Archive for the ‘Food Network’ Category

Happy Anniversary: We Got Laid Off Exactly One Year Ago, Jan. 26, And Have Lived To Talk About The Joys Of Being Pink-Slipped

January 27, 2010

This is the only blog I’ll ever write in the first person here. I debated all day whether to write it, but I must.

Last January was the biggest month for layoffs last year, I’ve read. And I, and several close colleagues, were among those who were pink-slipped. The three boxes, with 16 years of memories, that I packed up that week are still sitting near the door inside my condo. Reed Business Information, my ex-employer, paid for the shipping.

Being laid off has its rewards, like getting free margaritas and meeting Bon Jovi's Richie Sambora

I guess there are a lot of people who are a lot more resilient than I am, but I took it hard. It’s tough when you’ve been getting in work by 7:15 a.m., and leaving at 6 p.m. or later, working on weekends, working on vacations, to screech down to zero miles an hour.

For several months, I could not eat. For several months, I could not sleep. For several months, I literally could not smile. For several months, I could not laugh. For several months, I could not listen to music. For several months, I did not have one minute of happiness. No exaggeration.

I saw “Up In The Air” recently — which features folk who were laid off in real life in the movie as actors — expressing their anger at being fired. I almost wish I had thrown everything off the table like some of those people, instead of acting “professional.” But what goes around comes around. The HR guy who gave me my bad news was himself laid off recently.

You know those cliches you hear about, about finding out who your real friends are? Those cliches are true. You don’t hear a peep from your good “friends” at work. The PR people who loved you at upfront parties don’t return your phone calls. The cable network presidents who always seemed to enjoy chatting with you when you were employed are curt during phone calls. Some idiot asked one of my laid-off compadres how they where enjoying their “vacation.”

People — and I’ve interviewed them in my new incarnation — have survived real challenges and tragedies, like cancer or losing a loved one. What about the people in Haiti? So boo-hoo for me being upset about not having a job. Big deal. Don’t whine. But like I said, it hit me hard. At one point, I even feared I could never write a story again.

New Jersey became the new Hollywood for reality TV, and I wrote about the trend and the shows, like Jersey Shore

But my family and true friends pulled me through, and this is my thank-you note to them. You guys know who you are, in Parsippany, Whippany, Staten Island, Wyckoff and Westfield, and Vermont.

And the tide turned for me.

When I filed my first major story after my layoff, for a startup Web site, the editor said it was the cleanest story he ever read.

A very kind PR executive at a local hospital chain gave me a break, and let me do volunteer work for her department. Several of my press releases got placement, in papers including The Star-Ledger. I had the honor of interviewing people who wept as they told me how the hospital had saved their lives. I loved writing their stories.

Bon Jovi released a new album, and Showtime aired a documentary on them. I got to go a screening, where they served margaritas (my favorite), and I later interviewed the band. It became another story that generated a lot of Web traffic.

All of a sudden New Jersey, of all places, became a mecca for reality TV shows like “Jersey Shore.” And I was able to write stories about the shows, and about the trend. They were among the Web site’s Top-10 viewed stories.

Who wouldn't want to write about Kurt Sutter, creator and showrunner of FX's Sons of Anarchy?

I got back on the cable-network PR radar, and was able to interview and write about Kurt Sutter, creator of one of my favorite shows, FX “Sons of Anarchy.” Hey, he’s from Jersey.

I realized I still had my reporting chops when a got nice exclusive for TVNewscheck. It felt great.

Cablevision, with 900,000 customers in New Jersey, and Food Network got in a fight. Another story for me.

I posted a note on my bulletin board shortly after I was pink-slipped. It’s a quote from Western author Louis L’Amour: “There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. Yet that will be the beginning.”

It turned out to be true. Without my layoff, I would never have been able to tell the tales of those who were saved by the hospital, and I would not have met the great women in the PR department there.

I would not have sat down and eaten in a soup kitchen, as I did as part of my research for a series on the Salvation Army. The people eating there, some homeless, were so kind. Seeing me as a newcomer, and not knowing I was a reporter, one came over and welcomed me.

I launched my home shopping blog when Suzanne Somers moved from HSN to ShopNBC

I wouldn’t have had the nerve to start a blog, on home shopping, timed to coincide with Suzanne Somers’ move to ShopNBC from HSN, a seismic shift in that little world. In only five months, people in the home-shopping industry tell me Homeshoppingista is now a must-read for them.

I have had to think long and hard about what I want to do.

On “Southland” — right now airing on my TV, and on TNT — one character says, “You’re a cop because you don’t know how not to be one.”

I’m a writer because I don’t know how not to be one.

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Cablevision’s Vilification of Scripps Networks Exec Ken Lowe, One Of The Smartest, Classiest Guys In The Cable Industry

January 9, 2010

Scripps CEO Ken Lowe, Cablevision's villain

There are so many things we should be doing now, rather than blogging. We have to update our resume for a job we’re applying for. We have press releases to write for Saint Barnabas. We have freelance work from three different people, two of the assignments related to health, stacked up. We have to take our Christmas tree down. And we should be cruising PlentyofFish.com for a man.

But we have to write about Ken Lowe. Lowe, CEO of Scripps Networks Interactive, has been named in the full-page ads that Cablevision has been running in papers like The New York Times and the Manhattan tabloids. The ads — and Scripps is running ads too — are part of the week-long war over fees between the cable company and Scripps, which led to Food Network and HGTV being pulled from 3.1 million homes in the Tri-State area.

Scripps wants a rate increase for its channels, and Cablevision says the ask is unreasonable. Programmers and distributors fight all the time, but it’s fairly rare to see a CEO singled out the way Cablevision has singled out Lowe, kind of making the business battle personal.

Cablevision’s ads claim that “Lowe is demanding a $20 million rate increase for Food Network and HGTV.” It makes it sound like Lowe is right at the negotiating table, pounding his fist. That’s not how it works.

We know all is fair in love and war, and Scripps had celebrity chef Bobby Flay doing anti-Cablevision radio spots for it, but the attack on Lowe seem like a low blow, no pun intended, by the cable company. The ads cast Lowe as the nasty, money-grubbing bogeyman in all of this.

We’ve known Lowe for almost two decades, from reporting on the cable industry. He was always one of the smartest, nicest, classiest, frankest, friendliest programmers we have ever met. He’s well-respected in the media business. His background was radio, and his college roommate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was Rick Dees, the well-known disc jockey.

A veteran broadcaster working at Scripps, Lowe founded and launched HGTV in 1994, and managed Food Network, which Scripps holds a majority stake in. He built an empire of lifestyle cable networks, but admitted to my former editor, Marianne Paskowski, that he once feared being fired by Scripps.

We remember going with Paskowski to interview Lowe at a cable trade show. It was fun, he was bright, and it didn’t hurt that Lowe, now 59, was easy on the eyes. We know that’s unprofessional to say, but what the hell.

He is a Southerner — we hear he was raised on a tobacco farm — but Southern charm doesn’t usually work with us. Folks from New Jersey are “loud and proud,” and don’t beat around the bush. There is no gentility or many manners in the New York metro region.

We often say that we’d rather have someone tell us the truth than be nice to our face, and then talk about us behind our backs. And since we’ve been stabbed in the back by a Southerner who had lots of folksy stories and an accent, we know what we’re talking about.

We don’t know how Lowe treated his employees — we did hear he liked to send e-mails at 2 in the morning. We hear Scripps doesn’t pay producers much. But with us, Lowe was always a pleasure to interview and deal with.

Scripps’ battle with Cablevision relates to the seeds of Food Network, we believe. As we remember, Food Network was free to cable operators for a long period, it may have been 10 years, surviving just by selling advertising. Most cable networks have two revenue streams — license fees from cable companies and advertising.

Now, Scripps is trying to get Food Network caught up, in terms of price, with other cable networks. But times are tough, and distributors like Cablevision don’t want to pay double-digit price hikes.

It’s as if you started a job at a low salary five years ago, and went to your boss today and asked for a big salary increase so you could be at a par with your colleagues. It’s a tough economy, budgets are tight, and your boss doesn’t care if your salary is less than everyone else.

Wall Street analyst Rich Greenfield has written that Scripps underestimated Cablevision’s resolve and unpredictability, and we think that’s true, too.

Anyway, contract negotiations are usually handled by a cable channel’s affiliate sale team, and in the case of Scripps it is Lynne Costantini, who used to work in programming at Time Warner Cable.

She was expected to be named head of programming at Time Warner, but instead a woman named Melinda Witmer got the job. Witmer was in the news recently because she negotiated the new Time Warner-Fox deal — averting a massive blackout of Fox TV stations — with Fox Cable’s affiliate chief Mike Hopkins.

For all the vitriole of the retransmission-consent negotiations between Time Warner and Fox, we don’t think any executives’ names turned up in any ads, the way that Lowe’s name has in Cablevision’s.

We have interviewed Costantini, Witmer and even broke bread and shared a few cocktails with Hopkins in Las Vegas. They’re all smart, civil folks, like Lowe.

We’re hoping that Cablevision will turn down the volume in its dispute with Scripps, and give Lowe a break. Even wars have rules. We wish Cablevision would abide by them.

In the meantime, every couple of days we have to call our sister Karen or our parents, who are among Cablevision’s 900,000 households in Jersey, to see what the cable company is running on the crawl on Food Network and HGTV’s former channel slots.

QVC, HSN and ShopNBC Should Give Thanks For Home Shopping’s Sea Change: They’ve Attracted Luxury Brands Like Gucci, Badgley Mischka And Stephen Dweck

November 26, 2009

QVC CEO Mike George

We thought we were seeing things a few days ago when we checked ShopNBC’s Web site and saw that it was selling dozens of Gucci watches. What happened, did they fall off a truck? Why was Gucci, a premier luxury brand, being sold on a home shopping network?

Then back in October, we couldn’t believe it when a sharp-eyed poster on QVC’s jewelry forum said that upscale jewelry designer Stephen Dweck, whose chunky gemstone masterpieces are featured in Neiman Marcus, was on the No. 1 home shopping network’s schedule. THE Stephen Dweck?

We checked QVC’s program guide ourselves, and there it was: Dweck was doing a lower-priced jewelry line for QVC called Dweck’s Diamonds. His Neiman Marcus pieces didn’t even have diamonds. The high-end stuff is made with semi-precious stones.

Also in October, we were checking the press releases on HSN’s Web site when we saw the network had struck a deal with one of the most famous and elite fashion houses: Badgley Mischka, designers of bejeweled gowns for the red carpet and celebrities.

We’ve written bits and pieces of this during the past two months, but we thought we’d tie it all up in a tidy package for Thanksgiving: There has been a sea change in the home shopping world, prompted by the disastrous economy and the crash of the luxury market.

Yes, home shopping networks have seen their sales hurt by the economy, like everyone else. But they claim they are still managing to steal market share from brick-and-mortar retailers. In fact, QVC is making a full-frontal assault on them this Black Friday, with 28 hours of special products and programming stunts starting Thanksgiving night.

The consumer press will continue to mention “cubic zirconia” in every story it writes about QVC or HSN, oblivious to the fact that some of the most esteemed names in fashion, jewelry and cosmetics — brands you find in Saks, Bloomingdale’s and Neiman Marcus — are plying their wares on the aforementioned home shopping channels.

ShopNBC CEO Keith Stewart

Male journalists are blind to this. You still have the nerds at Gawker, a snide Web Site for the navel-gazing media, chiding HSN for selling “useless crap.”

If you have ever seen how male journalists dress or their fashion and style sensibilities, you will realize that you can’t expect them to know names like Badgley Mischka, Judith Ripka, Robert Lee Morris, our fellow Montclair, N.J., resident Bobbi Brown, Yves Saint Laurent, Smashbox, Lancome and Dweck. And these brands and artists don’t represent “useless crap.”

Luxury-good makers are hurting, and they need to make up their loss in sales. So they are turning to outlets like QVC, as CEO Mike George explained at a recent Liberty Media conference, as outlets to distribute new lower-priced lines to the masses. George cited fashion designer Vivienne Tam’s QVC alliance at the meeting held in Manhattan by his parent company, Liberty.

“This complete implosion of luxury retailing in America has caused all these folks to rethink their business model,” George said.

And that means partnering with QVC, HSN or ShopNBC.

As we said, it will take the consumer press years to figure out that home shopping channels are distribution powerhouses that have undergone a transformation, in part because of the infllux of talent like a Morris, who does couture jewelry for designers like Donna Karan and RLM Studio sterling silver jewelry for QVC.

The Big Three — QVC, HSN and ShopNBC — are aggressively trying to broaden their audience and potential customer base, those who don’t normally watch any of these three networks. That means the three are actually “programming” the channels, doing “shows” that have entertainment value, not just product shilling, so they will attract non-QVC or non-HSN watchers.

We remember once interviewing a QVC exec years ago and asking what the network’s ratings were. He said ratings were irrelevant: QVC was only concerned about how many products were sold in an hour.

HSN CEO Mindy Grossman

That’s a totally different tune from what we heard recently from QVC’s George, and from the strategies that HSN CEO Mindy Grossman and ShopNBC CEO Keith Stewart have initiated.

Like traditional TV networks, the home shopping players want viewers to “sample” a QVC or an HSN. These new audience members, hopefully, will then see products that they want to buy.

For example, singer Natalie Cole recently did a live concert on HSN to promote a new Holiday CD set she is selling on the channel. If you’re a fan, you might tune in to HSN to see her, and then actually decide to purchase her CD. Artists such
as Jose Feliciano have also performed live on QVC.

QVC alum Stewart on a recent third-quarter conference call pointed out that actress-entrepreneur Suzanne Somers, who came to ShopNBC from HSN, had succeeded in attracting new viewers to Minneapolis-based ShopNBC because she was “entertaining.” And these networks want new eyeballs.

And home shopping networks’ capacity to reach millions of consumers and do fulfillment of orders has not been lost on magazine publishers, celebrities or cable’s reality TV stars. With circulation falling, women’s magazines such as Lucky, Allure, Glamour and Self are partnering with HSN to sell subscriptions.

And stars have seen the light. In a recent interview in Oprah Winfey’s O magazine, Joan Rivers, who’s had a jewelry line on QVC for almost 20 years, told O she was on home shopping when “nobody except dead celebrities was doing merchandise on TV.”

Nowadays, it’s hard to find a celebrity or TV star who doesn’t have a home shopping line. Even Madonna was interviewed on HSN when she was selling her children’s book.

Here’s a partial list:

Paula Abdul, HSN, formerly “American Idol,” Fox

Rachel Zoe, QVC, “The Rachel Zoe Project,” Bravo

Isaac Mizrahi, QVC, “The Fashion Show,” Bravo

Padma Lakshmi, HSN, “Top Chef,” Bravo

Ramona Singer, HSN, “The Real Housewives of New York City,” Bravo

Susan Lucci, HSN, “All My Children,” ABC

Carson Kressley, QVC, “How to Look Good Naked,” Lifetime Television

Dr. Robert Rey, ShopNBC, “Dr. 90210,” E! Entertainment Television

Tori Spelling, HSN, “Tori & Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood,” Oxygen

Paula Deen, QVC, Food Network

Rachael Ray, QVC, “The Rachael Ray Show,” syndication

Ingrid Hoffmann, HSN, Food Network and Univision

Home shopping is a big business. ShopNBC is the also-ran in the group, but in the third quarter Stewart made some nice progress cutting its losses. Sales for the Big Three were all down, but down less than previous quarters.

And we are not talking chump change for these networks. The three home shopping channels generated $8.3 billion in net revenue in 2008. QVC domestic posted $4.9 billion, HSN netted $2.8 billion and ShopNBC had $568 million.

Even with revenue still slipping this year, for the first nine months QVC had revenue of $3.308 billion; HSN had net sales of $1.4 billion; and ShopNBC had $372.6 million in net sales.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Food Network Star Paula Deen Gets A Touching, Teary Call From A Fellow Southerner — And Fan — On QVC

November 17, 2009

There were several priceless moments on Food Network star Paula Deen’s show Monday evening on QVC, including one that almost had us tearing up along with the charming celebrity cook.

Deen, known for her “Y-all” Southernisms, had a live audience at the QVC studio in West Chester, Pa. We’re not trying to be mean, but they were the heaviest group of people we have ever seen in one place. And we are not exaggerating. They must love to eat Deen’s butter-laden dishes.

Anyway, Deen sells food items and cookware on QVC. She was on with a fellow Southerner, host David Venable, when she started talking about the ham sausage she was selling. It’s her No. 1-selling food item on the home shopping channel. And Deen loves those sausage patties herself.

“I put it in my mouth and I suck on it, I suck until all the juices are gone, and then I chew it,” she told Venable, who was left a little speechless by her remark. We guess he has a dirty mind like us.

Deen and Venable, who looks like he’s been eating a lot of Deen’s food, later called the cook-restaurateur from Georgia one of our favorite Southern expressions: Sweet pea.

But putting all our reporter cynicism aside, there was a really touching moment at the end of the show. The only thing like it we have ever seen on home shopping was when host Rick Domeier wiped away tears during his recent anniversary show.

Lisa from Mississippi called in, and said, “I love you Paula, and David, too.” She was crying, apparently so excited and happy to be talking to Deen.

Moved by the woman, Deen almost started to cry, as well, telling Lisa she loved her, too. The caller told Deen she was buying her sausage patties as well as turkey breast for Thanksgiving.

Deen was obviously was still touched by the woman, who she said had “the sweetest voice,” and she turned to Venable.

“David, you don’t realize how you touch people,” Deen said. “You don’t realize how you touch ’em until you get a call like that from that little lady and it makes your heart just full.”

Good for you Paula.

Celebrity Chefs Are Hot For HSN, But There’s No News About Todd English And His Bride-Jilting Caper

November 12, 2009

HSN was crowing Thursday about the success of the high-profile chefs that hawk products on the network. We guess it’s no surprise that officials didn’t mention the tabloid headlines that Todd English made recently for allegedly jilting his bride-to-be.

During a third-quarter conference call Thursday, HSN CEO Mindy Grossman said that the network “marries the best chefs of HSN with our successful commerce platform,” citing English, Wolfgang Puck and Emeril Lagasse.

The home shopping network expanded its chef roster last with week with the premieres of cook/TV host/cookbook authors Padma Lakshmi and Ingrid Hoffmann as part of the channel’s second annual “HSN Cooks” event. Lakshmi is a host of Bravo’s hit “Top Chef,” while Hoffman does shows for Food Network and Univision.

“The combination of diversity of product, personality and programming resulted in a sales increase of 40 percent over last year’s event,” Grossman said.

HSN was able to strike a deal with Lakshmi and leverage “the tremendous popularity of the ‘Top Chef’ reality series” after talking to her in April about doing a line of cutlery, teas and spices. That Easy Exotic line launched and sold out during the cooks’ event, according to Grossman.

Not mentioned again in the call was English, who was recently in the news in his home base of Boston and in New York City when he left his fiancee, Erica Wang, at the altar the day they were supposed to get married in Manhattan.

Wang painted English as a rat in an exclusive interview with The New York Post. Days later, English filed domestic abuse charges against Wang in Boston, alleging that she hit him in the head with his own watch.

HSN Adds Latin Spice (How’s That For A Cliche?) With Debut Of Chef Ingrid Hoffmann, Of Food Network And Univision

November 5, 2009

HSN Thursday added a little Latin flavor to its lineup with the debut of chef and TV host Ingrid Hoffmann, who is selling the Simply Delicioso T-fal cookware line.

Don’t be fooled by Hoffmann’s name: She was raised in Colombia, and has cooking shows on Galavision/Univision and Food Network.

Regarding names, look at us: Our last name is Moss, but our mother’s maiden name is Vazquez, by way of Puerto Rico.

Hoffman is selling her cookbook on HSN and also offers “Chica Tips” for the kitchen.