President of Scripps Networks
Born Edward A. Spray, November 28, 1941, in Seymour, IN; married Donna Cornwell, June 29, 1963; children: Brian, Catherine. Education: Indiana University: B.S., 1963, M.A., 1969.
Office —Home and Garden Television, P.O. Box 50970, Knoxville, TN 37950.
Worked as a producer and director, NBC affiliate WMAQ–TV, Chicago, IL, 1966–74; program manager, CBS affiliate WBBM–TV, Chicago, 1974–80, broadcasting director, 1980–84; programming director, CBS Television Stations, New York, NY, 1984–86; broadcasting director, KCBS–TV, Los Angeles, CA, 1986–89; vice president for program development, CBS Television Stations, Los Angeles, 1989–91; has also taught communications at Syracuse University as associate professor, 1991–94; senior vice president for programming, HGTV, Knoxville, TN, 1994–96, executive vice president, 1996–98; executive vice president for programming, Scripps Networks, 1998–2000, president, January, 2000—.
Television executive Ed Spray is the unsung hero behind the scenes of the cult–favorite basic–cable staple, Home and Garden Television (HGTV). Before becoming president of the Scripps Networks, owner of the home–decorating–themed channel and several others, Spray created much of HGTV's addictive in–house fare with half–hour and hour–long shows about home–buying, renovating, and a plethora of other household–related matters. HGTV, which reaches some 80 million households in the United States alone, has proved to be one of cable television's surprise hits, with ratings so impressive that its advertising revenues increased by 30 percent in 2002. Spray has been dubbed called the "the Anti–Martha"–Stewart by Newsweek 's Peg Tyre, and she hailed him as the creative force behind a "network that has turned remodeling into spectator sport."
Born in 1941, Spray grew up in Seymour, Indiana, and graduated from Indiana University with a degree in television production in 1963. His first job in the industry was as a television producer and director at a NBC's Chicago affiliate, WMAQ–TV, in 1966. Spray stayed there eight years, and managed to earn a master's degree from Indiana University in television journalism in 1969 as well. In 1974, he jumped ship to Chicago's CBS station, WBBM–TV, as a program manager. There, Spray was responsible for devising the hours of local, original programming that such stations were forced to rely upon on in an era when Federal Communications Commission rules prevented networks like CBS from owning and syndicating large amounts of programming. Spray's idea was to televise historical reenactments, such as the trial of Chicago White Sox star Shoeless Joe Jackson, who was accused of throwing the 1919 World Series. "It was a wonderful period," Spray told Broadcasting & Cable writer John M. Higgins. "This was the golden age of local programming."
Promoted to broadcasting director at WBBM in 1980, Spray spent four years on that job before heading to CBS headquarters in New York City as a programming director there. He and his wife left behind a Chicago–area house that they had bought and renovated themselves, in a years–long job that gave him firsthand knowledge that he later culled for HGTV's programming. Their house dated from 1907, and it took eight years to fully renovate. "You get started on it and never finish," he told Broadcasting & Cable 's Higgins. After his stint in New York, Spray was transferred to the West Coast to serve as broadcasting director at KCBS–TV in Los Angeles, California, in 1986. Three years later, he became a vice president for program development at CBS Television, which entailed buying syndicated shows for affiliate stations owned by the network, after the FCC rules had loosened. When he turned 50 years old, however, Spray lost his job in an executive reshuffling that came in the wake of some high–stakes battles at CBS headquarters centered around controversial chief executive officer Laurence A. Tisch.
Spray jettisoned the corporate world altogether to take an associate professorship at Syracuse University in New York. He was teaching communications there when E.W. Scripps & Co., a newspaper publishing empire that dabbled in cable television, approached him to take a job as a vice president for programming at a cable channel it was creating on a shoestring budget in 1994. HGTV, as it was known, served the do–it–yourself sector of the home–renovation market, taking its cue from Public Broadcasting Corporation's popular This Old House and its low–key handyman star, Bob Vila. Scripps hired Spray because of his experience in creating original programming on a budget. Initially, Spray worried that executives would balk at the funds needed to devise enough appealing shows for the fledgling network, and recalled in the Broadcasting & Cable interview with Higgins that to him, "It was a 50–50 chance. I took it on a whim." At the time, he thought privately, that if HGTV "flops, I'll be a better teacher because I'll know more about the cable industry."
Over the next two years, Spray went to work developing a roster of accessible, compelling programs that offered friendly hosts, easy–to–understand tips, and a soothing pace that seemed to take the stress out of the task at hand. "The network's son–of–Muzak soundtrack, grinning guests, and tai chi–paced camerawork are meant to reassure viewers that a happy ending is a coat of paint away," noted Tyre in Newsweek. "Quick, jumpy edits are forbidden. HGTV shows college dorm rooms only after the beer signs and racy posters have been removed."
Promoted to executive vice president at HGTV in 1996, Spray was made an executive vice president for programming for all of the Scripps stations in 1998. In January of 2000 he became network president. Other channels in the line–up included the popular Food TV, the Do–It–Yourself channel, and Fine Living, a more upscale version of HGTV. The original HGTV remains one of the cable industry's most impressive success stories, with shows like "Weekend Warriors," in which a couple tackles a big project like a building a patio deck in two–day stretch, and "House Hunters," where the camera follows prospective home–buyers and their real–estate agent. In 2002, the HGTV and Food TV channels attracted some one million viewers nightly, a jump of 35 percent over the previous year. Ratings studies showed that HGTV viewers changed channels less frequently, an all–important factor in its ability to command higher advertising rates.
HGTV is even broadcast in other countries, including Latvia, and appears on the Armed Forces Network. In a paean to the pleasures of HGTV addiction, Washington Monthly editor Joshua Green wrote about shows like "Designing for the Sexes," a popular HGTV staple that plays off common marital squabbles, being watched by Navy personnel aboard immense warships. "The idea of rugged naval aviators, fresh from sorties over Iraq or Afghanistan, choosing to unwind before Home and Garden Television's design and decorating tips is testament to the strange power this channel holds over its viewers," Green reflected.
With 85 hours of programming to fill weekly, Spray is always on the lookout for new ideas. He has nixed some ideas for shows, including one that involved a roulette–wheel spin that decided a room's color scheme. Maintaining the appeal of his channel in a changing world remained his primary goal as network president. "Our viewers know they won't see anything anxiety–provoking or disturbing," Spray told Newsweek 's Tyre. "We see that when the news in the world is dark, people tune in. We're a safe haven."
Broadcasting & Cable, October 30, 2000, p. 68.
Electronic Media, January 24, 2000, p. 122.
Newsweek, November 18, 2002, pp. 64–65.
Washington Monthly, July–August 2003, p. 26.
— Carol Brennan