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“To be perfectly honest, if I wasn’t a TV critic and they didn’t send me stuff, I’m not sure I would know Reelz existed,” he said.
That may change if “Hillbillies” catches on, a very realistic scenario thanks to direct-as-dirt grandma Delores “Mema” Hughes and her highly opinionated grandson, Michael Kittrell, who became a viral sensation in 2010 when he slammed “South Park” for making fun of “gingers.” The show’s executive producer, Jonathan Koch, thinks it perfectly illustrates what Reelz wants to be known as: a family-friendly home for reality TV.
“Reelz’s sweet spot is that the characters are fun without slamming each other over the head with bottles. These will be families that, at the end of the day, love each other,” said Koch, whose credits include “The Kennedys,” “Being Mike Tyson” and “Beverly Hills Pawn.”
“The key is to make sure there’s enough on the network so that people develop a habit of watching on a regular basis.”
Reelz is certainly seeing growth. The channel, which debuted in 28 million homes, is now available in 70 million. Hubbard, who also helps run the even more ratings-challenged Ovation network, predicts that Reelz will make money for the first time in 2014.
It’s even getting some famous fans. Oscar nominee Mark Wahlberg recently took Hubbard out for dinner in Los Angeles to rave about the network.
But Reelz is still not available on Cox Communications, the nation’s third largest cable provider. Hubbard is also fighting to get a better dial position in existing markets, and to be more broadly available in high definition. In cities where those elements are in place, Reelz comes in as a top 40 cable network. In other markets, it ranks as low as No. 75.
A bona fide hit would go a long way in giving Reelz more bargaining power. That’s where “Mema” fits in — just as soon as she finishes her ham sandwich.
Neal Justin • 612-673-7431