057-What Happened to the G in HGTV?

| Podcast, Resources

Do you ever wonder what happened to the G in HGTV? I used to love weekend binge-watching favorite gardening episodes on HGTV. We, as gardeners, used to have a wide variety of garden TV shows to feed our passion, but that is just no longer the case.

Ten years ago as part of my syndicated newspaper column, I wrote an article asking where that G had gone. Here we are a decade later, and there are fewer shows now than ever before. When was the last time you saw a new garden television series air in the U.S.? I know I haven’t seen any.


Joe Lamp'l on set of one of his garden TV shows

A typical day for Growing a Greener World host and producer Joe Lamp’l. Filming locations are often in remote areas, so you set up shop wherever you can find a place to work. The ever-present producer notebook maps out all the details for what needs to happen to capture the story.


It’s not personal. It’s just business.

It’s easy to forget sometimes that network TV is a business, and it’s business decisions which drive the content networks give you access to. After seventeen years in the television industry – hosting three shows on three networks (HGTV, DIY and PBS) – I’ve come to understand the workings behind which shows are carried and which are dropped.

Network executives, producers, show creators, media buyers – they are all beholden to the almighty dollar. Program development is driven by advertising and the audience those advertisers target. The shows that are aired, the time slots they are assigned, and even the hosts themselves are at the mercy of the push for profit.

As a show creator/producer, I can attest to the intense work and resources necessary to create a television series. Each show takes a village and a lot of travel, equipment and planning to pull off. Need I mention – when you’re filming in gardens, a lot of luck is involved too.


Our pilot episode was a labor of love comprised of a talented crew from far and wide, all coming together to share their talents to bring to life the vision of a gardening show that would capture the attention of even a non-gardening audience.


I love what I do. It’s my passion to tell these stories and to inspire a new generation of gardeners. I’ve devoted years to featuring the people who are working to combat urban sprawl, habitat loss, and the overuse of chemicals and fertilizers which do harm to our environment. I’m also acutely aware of the struggles of those learning to grow their own food. These are all some of the many reasons I’ve committed myself to the Growing a Greener World® (GGW) journey.

But at the end of the day, I can’t continue to produce the show to share these stories if I can’t pay the bills. This work – as with all garden shows – needs to be sustainable. Therein lies the reason behind the disappearance of other garden television.

Viewers help fund PBS stations, but who pays for those network shows? Why advertisers, of course. Network advertising isn’t cheap, so it’s the big players who wield the most power. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough viewers of garden shows hitting the demographic markers that those advertisers are trying to hit.

So if a network isn’t seeing the flow of those advertising dollars, you can bet the executives will shift content to provide advertisers what they want.


The production values necessary to bring a high-quality gardening show to the finished product requires all hands on deck. Everyone on the team gets involved to see that through to fruition.


Advertisers are in control.

So what do advertisers want? These days, the millennial generation is considered the target market. They are the viewers driving the economic engine of the future. If they aren’t attracted to a 30-minute garden television show, it’s not going to happen.

Networks make their profit by creating the content they know will generate the most advertiser interest and biggest dollars. Media buyers are under a lot of pressure to make the most of their advertising budgets, so they will choose the winning horse every time.

Advertisers want to get as much bang for their buck when it comes to placement too. These days, there are lots of home renovation shows. This type of programming offers plenty of opportunity to showcase company products – a feature advertisers love. Renovation shows have a dream multi-generational viewing audience, a prime time slot, and unlimited appeal to companies with advertising budgets to spend.

Those shows are a draw for another reason too – instant transformation. In the span of 30 minutes, the work is finished and everything is shiny new and in perfect position.

Garden programs just don’t offer that sort of dynamic gratification or product placement system.


One of the keys to telling the story is to truly understand how to do that visually. Emmy Award-winning Director of Photography, Carl Pennington has been in that role with GGW since the beginning.


Extreme Home Entertainment

We are all so busy and distracted that we don’t have time to give things the same level of attention anymore. When something does grab us, it had better be bold and powerful, or it can lose us in an instant.

With the advent of shows like Extreme Home Makeover, a lot of things in the industry shifted. High octane action was the name of the game; and hosts needed to be young, charismatic and exciting.


One of the keys to the success enjoyed by Growing a Greener World is working with a team that truly enjoys their work – on and off the set. Here Joe Lamp’l and Chef Nathan Lyon share one of many light-hearted moments as they prepare for an upcoming scene.


I get it. I was a fan of that show too. Unfortunately, this approach took a toll on longstanding garden shows like Ground Breakers, Gardener’s Diary, Garden by the Yard, and Victory Garden.

Advertisers are constantly challenged to find whatever means necessary to capture the attention of potential buyers. Those classic garden programs didn’t offer the same allure as the home renovation revolution.

At about the time home makeover shows were beginning to transfix audiences, many of the networks themselves began to experience a changing of the guard. It was not uncommon for new executives to come on board who sharpened their pencils when it came to marketing television shows. They began to look at the role of the host differently and to phase out the established personalities.


The early days for Joe Lamp’l on set of his first series, DIY Network’s Fresh From the Garden.


Those established hosts were experts in their field. They had earned their credibility and their audience by honing their skill and craft. Unfortunately, those years of experience meant many hosts were older than the ideal demographic age range.

When I was tapped in 2002 to host Fresh from the Garden on HGTV’s sister network – DIY, the most desirable age for a show host was early 30’s to 40, on the high end. By the time Fresh from the Garden retired from the air three years later, 30 was considered too old to host. Hosts were being recruited in their early 20’s instead.

I was fortunate to be chosen to host another PBS show for three years, but during that time, I was beginning to get restless. This was around 2009, and there were no new shows in the U.S. to teach people how to garden. I was feeling the demise of the garden show and the need for an avenue to reach an audience who wasn’t being served.


Even in the early years, trying to connect gadening with a younger audience was always a driving force behind Joe’s mission to inspire audiences of all ages.


In particular, I was keen to attract a younger audience to gardening. I wanted to get a new generation excited about growing their own food and living sustainably. After all, when we get our hands in the soil, magic happens.

A Place to Feed Gardening Interests

I had an idea for a new show to capture the attention of a younger audience through cooking segments and stories on sustainability, while also serving gardeners who were feeling left out by network television offerings.

I wanted to get people engaged by featuring powerful examples of people making a difference. How we treat this earth, how we benefit through the gratification of gardening, and how we can give back and get back – we each have the opportunity to create positive change. Sometimes, we just need the inspiration.


Telling the stories of gardening heros and legends is standard operating procedure for Joe and Growing a Greener World. While perhaps not as sexy as a makeover show, these stories are about the real heroes inspiring people around the world with accessible approaches to organic gardening.


I considered bringing the idea to HGTV; but I knew that, even if they liked the concept, they wouldn’t be obligated to include me in the creation of it.

By broadcasting this new show, Growing a Greener World, on PBS – I was able to control the content and top-notch production quality. On the other hand, all shows aired on PBS must find their own underwriting companies to finance production, and that can be a challenge. So, funding would be my responsibility too.

Fortunately, Subaru came on board as our first underwriter, and they have been a major funder for us every season since. One of the main reasons we are around today is due to their ongoing support.


The GardenFarm set for Growing a Greener World is frequently used to demonstrate many of the fundamentals of organic and raised bed gardening. It also doubles as the home garden for host, Joe Lamp’l.


We’ve had other great underwriting partners too, and it’s always been key for me that those relationships be authentic. Yet even when an underwriter does share our values and goals, there’s no guarantee that organization will continue to support us each season. These companies are dealing with their own shifting budgets and marketing strategies, so our show is always at risk of losing the funding we need to continue.

I’m happy to say that Growing a Greener World is bucking the industry trend, and we are stronger than ever. Our viewership continues to grow and, during preparations for this podcast, we were awarded our very first Emmy for our episode on The Green Bronx Machine.

That show epitomized the significance of finding a way to tell an important story which – at its core – was about growing food in one of the most unlikely places and in the poorest congressional district in America. I am proud to have been able to share that with you.


One of the keys to successful storytelling is to find the best locations to tell the story in the most authentic way. Growing a Greener World has always gone wherever needed to tell the story in the best possible light.


We continue to be inspired to bring you these types of stories with every episode. It’s our guiding principle to create evergreen content, and all our shows can be streamed on our website. However, we just love bringing you new shows too much to slow down now. We are excited about the future.

If Growing a Greener World isn’t currently aired in your market on PBS or Create TV, contact the station and let them know that gardening is alive and well and so is the audience for the shows about this great lifestyle and pastime. You may not have much sway with network television, but you can have a voice when it comes to which shows are aired by your local PBS station.

Currently, Growing a Greener World is wrapping up Season 9, and we are in planning for a great Season 10 too. In addition, we are in development for a whole new garden series. How will we support that show and deliver it to you? Well, we are working out those details throughout the remainder of 2018.


Another hallmark to GGW’s staying power is knowing what breakout stories to tell that are relevant to our audience. This episode on living walls was a classic example of bringing timely topics to a curious audience.


So, what’s next?

Is garden television dead? I don’t believe it’s dead, but I do think it’s on life support. There are a few good garden shows coming out of Europe, but there just isn’t anything on the horizon for North America.

Consider too that the way we consume information has changed tremendously during the past several years. Many millennials, for example, don’t even own a television. They stream content through a device like their phone or a laptop. In fact, many of us spend more time browsing on our phones than in front of the television.

This means a new future – with a different revenue model and delivery system.


It’s not all glitz and glamour when GGW goes on the road. But some of our best characters still have something to say, and we want to be sure everyone has a chance to be heard.


Crowd-sourcing is a viable option for funding show production, for example, and right now, there are membership services, like HortusTV, which stream a range of good garden shows from past years as well as a few new English garden series,

There is garden-related content available on YouTube too, but viewer beware. Expertise and knowledge are not required to post a video on YouTube or an internet blog about gardening – anyone can do it. So just because you see it out there, doesn’t make it worthwhile.

Be sure, when you turn to any online resource, that it is reliable and trustworthy.


While the style may have changed over the years, Joe’s message is still the same – find the best people to tell the stories that his audience needs to hear. In this case it’s about the practicality of bringing store-bought lady beetles into the garden as a beneficial insect to control pests


As for me, I don’t plan on going anywhere. I remain inspired to find and bring you important stories of people creating positive change through gardening and sustainable practices. I’ve been teaching people for nearly two decades how to grow it all, and I’m not about to stop now.

I’m dedicated to helping you and the next generation of gardeners learn how to grow your own food, care for your landscape, and protect the beauty of this world we enjoy.

How will this information continue to reach you? Well, Growing a Greener World isn’t resting on its laurels. As the media world changes, we are evolving to keep up with it.


One of GGW’s most popular episodes was found through a single Instagram post. You never know where the next great story will come from. This episode on the SolFood Mobile Farm was a prime example.


While we still plan on broadcasting on PBS, we are exploring other venues too. As underwriters come and go, we are also looking for more stability in funding our efforts – how best to build our content on a firm foundation, so we can continue serving in years to come.

We need to meet the demands of the audience who is looking for their content in another way. Which brings me to a question: If you had control over the content you received through a membership site – where you could stream the information you enjoy without commercials and through your wifi connection rather than a cable box – would that interest you?


Our pilot episode at GreensGrow Farms in Philadelphia drew in a tremendous pool of talent to create our very first (and one of our best-ever) episodes.


Will we air Growing a Greener World or the new series we are developing through a membership format? We just aren’t sure yet. Since we want to be where you are, we’d like to hear from you.

Let us know your thoughts in comments below. We would really like your input on how you would like us to evolve.

Keeping Up with the Curve

Change has been and always will be inevitable. So for my show and message to remain relevant and available, I am constantly examining what I can do better.

It was in recognizing the many different ways people now consume information that led to the creation of the Growing a Greener World sister site – We wanted to meet the demands of those of you who look for content in videos or as a blog post – or prefer listening to a podcast as opposed to watching a show on television.


Our small but might road crew does whatever it takes to make it happen. It was once said by guest expert Robin Haglund; “If people knew how hard you worked to make it look so easy, they’d be amazed”. (Seen here is host Joe Lamp’l, Carl Pennington and Leonard Carter.)


We plan to continue delivering the same great production and content quality you expect from our brand in whatever method you prefer to receive it, and provides those alternatives.

We’ve been active on social media too – sharing photos, how-to videos and updates on production of Growing a Greener World. At the moment, I’m also broadcasting every week from my GardenFarm via Facebook Live. I answer joe gardener Group questions from around the world and give a weekly tour of garden progress.


Shrinking budgets often require we cut cost wherever possible. These days it’s not uncommon to hit the road with our mighty crew of two.


I show the good and the bad in my garden, because gardening is real. I like to give Mother Nature a run for her money, so I can share what I’ve learned with you.

So although the world of the garden show has largely disappeared, we are going strong here at Growing a Greener World and joe gardener. Every day for us is another opportunity to continue to create community with you and to help you in your garden endeavors – just like we’ve been doing for 17 years.

Thank you for trusting and supporting us. We will never take that lightly.


Director of Photography Carl Pennington is a master of making sure we always get the best shot. While it takes a lot more time, it’s always worth it in the finished product.


If you haven’t already listened to this podcast recording, will you scroll to the top of the page and press the Play icon in the green podcast bar under the page title? I share more stories and insights – like my experiences on Fresh from the Garden.

Please share your feedback and thoughts in Comments below. Your input is more important to us than ever before, so we appreciate your time.

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About Joe Lamp’l

Joe Lamp’l is the creator and “joe” behind joe gardener®. His lifetime passion and devotion to all things horticulture has led him to a long-time career as one of the country’s most recognized and trusted personalities in organic gardening and sustainability. That is most evident in his role as host and creator of Growing a Greener World®, a national green-living lifestyle series on PBS currently in production of its ninth season. When he’s not working in his large, raised bed vegetable garden, he’s likely planting or digging something up, or spending time with his family on their organic farm, just north of Atlanta, GA.

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