UPtv's Amy Winter on the Programming Strategy that Led to "Design Twins"

By UPtv / Aspire InSites Archives
Cover image for  article: UPtv's Amy Winter on the Programming Strategy that Led to "Design Twins"

When it comes to content, the where is often as important as the what.  Super Bowl ads are noteworthy in part because of the investment to put them there.  The context especially counts:  When programs premiere on UPtv they are signaling that the network’s investment is focused on uplifting and entertaining shows.  Amy Winter, UPtv Executive Vice President and General Manager, joined me for an in-depth discussion about delivering on that promise to the audience she serves, using as an example the network’s newest show, Design Twins, an unscripted look at twin sisters (Heather Fujikawa (left) and Heidi Andrews pictured above) starting a design business. 

Winter, who had just returned from the Real Screen Summit, described UPtv’s success with optimistic, upbeat, relatable programming, including reality series like the popular Bringing Up Bates (which airs a special wedding episode on Valentine’s day).  “I realized that what was really resonating with our audiences was watching families experience life’s biggest moments -- whether it was the beginning of a romance, a proposal, a wedding or the arrival of children," she said.  "For the families in our shows, those are the moments that are the highlights of their year, but they’re also the same things we at home all anticipate, celebrate and want to remember forever.  So, that’s when we started with all the other series -- Expecting, Our Wedding Story, Crazy Beautiful Weddings -- focusing on those magical moments.  Design Twins tackles two very life-altering moments -- combining households and starting a family business -- and other life-defining moments along the way.”

The overall programming strategy, she said, is like a three-legged stool.  “The first leg is acquisitions.  Audiences are familiar with the shows -- they're like best friends or comfort snack food.  Some of those snacky shows are reality shows, like Whose Line Is it Anyway? and America’s Funniest Videos, and they do really well as a quick pick-me-up for our audiences.  Others are fan-favorite series that lean on great families.  Gilmore Girls, obviously, is a gem for us from that standpoint.  And we've added Home Improvement this year and Fresh Off the Boat,which is still in premieres on broadcast and a really big deal for us.

Winter said the second leg of the UPtv programming strategy is original and acquired movies.  Viewers can see feel-good movies every weekend, and recently the network expanded original production beyond the Christmas season.  Whether the network produces or acquires the movies, she noted, everything on UPtv nonetheless delivers on that promise of uplifting entertainment.

Winter even differentiates the third leg -- their reality shows -- as “uplifting" reality.  "These are programs that leave our audiences feeling good and showcase people that our audiences can relate to,” she explained.  “One of the things that we hear back from the production companies that work with us is that producing a show for UPtv is different than producing for other networks.  We come in with the philosophy that we’re not interested in seeing a bunch of mean people.  We don’t push buttons for the sake of producing entertainment.  Producers working with UPtv won’t have a network pushing them to say, ‘Flip over a table!’  For our producers [and viewers] that’s a breath of fresh air, leading to some great television -- that will include authentic drama, but ends with warmth and an uplifting takeaway.”

On Design Twins, which premieres Thursday, February 14, that means the drama comes from the natural push and pull between Heather Fujikawa (pictured at top, left) and Heidi Andrews (top right), talented sisters with effervescent but very different personalities.  Viewers will be engaged with the design part of the show, but also entertained by watching the sisters bring their children and husbands together in one household and figure out how to get along.  (Winter promises a design “reveal” at the end of every episode, as viewers have come to expect from the genre.)

“They’re very different, and that makes things interesting,” Winter noted.  “One is incredibly organized and in control, and the other is a bit more ‘go-with-the-flow’ and easy, and you see these characteristics come through in their design styles.  The viewer is a fly on the wall, watching how things go as they combine households and live together.  And then in each episode, they're tackling a project and we get to see how they really design with family in mind.  If they're creating a living room where people have small children; we've actually seen where they're drawing in crayon on the coffee tables to see if it'll come off, you know?  Road test it.”

While the design component will feel familiar to fans of the genre, the emphasis on family life is unique to Design Twins.  I asked how Winter and her team had found the show.

“What was really fascinating about how that show came about was we were digging in two different spaces," she recalled.  "We felt there were some big life moments related to the home itself -- and maybe around the start of a family business.  And the other thing that was on our board (one entire wall of Amy’s office is covered with different categories of programming, with cards reflecting concepts under consideration) was about families finding unique living arrangements, to either make ends meet or help each other with schedules.  So, we were looking for something a little Kate and Allie, and this show checked both boxes.  Plus, one of the sisters was pregnant while we were filming.  This show is all of life’s biggest moments at once.”

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