitions executive, LIVINGtv, LIVINGtv2, FTN (UK)
What’s the newest and most exciting trend in lifestyle?
We have experienced huge success with personal transformational shows like Extreme Makeover. We’re always on the lookout for the new ‘big thing,’ and feel the tide is now turning away from an emphasis purely on the physical. People want feel-good programming that takes the whole person into account, and that could include career/skills development, confidence and looks; a transformational/emotional journey that strongly hooks in the viewer. And standout quality – we want programs you wouldn’t necessarily find on any other channel in the uk. Programs should also be non-negotiated viewing – by this we mean that shows should appeal to our core audience of women, but not alienate men.

What’s been done to death? What’s made it into the ‘don’t pitch me’ file?
We have a number of physical transformational shows in licence, so we aren’t looking for any more plastic surgery or weight loss shows. We’re now interested in confidence and a core inner transformation that the viewer can see.

What factors are having the greatest influence on the genre?
[Topics] generating pr and a buzz off-screen. All primetime shows need to make noise.

Quick hits:
Gary McDonagh, factual executive at Granada International (UK) offers lifestyle advice

What’s the key to lifestyle success in general?
Lifestyle more than other genres constantly needs to evolve and the successful formats are the ones that reinvent themselves.

In personal formats?
Talent will always be key, and makeover shows that are able to evolve will continue to stay popular. Formats like Trinny & Susannah Undress (ITV Productions) where the style gurus also tackle relationship issues have proven incredibly popular and the show’s already licensed to 13 territories following its launch at MIPCOM.

In shelter formats?
Although the UK has peaked with this type of show there is increased interest from other European countries in the genre with shows like Property Developing Abroad hitting the mark.

In cooking formats?
The appetite for cookery programs continues to grow, especially if the programs have a strong format. Hell’s Kitchen goes from strength to strength (with lots of bleeping in some countries!) and Come Dine With Me is still working very well with local adoptions in Germany as Das Perfekte Dinner for Vox and as Dinner Takes All in the US for TLC.

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