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Backstage Pass

Backstage Pass
 

“As J Schwanke’s Life in Bloom show on public
television enters Season Two, Florists’ Review
shares a peek behind the scenes of the hit series
and what it takes to make it happen.”

 

When J Schwanke, AIFD, AAF, PFCI, first pitched the idea of his flower television show, J Schwanke’s Life in Bloom, to American Public Television (APT), the leading distributor of programming to the nation’s public television stations, there were a couple of misconceptions he had to clear up.

“When I first brought it to them, they said, ‘It’s a gardening show,’” recalled J, a fourth-generation florist and the force behind the do-it-yourself flower- arranging website uBloom.com. “I said, ‘No, it’s not. It will appeal to gardeners, but it isn’t gardening. It’s a whole show about flower arranging. We’ll pick a flower for each episode and have arrangements, projects, and crafts; we’ll cook with flowers and make a cocktail with flowers, and we’ll show people that flowers are interesting and exciting and that including them in their lives can be fun.’” That settled, the APT folks asked J another question about the show: How long can you do this? “And I said, ‘I don’t know, maybe 12 or 14,’” J shared. “And they were like, ‘Episodes?’ and I said, ‘No, years!’” And so, the first season of J Schwanke’s Life in Bloom hit the airwaves in April 2019, landing on close to 170 public television stations around the country and, according to TRAC Media Services, airing in more than 90 million homes. Now the second season of
J Schwanke’s Life in Bloom is set to kick off in April. The 13-episode season will, like the first season, follow a theme. This one will be all about empowering people to know more about the health and healing powers associated with flowers. “There are a lot of published reports about this that nobody’s done anything with,” J stated. “We’re going to do it.”

A behind the-scenes glimpse of J visiting with Kristen Farmer at Hope Dahlias in. Grand Rapids Mich. The episode is titled “Beauty from the Flower Farm”.
the public television network

Jumping into the world of TV made sense for J, who’s been creating how-to videos for uBloom.com for well over a decade, to the point that he now has more than 1,800 videos under his belt. With that kind of a library, it wasn’t a stretch to stitch together an idea for a television show that would expand on the concept in those videos. It would also grow to include visits to nearby flower farms – J lives in Grand Rapids, Mich. – as well as profiles of local growers, florists and others in the floral world.

In today’s media environment, J’s flower show might have seemed like a prime target for reality TV – and it was. He said both HGTV and TLC made him offers for a show, but he passed. The networks, J said, were looking to “manufacture the reality” and create drama that might appeal to viewers but that might not be the most uplifting reflection of the floral world.

“People who love flowers and are in this industry have flowers in their blood,” J remarked. “We do this because we love it and have a passion for it. I’ve been around this my entire life, and if I was going to be a part of something that helped people see behind the facade a bit, I didn’t want it to be ugly. I want to make sure I’m painting my industry in a positive light.”

Another reason J steered away from the more lucrative reality TV and toward public television was because of the reputation of shows like The French Chef with Julia Child, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, Sesame Street, The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross and the gardening shows from P. Allen Smith.
“It was our desire to be on public television because that’s where the experts are,” J explained. “We wanted to be next to Mr. Rogers, Bob Ross and even Big Bird.

making magic, not money

Going the public television route adds another layer of complexity and uncertainty to prospective shows: funding. Whereas HGTV or TLC would have paid J and paid for production of the show, public television requires folks like J to secure his own underwriters.

“Nobody is making money off this,” J noted. “Our goal is to cover the costs with our underwriters. I have to go out and find the underwriters for each season. The more popular the show becomes, the more it gets aired and the more expensive it is.”

So far, however, J has had good luck landing underwriters. Those who signed on for Season Two include grocery giant Albertsons Companies, CalFlowers, Design Master Color Tool, Smithers-Oasis Company and Sunshine Bouquet Company. The underwriters financially back the show, and even though they’re mentioned at the start of it, there is no overt product placement or any kind of advertising. So why do they do it?

“Research shows that the people who watch public TV are more apt to support the people and the companies who bring that programming and education to them,” J explained. “When they see that Albertsons supports it, they are more likely to support Albertsons.”

All that said, there are some business opportunities that arise from the underwriters who partner with J. For example, J and Sunshine Bouquet recently launched “J’s Bouquets,” a signature line of bouquets that floral enthusiasts can ask and shop for by name.

“The show is something we do to help further the flower industry,” J said. “But what we also hope to do is to create new things out of it.”
In addition to finding underwriters, J also has had to take his show to American Public Television’s annual

Pets are major parts of many peoples lives these days, and in the “Pets and Flowers” episode,J shows how to create this Clematis garland for a pet to wear at a special event.
“Fall Marketplace” to pitch it to programmers from around the country. After making the pitch, talking to programmers and sharing previews, the programmers vote on whether they want the show for their markets. “It’s an arduous and nerve-wracking process,” J confided. It’s also one that has gone well for J: For Season One, J said he needed 25 stations to vote yes on the show to make it a national one; 169 ended up voting to air it.

As Season Two kicks off, J is already well into the writing that will become Season Three. The theme for that season will be all about experiencing flowers. “People are often intimidated by flowers and flower arranging,” J stated. “We want to empower them to discover more about flowers, to use them more often and to really enjoy the whole experience.” Like the first two seasons, J will shoot much of Season Three in his home in Michigan; some segments are also shot at a nearby studio and on location at local farms and other floral establishments. He’ll have to go through the underwriting process yet again, something he won’t embark on until after the entire 13-show season is filmed and wrapped up.

J shows viewers how easy and fun personalizing flower arrangements can be in his “Thinking Outside the Vase” episode.

“You do that in public television so there is no influence at all [from the underwriters],” J explained. Though he did initially jest that he might have plans for 12 to 14 years of shows, J’s more immediate plans have him looking to complete at least five 13-episode seasons. “With four seasons of 13 shows, you can be on every week,” he elaborated. “I want to get five seasons under my belt. That is the sweet spot – 52 episodes [four seasons] plus another 13 is attractive in programming. It can really help ensure your spot and help you get to a place where people know when and where to find you, like turning on the TV at 3 p.m. every Saturday to see Bob Ross or every morning to see Sesame Street. We want to get to that point with the fresh-cut flower experience.”

To find the program schedule for Season Two of J Schwanke’s Life in Bloom, contact your local PBS station or visit pbs.org.
You can watch all 13 episodes of Season One of J Schwanke’s Life in Bloom at either pbs.org/show/j-schwankes-life-bloom or ubloom.com/flowers/life-in-bloom/episode-guide.

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