Martha Stewart isn’t the only domestic diva at a crossroads.
Home improvement guru Christopher Lowell and Discovery Communications, where Mr. Lowell has been a daytime fixture for eight years, have decided to end the exclusive relationship between them that has borne 460 hours of television.
This brings to an end “It’s Christopher Lowell,” their most recent collaboration, which currently airs weekdays in repeats, along with repeats of “The Christopher Lowell Show.”
In the future Mr. Lowell’s Discovery shows-including the first, “Interior Motives With Christopher Lowell”-will shift to the Discovery Home network.
The move is expected in the second quarter of 2004 as part of Discovery Home’s relaunch. The digital cable service, available in about 35 million U.S. television households, was previously known as Discovery Home & Leisure. The shows are expected to air in prime time and late fringe.
The decision means a two-hour daytime block will be open on Discovery Channel, which is available in about 89 million homes. Discovery has not yet set a replacement schedule. “With Discovery Home relaunching with its new focus on this kind of programming, it was a perfect time to make this shift with Christopher’s programming,” Discovery Channel spokesman Matt Katzive said.
By multiple accounts, the split in large part is due to the evolution of viewers’ tastes in home improvement programming toward game-oriented reality, which is at odds with Mr. Lowell’s more educational, feel-good, do-it-yourself message.
“It’s been a great run at Discovery, but they seem to be going in a different direction,” said Daniel Levin, chief operating officer of Christopher Lowell Enterprises. “More shows now are about surprising people. We wanted to be at a place that was more organic to what Christopher was about.”
Mr. Lowell added, “Doing your home should be well thought out, the most personal thing you do. Why have someone with a limited budget come and kamikaze your home? It was just in conflict with my ministry. It’s not just Discovery, though. I think a lot of the reality home genres made me think I’d rather take a break from television.”
Any break taken by Mr. Lowell, who won a Daytime Emmy Award for outstanding service show host in 2000, likely will not be for long. He and Discovery Networks say they may work together on other shows down the line.
Mr. Lowell and Mr. Levin also are developing new projects for broadcast and cable networks as well as for syndication. They are looking to incorporate their merchandising partners as sponsors, advertisers or investors on future projects.
Mr. Lowell said he has been participating in meetings on two shows in particular. One is a lifestyle reality show in which Mr. Lowell helps hosts throw memorable parties, from preparing the food to inviting guests whom the hosts “know, should know and always wanted to know,” Mr. Lowell said. The other project he is pitching is a how-to show set primarily behind the scenes at Christopher Lowell Enterprises.
They’ll likely steer clear of daytime, focusing instead on weekly projects or specials aimed at early-fringe, prime-time or weekend time periods to catch Mr. Lowell’s fans when they’re most available. Mr. Lowell said he also has entertained the idea of a late-night talk show.
“Why be on TV when my viewers are working?” he said. “I don’t want to be in a time slot when they’re working and can’t watch it. I’m there for the working class. I have always distinguished myself that way.”
For years Mr. Lowell’s Discovery shows aired at lunchtime. Ratings in recent years have declined.
“The reason Christopher’s business style has been so successful is because he’s always been in places where there’s really been a need,” Mr. Levin said. “As far as Discovery, they really needed an identity in daytime [at the time or the original deal], you know, a personality.”
The Christopher Lowell brand has developed dramatically since it launched on Discovery, based on a self-financed pilot shown at the 1995 National Association of Television Program Executives convention. Mr. Lowell said he spent $4,200 on a 10-foot-by-10-foot exhibition space.
The original pilot, which was reshot and ultimately became “Interior Motives With Christopher Lowell,” was inspired by research and development conducted over three years at a retail and educational outlet Mr. Lowell ran in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. The facility was rigged with cameras. He shot more than 2,200 hours of footage for a documentary on self-esteem. He learned what people needed from a home show-a curriculum, empowerment and entertainment. It’s where he developed his seven layers of design theory as well as his signature phrase, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”
Privately held Christopher Lowell Enterprises now consists of multiple divisions, including Christopher Lowell Productions, which took over production of the Discovery show in June 2001; and Christopher Lowell Inc., which markets the consumer products. Mr. Lowell has put his stamp on everything from paint, bedding, accessories, lighting and art to home and office furniture and window treatments. The company has retail or manufacturing deals with Office Depot, Burlington Coat Factory, 3 Day Blinds, Catalina Lighting and Flexsteel Industries, among others.
The Christopher Lowell brand overall is projected to generate more than $100 million in retail sales in 2004, said Mr. Levin, who declined to specify annual revenue for the company.
The Office Depot pact for a line of coordinated office furniture and accessories is among the newest and the biggest. Office Depot has been heavily promoting the collaboration in TV ads starring Mr. Lowell.
Mr. Lowell also will debut a weekly syndicated radio show with Envision Radio. The launch date is not set yet, but it is expected to premiere in late spring or early summer. His fourth book, on home entertaining, is due this fall, and he’s working on his fifth.
While it helped build the Christopher Lowell brand, TV is now just one of many aspects of an empire that has generated hundreds of millions of dollars over the years.
“When Christopher started working on the TV show, and when it hit the airwaves, we had this plan that Christopher developed about going and taking the business and doing a lot of the stuff that Martha [Stewart] had done,” Mr. Levin said. “Martha had built her brand through publishing; we said we’re going to do it the ’90s way, through TV, using TV as a catalyst for the brand and then built it from that.”