Magnolia Network's launch marks an inversion of its original plans, as a result of the pandemic. The app, which features workshops led by series' stars, may serve as a TV talent incubator.
Courtesy of Magnolia Network
For viewers wondering when they can immerse themselves in a soothing loop of shiplap, farm-to-table food and rosy-cheeked gardeners harvesting flowers in the country, Chip and Joanna Gaines’ joint venture with Discovery, Magnolia Network, has finally gotten a new launch date after delaying an October start. But in the wake of the pandemic, that revised plan marks an inversion of the old one, with Magnolia to launch digitally first on Discovery Plus on July 15 and a rebrand the linear DIY network now coming in January 2022, Variety has learned exclusively.
“Basically, COVID hit, and we quickly assessed and realized we were actually okay for Oct. 4, but we probably weren’t okay for Nov. 4, in that we’d shot one or two episodes and either paused [production] or completely stopped down,” explained Magnolia Network president Allison Page in a virtual conversation from her home in Knoxville, Tenn. “And so it was getting the scale that we want and need to put forth a holistic experience that ultimately delayed us.”
The original plan was to launch the linear network first, with the Gaines revamping cable channel DIY to include a “Fixer Upper” revival and shows like “Magnolia Table,” hosted by Joanna Gaines, or Jo, as she is known to viewers. The direct-to-consumer product was supposed to debut about six months later. But that initial blueprint was knocked askew not just by the pandemic but by a quickly changing media landscape, “both within Discovery but also in the larger world,” said Page. Notably, when the Discovery deal with the Gaines was first announced in 2018, there were at least four fewer streaming services out there.
Like Disney, WarnerMedia, Apple and NBCUniversal, Discovery has launched a streamer since then. The January debut of Discovery Plus includes a hub for Magnolia programming – originally a space for preview content, it will be refashioned in July as a permanent digital portal to Chip and Jo’s home-improvement and lifestyle empire.
The Gaines’ goal with the network has always been to “tell good stories,” the couple said in a joint statement, ones that “are told in ways that feel authentic.”
“Our plan has evolved along the way, but our original vision for this network has remained the same,” they said. “And it is our ongoing desire to create a space, whether in a streaming environment, or on linear television, where people who watch a show on our network leave feeling like it was time well spent.”
Helping to cultivate their brand is the Magnolia app, a direct-to-consumer platform that will be a hybrid of a streaming service, online shop and MasterClass-style workshops. It will offer an “immersive digital brand experience” where consumers can watch Magnolia shows (including the full “Fixer Upper” archives), shop for items they see on screen, and attend virtual workshops led by the people they see on TV. Only Discovery Plus subscribers can access the app’s programming and workshops.
The workshops — on design, gardening, cooking, and watercolor painting, among other subjects — are to be taught by hosts of Magnolia Network shows, others from the Waco, Texas-based Magnolia world, or people from somewhere else entirely.
“And that may be someone who then also becomes a full-length show — or not,” said Page, who likened the Magnolia app workshops to an on-screen talent incubator of sorts. All talent are curated and hand-picked by Jo.
Magnolia Network’s series film across the country, from the Gaines’ home base of Waco, Texas, where “Fixer Upper: Welcome Home” shoots, to Washington state’s Skagit River Valley, where “Growing Floret” tells the story of an idyllic family-run flower farm. “DeVOL Kitchens,” which shoots in England, is just one show that experienced a significant production slowdown from the pandemic.
“Small crews meant that we could not [have to] be down for extended period of time, in most cases,” said Page. “The challenge was in shows that were following a design project. In some cases, the plans had changed and so even when we could film again, we were back to the drawing board in terms of casting. So each show is a little bit different. In some we lost very little time and in others we fully stopped.”
In some cases, such as with “The Lost Kitchen,” the pandemic became part of the storyline, with self-taught restaurateur Erin French figuring out how to pivot her small-but-sought-after restaurant in rural Maine in order to stay in business.
As for the linear takeover of the DIY Network, when the cable network becomes Gaines central, it will be the linear home of the entire “Fixer Upper” library, as well as acquired series such as “This Old House” and new seasons of DIY series.
“I would say a linear rebrand — 168 hours in a week, 52 weeks a year — we feel like we have to earn that name on the dial,” said Page. “And not just a variety of shows, but many, many episodes of them. So it was looking at each platform and determining, ‘When do we have a full enough experience to feel confident about what we’re launching?’ And that really going to satisfy the consumer on whatever platform they’re finding us.”
The app and streaming platform both offer more opportunities to pinpoint what viewers want from Chip and Jo. “Fixer Upper” and “Magnolia Table” are both “very popular” so far on Discovery Plus, said Page. The Gaines are both “really involved in every single show.”
“They’re in greenlights, they’re in development meetings, they’re deeply involved,” said Page, who will sometime get texts from the couple on a Saturday night with programming notes. “A lot of our shows came from someone Jo knew or followed or was really interested in, likewise with Chip.”
As for what actionable pointers the Discovery Plus data offers, Page says to check in with her in a few months. Scheduling “Fixer Upper” on Friday nights “has felt great, because there’s a lot of like, ‘This is my date night,’ or ‘I’m going to watch with my family this weekend.’ So there’s still that kind of day-of-the-week anticipation, when I think something that somebody wants to watch is just available once a week.”
But given some viewers’ desire to binge-watch shows, the network might tinker with offering several episodes at a time, as it did with the first three episodes of “Magnolia Table.”
“We’re honestly learning a lot, in terms of our own experience in Discovery Plus, and also watching other content in Discovery Plus, and watching what other streamers do as well and trying to get a sense of how people want to consume,” said Page.
Discovery president and CEO David Zaslav in a statement that Discovery Plus will grow its Magnolia content to more than 150 hours of unscripted content.
“Taken together,” he said, “we will super-serve legions of existing Chip and Jo fans as well as new ones in ways that exceed even our highest expectations when we started on this amazing journey.”
Variety's Elaine Low contributed to this post.