J-Law TV? Over several glasses of red wine while being interviewed by a Vanity Fair reporter, Jennifer Lawrence floated the idea of launching her own TV network.
Specifically, she told the magazine that “I have actually been toying with the idea of becoming a billionaire and I’d like to start my own TV network… I am pretty much a television professional at this point.”
Lawrence is a Millennial superstar, beloved by fans and a force to be reckoned with. But launching a TV network seems a tad out of step with the hip, young J-Law brand. The world isn’t clamoring for more traditional TV networks — as a matter of fact, conglomerates are starting to trim their offerings. Over the past few years, networks such as Pivot, Al Jazeera America, Cloo, Esquire, and Chiller have disappeared — while others, such as Spike, have been rebranded in an attempt to survive in this crowded media environment.
There was a period of time where conglomerates were looking to partner with big star and brand names in order to inject some life into troubled networks — that’s why Discovery brought Oprah Winfrey on board to reinvent the Discovery Health Channel as OWN, and aligned with Hasbro to turn the Discovery Kids Channel into The Hub. A&E later turned H2 into Viceland, with the help of Vice.
But even with those powerful players, all well established in the creation of content, they struggled. OWN was not an overnight success, despite the involvement of Winfrey — but after years of tweaks and reinventions, the channel found its groove with sophisticated scripted fare geared toward African-American women. The Hub never took off, and Discovery and Hasbro dissolved that partnership, turning the channel back into Discovery Family. And Viceland, although airing some great fare (including Desus and Mero), hasn’t made a huge dent in ratings.
Other stars looking to get into the TV biz were helped along by Comcast in 2012, which helped fund several new minority-owned networks after it announced plans to merge with NBC Universal. In aiming for that approval from regulators, Comcast selected several new independent networks to be distributed on its cable systems, including Aspire, partly owned by Magic Johnson; Revolt, a music channel partly overseen by Sean “Diddy” Combs; and El Rey, a network geared toward young audiences partly run by director Robert Rodriguez. Per IndieWire’s ranker of the most-watched networks in 2017, Aspire and Revolt aren’t even ranked, while El Rey is among the least-watched.
Combs is indeed believed to be a billionaire — but that’s not because of Revolt. It’s his record label, his wine and spirits lines, his clothing label Sean John, and other investments and endorsement deals that made him a fortune.
Lawrence could instead launch an over-the-top streaming service, which plenty of others have done — but that won’t make her a billionaire. And the OTT field has become pretty crowded in its own right.
What’s driving Lawrence’s desire to be a TV mogul? Her love of reality TV. But a reality channel has already been attempted — Fox Reality Channel, which was discontinued in 2010. In other words, even Fox, home to some of the most ambitious reality TV over the last 20 years, couldn’t figure out how to make it work.
Lawrence is apparently a huge fan of all things Kardashian and “Real Housewives.” (She also pitches Vanity Fair on a reality idea called “Breakup Island,” which sounds like a pitch from 2004, or a “30 Rock” gag.) She should probably take a cue from the Kardashians: They haven’t made their fortune by exploring old media options, they let the old folks (a.k.a. producers Ryan Seacrest, Bunim-Murray and E!) figure out all that network stuff. They’re on to the new.
If Lawrence wants to be a media mogul, she should be focusing more on producing. Mark Wahlberg is actually a good example of a star who keeps branching out, adding a new reality TV shingle to his stable of companies. His scripted shingle, Closest to the Hole Productions, is behind hits such as USA’s “Shooter” and HBO’s “Ballers,” as well as upcoming films like “Instant Family.” Ellen DeGeneres, likewise, is shaping up to be a media mogul in her own right. But with all of these names, it takes time and experience to create a track record of success. Even Winfrey wasn’t a sure thing, and she had decades of TV dominance under her belt.
“At this point, it’s clear the world does not need another TV channel,” said Evan Shapiro, who knows a thing or two about launching in a competitive environment as the boss of both Pivot and Seeso. “Not that a J-Law channel wouldn’t be awesome, but rather that the hundreds of millions of dollars it would take to start it up (and whether a streamer or a cable channel, that is what it takes) could be better spent — by her — on creating great content for other outlets.
“If I were advising her — if she reads this, I’d be more than happy to be advising her — I’d say start a studio or label, where she can develop content, without the unbelievable headache of operating a platform in the post-network universe.”