When I see some of the mean-spirited programming on TV, especially the ones that exploit kids, as a mother I find myself wishing those shows didn’t have an audience. — Kathleen Finch
Please tell us where you’re from and what led to your interest in a career in television?
I am a native New Yorker; I grew up in Manhattan. What led me to television was the fact that I wasn’t
allowed to watch much (TV) as a child, and that made it much more exciting to me. When I got a little older and found out that some people actually worked in television, I realized (TV) was exactly what I wanted to do as my career.
What college did you attend and what was your major?
I went to Stanford University and majored in Modern American Literature.
What was your first job in the industry and how did you land that opportunity?
I did two internships, but my first real job was working in Silicon Valley producing educational videos for
Apple Computers. They (Apple) were trying to introduce the idea of people buying personal computers for at
home use. It turned out to be a great educational experience because we were making documentaries about
how a computer could change your life, and I got to hang out at Apple and having have meetings with Steve Jobs.
It was an unusual time, and it was pretty cool but it wasn’t exactly television. I spent most of my career as a print and television journalist. I have only been in cable (television) for about 12 years.
How did journalism prepare you for the job at HGTV, and what do you look for when hiring writers for your network?
I look to hire writers who are fast and smart. Being able to articulate what you want to say, in writing, is key. To be a good journalist it means that you are a great storyteller and very respectful of the facts. What we do at HGTV is very much the same; we’re telling stories and producing documentaries in some respects, but they are all interesting stories that appeal to people who are into home ownership. I call what we do at HGTV, “service journalism.” It’s not the evening news, but it does provide our viewers with good takeaway information.
What do you do as the SVP/GM of HGTV, and what is a typical day like for you?
I’m responsible for the programming for both HGTV and DIY Network, which amounts to about 1,200 hours of programming per year. Much of my day is spent overseeing the programming team and dealing with talent, new shows, agents, contracts and budgets. It’s hectic, but I enjoy my job.
How do you find new shows and hosts to develop for your networks?
When we choose a new show to develop, we first look at what our viewers like about our current shows and how we can build off of that. We’ll look at a successful show like, House Hunters, and then create something that is similar in tone or taste, but still has a unique twist that brings in new viewers.
When it comes to talent, the most important thing is to find someone who has the kind of charisma that pops on television. There are few people who have that quality, but when you see it, you know it (immediately). One our network’s criteria is that our hosts have to be experts in their field (not
television). It’s hard to find the right talent, but when we do, we groom them and build shows around them.
How often do you get new show pitches?
We receive 4 to 5 pitches a day and very few actually make it to the air. We typically work with production companies, but many of our ideas are generated internally by my staff. Once we have an idea, we’ll turn to the production company that we feel is the right fit to produce the show. It’s mostly a
collaborative effort with outside production companies.
What projects are you most excited about for 2013?
There’s a new competition show that we’re launching called, Brother vs. Brother that is based around The Property Brothers. They’ll each have a team and we’re going to pit them against each other. I’m also excited about a show we have called, Flea Market Flip, with Lara Spencer from Good Morning America.
How have high-profile partnerships increased awareness around the brand?
Partnerships are great, and probably the most exciting one that we have forged is with The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Ellen does this wonderful thing where she reaches out to viewers and really helps change their lives. Ellen called us and said she wanted to do something for Hurricane Sandy victims.
She found an adorable young couple who are both EMTs who were working around the clock trying to help Sandy victims, but at the same time, their home was also destroyed. So we sent the Kitchen Cousins in to completely rebuild their house for them. It appeared on Ellen and in January it will appear on HGTV as a one-hour special.
If someone is interested in pursuing a career in television programming, what advice would you give them on where to start?
There are two routes that I see people normally come through; one is to do what I did and start in the world of journalism. Many of the people that I hire are former journalists; either print or TV. The other option is to work at a production company. There are tons of opportunities out there to work at these smaller companies and I think it’s a really great way to start building your network.
If you could enhance anything about this business, what would it be and why?
I think that some of the programming on the air right now is somewhat mean-spirited. I don’t know if that speaks more to the programmers or the audience? When I see some of the mean-spirited programming on TV, especially the ones that exploit kids, as a mother I find myself wishing those shows didn’t have an audience.