Sunday, February 25

Chip & Joanna Gaines’ Road From HGTV To HBO As ‘Fixer Upper’ Stars Switch Sides Post-WB/Discovery Merger

In one of the most head-scratching reporting changes under the new Warner Bros. Discovery leadership, Chip and Joanna Gaines’ Magnolia Network has moved from the Discovery to the Warner Bros. side of the company under HBO and HBO Max Chief Content Officer Casey Bloys. Upon closer examination, the move, which could lead to a Magnolia-branded hub on HBO Max and the Gaines’ dipping their toe in scripted programming, is not that shocking. It just took the couple two mergers and three relationships to get there.

The Gaines’ Discovery journey began in July 2017 when the company announced that they had agreed to acquire Scripps, whose flagship network was HGTV, and the network’s flagship show was the Gaines’ Fixer Upper. It was supposed to be a very brief journey; less than two months later, the Gaines’ announced that they were ending Fixer Upper and leaving HGTV.

The duo’s strained relationship with Kathleen Finch was widely believed to have played a major part in their decision not to renew their HGTV contracts. Finch ran HGTV when Fixer Upper started and was overseeing the channel at the time of the Gaines’ exit in her role as Chief Programming, Content & Brand Officer for the Scripps networks.

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At the time, the Gaineses didn’t have a relationship with Discovery CEO David Zaslav but they soon developed one. As he learned that Fixer Upper, the biggest hit in the portfolio of networks he was buying, was coming to an end, “It sucked all the air out of my lungs,” he told the WSJ in 2018.

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Zaslav traveled to the Gaines’ home in Waco, TX, where the couple’s sprawling lifestyle empire is based, to woo them back. It was a delicate situation, balancing an accomplished, star executive in Finch and superstar talent in the Gaines.

A straight return for the duo to HGTV was pretty much out of the question, but Zaslav found a way, elevating Finch to Chief Lifestyle Brands Officer of the combined Discovery-Scripps company and orchestrating a media joint venture between Discovery and the Gaines duo for Magnolia Network, a linear cable network to replace the DIY channel, and a digital brand for a subscription streaming service. (The Magnolia content currently streams on Discovery+.)

“We’ve got this bromance going on, David and I,” Chip Gaines said at the 2019 Discovery upfront soon after the joint venture was announced.

Relying on an existing relationship, the Gaineses picked their close ally at HGTV during the run of Fixer Upper, then-HGTV President Allison Page, to head the joint venture as president.

Chip and Joanna Gaines have enjoyed a special status at Discovery ever since, with their executive Page reporting directly to Zaslav. (The same has applied to the other two recent Discovery joint ventures, Motor Trend as well as OWN, which moved under Finch’s oversight once Oprah Winfrey divested the majority of her stake in the latter in 2020.)

Following the completion of the Discovery-WarnerMedia merger today, Zaslav saw his portfolio massively expanding and took on several new direct reports including HBO/HBO Max’s Casey Bloys, Warner Bros.’ Toby Emmerich, Warner Bros. TV Group’s Channing Dungey and CNN’s Chris Licht.

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Within the new combined universe, the two joint ventures, Magnolia Network and Motor Trend, no longer have a direct line into Zaslav. In the Warner Bros. Discovery structure, there are two programming executives who oversee networks/streamers: Bloys and Finch, who was elevated to Chairman and Chief Content Officer, US Networks Group, adding WarnerMedia entertainment cable networks TBS, TNT, truTV, TCM, Boomerang and Cartoon Network/Adult Swim to her portfolio.

It appears strange that Bloys, who has been focused on premium scripted content for most of his career, would get oversight of am unscripted basic cable network while virtually every other ad-supported cable network, including several WM ones that feature original scripted programming, would go under Finch, whose background is entirely unscripted.

Besides the issue of the Gaines-Finch relationship, which sources said has gotten somewhat better over the years, there were other factors in the decision to move Magnolia Network to the HBO/HBO side and have Page report to Bloys, who oversees all content, scripted and unscripted, for HBO and HBO Max (excluding children and YA fare).

HBO Max has built itself as a destination for female-driven scripted programming with shows like And Just Like That…, The Flight Attendant and Hacks, which attract similar female demographic to Magnolia’s lifestyle series. HBO Max has been looking to expand into that unscripted area following the breakout success of its pandemic series Selena + Chef.

Magnolia Network’s slate would fit into that, with talk of a potential hub on HBO Max built around the brand. Independent producers who had sold projects to Magnolia told Deadline that, from the start, the network operated with competitive budgets, leading to content that could live on a premium content platform like HBO Max. (The Warner Bros. Discovery leadership is yet to unveil plans for how HBO Max and Discovery+ would be bundled/combined in the future.)

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Additionally, the Gaines had been thinking about eventually expanding their brand into scripted, which now is a real possibility as part of the HBO/HBO Max family, sources said.

I hear this was not an arranged marriage sprung on both sides. It had been in the works for a while, and I hear HBO/HBO Max brass have been fans of Magnolia programs like Fixer Upper: Welcome Home and The Lost Kitchen. (Save for the controversy surrounding renovation show Home Work, Magnolia’s slate has been generally well received.)

While Magnolia Network’s relocation to the HBO/HBO Max group appears permanent, other cable networks in the combined company may be on the move.

I hear that, depending who is brought in as Chair and CEO for Warner Bros. Discovery Sports, that person could take oversight of the sports-heavy TNT and TBS. That new hire also is expected to be in charge of the Motor Trend joint venture and that cable channel.

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