The ritual of co-viewing, with Mom, Dad and the kids all gathered around the TV has been on shaky ground for years. Even so, Amy Winter believes that television can still be a family-focused experience. Since joining Up TV in February 2015, Winter has delivered on the network’s tagline “We Get Family,” shepherding-fare with which, she says, “you could feel good spending time.” The brand strategy, now roughly a year old, has yielded a slate of originals such as Bringing Up Bates and acquired series like Parenthood and Gilmore Girls. It seems to be working. Ratings for the network, founded in 2004 and rebranded as Up in 2013, have risen for four straight quarters, while its audience’s median age has dropped by 10 years to 49. A former TLC and TBS exec, Winter spoke with B&C contributing editor Diana Marszalek about what it means to feel “up,” how family entertainment need not mean family values, and whether she ventures to the dark side by watching edgy TV. An edited transcript follows.
Who is Up trying to reach? Are non-traditional families included in that mix?
We have identified the ‘family in mind’ audience. They are about 35 million people who, when making entertainment choices, think about what they are going to bring into their household. And that really drives our decisions. We want to tell the greatest stories about families and there is nothing richer—no more dysfunction, and fun, and laughing, and crying and relationships that come among family. We [produce and run] content with intentional diversity, and are very mindful of that.
How does Up's tagline, 'We Get Family,' differ from having family values?
Does ‘family values’ sound entertaining? It doesn’t, right? And we are in the entertainment business. We put people on the air who have the best intentions of living good lives. Are there flawed characters on our air? Absolutely, but they are good at heart. When you say ‘family values,’ it sounds judgmental. We talk about good people just trying to get through.
With so much upheaval out there, is selling the idea of being 'up' a tough proposition?
I think that you are seeing us resonate more, given that people are desperate for a haven. We want people to feel they are part of the community, and we get what they go through … getting through this journey called life. The storytelling that comes from [our audience’s] life stage has humor and heart within it, and that’s what attracts me to the brand. I have three kids who are 10, 8 and 6, and I think anyone who goes through having kids and juggling everything … knows it’s complete chaos all the time.
Tell us about your Uplift Someone initiative.
We do social experiment videos around the holidays or around initiatives, like anti-bullying. Those are up to 130 million views. We started right after [the police shooting and protests in] Ferguson [Mo.]. We did a video with the Lowell, Mich., Police Department during a blizzard. The police officer pulled people over for minor infractions but while writing a ticket asked what their families wanted for Christmas. We had an army of people getting them those gifts, and it’s so touching to watch. They put positivity in the world but are entertaining as well.
Do you ever indulge in some of TV's darker shows?
(Watching Up) doesn’t mean that people don’t watch other entertainment. I am a huge Homeland watcher, but I feel my adrenaline is through the roof after I watch it. I watched Bloodline, and I felt, again, it was incredible storytelling.