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Even in tough times, ABC 7 succeeds with 'Live Well HD'

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Barr__EmilyEmily Barr

One of the great, unheralded success stories of 2009 was the launch of a brand new television network from Chicago. And starting this week, the Live Well HD digital channel will build on that success by doubling its lineup of original programming.

Already carried by all 10 ABC-owned television stations (encompassing nearly one-quarter of U.S. households) and streaming‚ online, the network is poised for major expansion in the coming year. It appears here on ABC Digital Channel 7.2, Comcast Channel 217, Wide Open West Channel 219 and RCN Channel 618.

Live Well HD is the brainchild of Emily Barr, president and general manager of ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7. The fact that it’s considered a “robust business” only nine months after its debut flies in the face of cutbacks almost everywhere else. While most other stations have reduced their non-news output to practically zero -- and continue to squander their digital channel tiers with cheap space fillers -- Barr has proved there’s still a market for quality content even in the most difficult economic times.

At the time of its launch with six original programs, Barr said it was created “for a national audience hungry for high definition programming that will help them make sense of their busy lives.” The initial lineup consisted of shows on healthy cooking, home makeovers, fashion and beauty, health and medicine, outdoor activities, and advice for solving personal problems. On Sunday, Barr said she was delighted with the network’s progress and its steady growth online in both page views and time spent viewing, adding:

“We have wonderful anecdotal emails and calls from viewers, and extremely loyal followers on Facebook and online. We will continue to look for, develop and add new programs in the spring and summer. Our focus now is on new clearances beyond our 24 percent coverage provided by the 10 [ABC] owned stations. The network is already profitable as well, which is fantastic, and advertisers continue to sign on and like what they are seeing from their sponsorships.”

It’s also a laboratory for development of programming at ABC-owned stations, which are providing most of the original content. With the addition of the six new shows, the network will have three six-hour blocks of programming each day -- with rotating episodes so the same one will never air more than twice a day, Barr said.

Among the new offerings, starting today, will be “Save My Planet,” an eco-friendly series on all things green, produced by Chicago-based Answers Media. It will be shot video verite-style on location throughout the world. Executive producer Matthew Palm said the series will look at “what it really means to be green -- from the obvious, like driving less, to the subtle, such as paying attention to where the food you buy is grown.”

Other shows joining the Live Well HD lineup today include: “Gotta Know,” a high-tech gadget show; “Mary Talks Money,” a financial advice and literacy show; “Everyday Living,” a lifestyle show; “My Green House,” a syndicated show from Canada modeled after “Extreme Home Makeover,” and “Mexico: One Plate At a Time,” episodes from past seasons of Rick Bayless’ PBS series.

Elsewhere on the media beat:

  • Well, well, well. Just last Thursday in this space I pointed out that seven weeks had passed since a crazy woman hurled a brick through the showcase studio window of Tribune Co.-owned news/talk WGN-AM (720). And I chided the station for failing to replace the glass in the Michigan Avenue facade of Tribune Tower. Lo and behold, a new window finally was installed on Saturday. Now if only fixing WGN’s programming were that easy...
  • Recommended reading: Eric Ferguson and Kathy Hart, the top-rated morning duo on Bonneville International hot adult-contemporary WTMX-FM (101.9), finally got the recognition they deserve in a terrific Sunday Tribune profile by Steve Johnson. (The secret to Eric & Kathy’s success? They don’t have anything to do with each other off the air.)
  • Funeral services will be held Saturday for Wesley South, a pioneer of African-American talk radio in Chicago and chairman emeritus of Midway Broadcasting , parent company of news/talk WVON-AM (1690). WVON reported that South died at his home Saturday of natural causes. He was 95.

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