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Lunden Links With DirecTV to Salute ‘Hometown Heroes’

Feb 24, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Joan Lunden will salute caring DirecTV subscribers on “Hometown Heroes,” a new series created by the satellite television provider.
“Hometown Heroes” will premiere April 6 on DirecTV’s original programming channel, called The 101. Each episode of the half-hour show features three stories about people who make a difference in their communities and are customers of the satellite service.
DirecTV, with 16 million subscribers, has been creating original programming for The 101 as a bonus to subscribers and to create a point of differentiation from other multichannel services.
“This is something that we created really just for our customer base,” said Ronit Larone, VP of programming at DirecTV. She said the company gets good feedback from customers; it does not provide ratings data.
To date, many of the original shows DirecTV creates haven’t carried much advertising, but with the programming becoming more appealing, she said, ad sales efforts are being ramped up.
“Our ad sales team is in discussions with all these great companies that make perfect sense to work with us on this type of series,” Ms. Larone said.
As DirecTV develops its next wave of shows, it will be working with advertisers on sponsorship deals, she said, although revenue generation still won’t be the priority with DirecTV’s original shows.
“We decided how much we were going to invest in the production cost for these shows. They’re not blockbuster, huge, prime-time budgets, but it is substantial,” she said.
Getting some good shows on the air was the priority, rather than marketing or promotion.
“This is our way to give back to our customers and differentiate ourselves from our competitors,” Ms. Larone said. “If we lure some customers over, then that’s fantastic.”
The idea for “Hometown Heroes”—a show that focuses on subscribers and tries to make them feel part of a community of satellite TV users—originated with Ms. Larone and Eric Shanks, executive VP of DirecTV Entertainment.
Ms. Lunden, the former “Good Morning America” anchor, was their first choice to host the show.
“We were trying to think who would be the perfect person. It kept coming back to Joan,” Ms. Larone said. “Because she hosted morning television for nearly 20 years, we figured our audience would recognize her instantly as someone who is trustworthy.”
Even with two young sets of twins, Ms. Lunden said, she’s constantly working on programs and health-oriented campaigns. She said she gets show proposals all the time and sorts them based on whether she’d want to have her name associated with the program. “Hometown Heroes” is the kind of show she wants to do.
“In this age of so much reality TV, and so much bad news and so much exploitation, to see a network … give airtime to something that just recognizes people doing something good, people making a difference in the world, I took my hat off to them and I jumped right on board,” she said.
In the studio watching the stories about what one person can accomplish, Ms. Lunden said, she and the production crew would wonder if they were doing everything they could.
“I defy anyone to watch this and not be inspired,” she said.
She also made sure it would be a classy production, and found “the writing was great and the pieces were produced beautifully.” The show is being produced by Linda Ellman Productions.
With a half-hour to cover three subjects, each segment has room to breathe, Ms. Larone said
Among those profiled are Carolyn Blashek, who founded Operation Gratitude, which provides care packages to soldiers; Sinead Chilton from Schools on Wheels, which offers free school supplies and tutoring to homeless children in California; and Greg Porter, who founded God’s Katrina Kitchen, which provides meals to hurricane relief workers.
Ms. Larone said DirecTV is considering more episodes beyond the initial order of 10 half-hours. Nominations for people to be profiled on future shows may be submitted at DirecTV.com/heroes.
At first, DirecTV aimed its original programming at NFL Season Ticket subscribers. Its early attempts at music shows were aimed at young men, but the satellite service found it was older guys who were watching.
That led to a music game show called “Rock and a Hard Place,” hosted by Meatloaf, that often features bands from the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s.
DirecTV has broadened its programming focus to include women with the former NBC soap opera “Passions.” “Hometown Heroes,” however, is aimed at more of a family audience.
Next week, DirecTV launches “Supreme Court of Comedy,” in which comedians represent real people with small claims in front of comic Dom Irrera, who serves as judge. In one episode, Tom Arnold and Sinbad square off on behalf of their clients.

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