Taking the Show on the Road
- Once you started Better Living, you were off and running, taping for 81 weeks in a row. And then you made a big leap, taking the show out of the studio and onto the job site. What prompted the move?
After a while you just run out of people to talk to, and I had all these remodeling projects going on all over town; so I thought that instead of sitting there talking about them and showing pictures, we’d start going out on location. There was just one other person other than me, doing all the editing and taping of the show. I didn’t know anything about what it took to take cameras to the location.
Back then, cameras were gigantic and you had a big tape deck on a sling over your shoulder. Logistically it was very taxing and limiting on what you could do. Now, we have drones and GoPro cameras and you can show so many interesting angles. Then, it was just a giant studio camera kit. The show leaped forward on the quality and the audience because all of a sudden it was like a real home improvement show, but it was from Mobile, Ala.
I was writing, producing, everything. The camera guy would show up at 9:00 in the morning and we’d shoot what was going on during the project at that time. We did it every week and we did the entire show in about two hours.
- With you on the job site, instead of in the studio, the show really started gaining popularity. What feedback did you get from the audience about the content of the episodes?
Any time we did the common projects, the projects most people would want to do in their home, that’s what got the most response. Not the big-budget jobs. They liked the way we updated the shower, or how we installed the backsplash. That’s one of the early signs of the direction we needed to go in, and it’s still true today. People love it when we’re in kitchens and bathrooms.
- What was the next step in evolving Better Living?
As I was asking more and more about what can we do, the answers to all those questions were, “We can do all of that if we have more money and more people.” So I started buying air time myself. That prompted me to go out and find three sponsors a week to help me break even. At one time I had 17 sponsors in one 30-minute show, it was great. Sponsorship opened up a world of possibilities, which made me start thinking about bigger possibilities.
- Speaking of bigger possibilities, the end of the 1980s brought an increased focus and complete change of your brand. What was it like saying goodbye to the title Better Living?
In 1990 I shifted the gears a bit and started going towards really producing and launching Remodeling Today. I was spending a set fee to have someone produce the show, shoot it and edit it and it became more and more evident we were too big for local, but too small for national. And even though I still didn’t have aspirations of going national with it, I wanted to grow my footprint a little bit bigger. So we started sending off tapes and calling stations to see if they wanted to carry the show.
- You’ve said that whether those first stations were in rural Alabama or hundreds of miles away in Missouri, each one was crucial in the growth of Remodeling Today.
People think things in TV happen overnight, but they really don’t. You just have to keep marching on. And not long after we started getting serious with it, we realized our goal was too low. So I decided to take the show to the NATPE (National Association of Television Program Executives) trade show.
Continue reading Part 3: Growing the Television Audience.