With yesterday’s monsoon a not-so-distant memory, an SRO crowd of the usual suspects at Michael’s showed up at 55th and Fifth today. There was the requisite gathering of ladies who lunch perched at Table One (including Peggy Siegal and Beth Ostrosky Stern amid a sea of blondes) with a smattering of power brokers (Bob Barnett) and TV types (Bill Hemmer, Felicia Taylor) scattered around the room. ‘Tis the season!
I was joined today by Loren Ruch, vice president of programming partnerships and special events for HGTV, DIY Network and Great American Country. He oversees many of the networks’ high-profile specials, like the annual broadcast of White House Christmas and many popular series, including Flipping the Block, Brother vs Brother, HGTV Dream Home, HGTV Smart Home, HGTV Urban Oasis and the upcoming Sharing Paradise. I met Loren (where else?) in this very dining room a few weeks back when he was lunching with PR maven extraordinaire Judy Twersky, who always introduces me to the most interesting folks, and we decided our own “Michael’s lunch” was in order. With White House Christmas 2014 premiering on HGTV this Sunday at 8 p.m., it was perfect timing. Everywhere you look these days, it seems an HGTV show or personality is being obsessively talked about. The Property Brothers aka the telegenic twins Drew Scott and Jonathan Scott, recently got the full People magazine treatment. Hillary Clinton frequently cites Love It or List It as one of her favorite shows and everyone I know watches House Hunters, although it’s always a bit disconcerting to realize that for what you paid for your modest East Coast home, you could buy an entire block in other parts of the country. “House Hunters is absolutely a part of pop culture. We’re in the attainable, aspirational space,” said Loren, who explained the network’s multi-generational fan base this way: “We’re one of the few G-rated networks left on TV! We hear a lot about families watching our shows together.”
I know at our house watching White House Christmas has become an annual tradition. “We shot beginning on the Sunday after Thanksgiving for four days and basically produced the entire thing in five days,” said Loren, who together with host Genevieve Gorder had exclusive access to the behind-the-scenes goings on involved with the elaborate preparations in dressing The White House for the holidays. This year’s theme is “A Children’s Winter Wonderland” with “whimsical and child-friendly decor” and other embellishments that celebrate the country’s military families. Having worked on the annual event since 2005, Loren told me “These are my favorite decorations ever because they weren’t the typical ornaments and are just so beautiful.” They transformed spaces, including the Vermeil Room, with hundreds of twinkling lights and glittering trees. The show is full of surprises and features appearances by First Lady Michelle Obama and the first family’s dogs, Bo and Sunny. “Seeing The White House at Christmas is magical,” said Loren. “Just stepping into the building is a bucket list kind of experience.”
And speaking of once-in-a-lifetime thrills, another one of Loren’s shows, HGTV Dream Home 2015 premieres New Year’s Day. This year (its 19th!), the incredible home exquisitely decorated and furnished that one lucky viewer will win is located in Martha’s Vineyard. “It’s the biggest giveaway in history of cable television,” said Loren. I’ll say. The winner gets the house and all its furnishings, a GMC Acadia Denali and $250,000 provided by Quicken Loans — a total prize package valued at over $2 million. Last year, the network logged over 70 million entries on its website, but as the saying goes, you have to be in it to win it. We’re logging on the minute the contest goes live on December 29. The winners will learn of their good fortune some time next spring when the network shows up on their doorstep unannounced.
As a longtime HGTV fan (at our house, a Love It or List It marathon is cause for celebration), I wanted to know when some of the network’s most popular shows were going to branch out from their home base in Canada and begin shooting in the States (in no small part because I know of a certain house in Connecticut that could use some TLC). Loren told me Property Brothers has been shooting the States for a while and now Love It or List It is as well. Those shows will air next year.
Clearly loving his position at HGTV, Loren told me he was determined to work in television since childhood. Born and raised in Los Angeles, he spent 10 years at Fox’s Good Day LA and the nationally syndicated Good Day Live, where he was the recipient of five Emmy awards for his work. He started his career in daytime talk and game shows, including Love Connection and Family Feud. “Growing up, I was obsessed with television — especially games shows. I watched them endlessly, went to tons of tapings, and I even appeared on Wheel of Fortune‘s Teen Week when I was in high school and won everything I needed for my dorm room. I was on Supermarket Sweep and Shop ’til You Drop and then wound up working on Love Connection.” After graduating from college, Loren also did stints as a trend and fashion correspondent on several makeover shows, including How Do I Look? and TV Guide’s Best Dressed List. But he knew his career options were better behind the camera. “As much I as loved [being on air], the time came when I knew that there was more of a future for me in production, so I crossed over to the other side.”
Not that things are any less glitzy at the moment. Come Friday night, Loren, together with Genevieve, will be hobnobbing with the Obamas at The White House Christmas party. It’s the first time he made the invitation list. “I’m so excited, I can’t believe it!” he told me. Well, if he happens to find himself at the punch bowl with Hillary, he’ll have plenty to talk about.
Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:
1. Margo Nederlander, presiding over a festive holiday lunch with a table full of gals including Peggy Siegal, Felicia Taylor, Terry Allen Kramer and Beth Ostrosky aka Mrs. Howard Stern.
2. Wayne Kabak with Bill Hemmer
3. Andrew Stein and Judy Miller
4. Peter Brown
5. Allen & Co.’s Stan Shuman
6. David Goldin with The New York Post’s Claire Atkinson
7. Steven Haft
8. New York Social Diary‘s David Patrick Columbia with a bespectacled fellow we didn’t get to meet
9. Hearst’s Ellen Levine and Lisa Caputo
10. PR maven Maury Rogoff and author (Hijacking the Runway) Teri Agins
11. Agent Esther Newberg
12. Producer Francine LeFrak
14. Armando Ruiz, who in his tweed blazer and baseball cap and sporting just the right amount of stubble, bears more than a passing resemblance to Jon Hamm
15. John Josephson; Second Seating: Becca Thrash and Eileen Guggenheim
16. Sole man Steve Madden (Yes, he was wearing his baseball cap)
17. Peter Price
18. Forbes Travel Guide‘s Jerry Inzerillo
20. Denise LeFrak and Jessica Marshall
21. Attorney Bob Barnett
22. Allen & Co.’s Steven Greenberg
23. Inkwell Management’s Michael Carlisle
24. Jon Ledecky
25. Bookseller Glenn Horowitz
26. Jack Myers
27. Loren Ruch, Judy Twersky and yours truly
82. PR maven Susan Blond
Faces in the crowd: “The Bar-ettes” Kira Semler and Vi Huse, celebrating the holidays with champagne at the bar. Cheers!
Diane Clehane is a contributor to FishbowlNY. Follow her on Twitter @DianeClehane. Please send comments and corrections on this column to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.