Amid the economic gloom of the pandemic, there are still some fields doing better than ever.
They ranges from gamers to fix-it folks to streaming services. That’s been clear during the Television Critics Association’s winter sessions – which are conducted via Zoom, another growth area.
One show locked into the trend is Tim Allen’s “Assembly Required (shown here), at 10 p.m. Tuesdays on the History Channel, starting Feb. 23). “A pandemic, forcing us to be in our homes, … gives people the free time,” said April Wilkerson, the show’s do-it-yourself expert. People are “putting it into using their hands.”
Some boom areas include:
– Videogames. Megan Ganz, a producer of “Mythic Quest” (an Apple TV+ comedy set in a videogame company), said she met with the Ubisoft people, early in the pandemic. They were having “this crazy uptick in the amount of work, (because) a lot of people were home and playing videogames.”
– Streaming services. Two launched during the pandemic – HBO Max on May 27 and Peacock on July 15; they followed Disney+, which started Nov. 12 of 2019, then kept growing during the shutdown. By the end of 2020, Max had 17 million subscribers (plus 20 million others connected via HBO), Peacock topped 30 million (some premium, others free with ads) … and Disney had 95 million. Then Discovery+ arrived in January. They join Netflix, Apple, Amazon and more, including CBS All Access … which, on March 4, will become the more-ambitious Paramount Plus.
– Specialty films. People who never venture near a film festival are now sampling films online.
For “the pandemic, the good side of it was that we got to see more cultures, because we have to stay home so much and watch TV,” said Ayelet Zurer, who stars in “Losng Alice,” an Israeli mini-series (with English sub-titles) that is just wrapping up on Apple. “I’ve been watching shows from France and from Germany …. There’s always a silver lining.”
– And the fix-it surge. Allen said he’s seen that in the hardware mega-store near the garage where he works on his cars. “They were packed, even during the pandemic.” People were busy, he said, “between gardening and figuring out, ‘Oh, I’ll just fix it myself.’”
He got started on fix-it with his father. It’s a similar story for Richard Karn, Allen’s co-host on “Assembly Required” and on the old “Tool Time” segments of the “Home Improvement” comedy.
“My dad was a builder; my grandfather was a builder,” Karn said. “I’ve always respected (people who, when) things break around the house, don’t wanna throw it away.”
And no, this isn’t restricted to granddads, dads and sons. Wilkerson did projects with her husband, then put them on YouTube. Now she has a 3,000-square-foot workshop and 1.3 million subscribers.
“It’s been an upward trend,” she said. “Since I got into it six years ago, I’ve seen more and more people …. We all wanna build and create. I think we drifted away from it as a society; now it’s a resurgence.”
That was clear during 2020: Some networks saw their primetime ratings fall 20 percent or more, but the practical ones held on. The Food Network was up one percent, HGTV was up four percent.
Now Discovery+ assembles those networks and others … including DIY, which on July 15 will become the Magnolia Network, led by home-fixers Chip and Joanna Gaines.
And now “Assembly Required” captures that build-it/fix-it spirit. Each week, three people will work on projects in their home workshops. From a far-away studio, Allen and Karn will monitor, kibbutz and generally entertain.