Culture

HGTV's Non-Political Appeal Beats CNN in Election Year

REUTERS/Steve Marcus (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT) - RTX16D2O

The most common complaints about the election year that America just went through revolved around its divisiveness and tone. In reality, it probably wasn’t even the nastiest in this great country’s history, it just had more ways to seem so. Cable news is shrill, and social media tends to make that look like a day-spa experience, so even the smallest things get magnified.

The one thing that those who complain a lot about how stressed out cable news and social media make them never seem to notice is that the stress is self-inflicted. One doesn’t have to turn the television on to news or constantly check Twitter or Facebook. If one does, there are ways to avoid getting the political blood boiling, and one of those options was very popular this year:

The escapist appeal of looking at other people’s beautiful homes turned Home & Garden Television into the third most-watched cable network in 2016, ahead of CNN and behind only Fox News and ESPN. Riding HGTV’s reality shows, parent company Scripps Networks Interactive Inc. has seen its shares rise more than 30 percent this year, outperforming bigger rivals like Walt Disney Co., 21st Century Fox Inc. and Viacom Inc.

HGTV’s formula is relentlessly consistent: a shabby house gets a makeover, and a happy couple moves in. A variation on the theme — house-flipping for fun and profit — works too. The network has aired 23 different flipping shows over the past few years. Today “Flip or Flop” and “Masters of Flip” run in prime time.

Truly non-political havens on television are difficult to find. Politics is bleeding into everything, as any ESPN fan will attest to. Movies, sports, lighthearted sitcoms…they all find a way to work in political ideology. It’s often done it the most awkward way too, shoehorning it where it doesn’t belong.

HGTV keeps everything nice, light, and entertaining. I was first introduced to the network when my daughter became fascinated with it around the age of thirteen. One day Disney Channel and Nickelodeon were gone, and it became all HGTV all the time. It was the least worrisome temporary TV addiction she ever had.

Even though HGTV provided a non-political antidote to the high pitch of the election, its appeal provides a snapshot of how the election played out:

The last year has been vindicating for Lowe. When he started HGTV in 1994, few people thought anyone would watch his network “about grass growing and paint drying,” he says. For a while, Time Warner Cablewouldn’t even carry the channel in New York City, because, he was told, the metropolitan audience wasn’t interested.

Lowe shrugged it off. Walking the aisles of Home Depot Inc. and Lowe’s Cos. stores around the country, he had identified an audience that was passionate about their houses.

“If you watch a lot of our competitors, it’s about bling-y expensive real estate in New York or crazy flipping in L.A.,” said Scripps chief programming officer Kathleen Finch. “For the most part, our viewers live in suburban houses with yards. We embrace the real America.”

Entertainment for regular people in flyover country — what a novel concept. A successful one too, it would seem.