Retirement TV scales back; 47 are laid off

The Baltimore Sun

Retirement Living TV, the Columbia-based seniors' network, has placed four shows on hiatus and laid off 47 workers, though some layoffs are expected to be temporary.

Executives at the network, which launched in September 2006, say the move is not a sign of trouble there but rather a typical process for a start-up television channel experimenting with different programming.

"We're trying to do something that's very difficult to do," Brad Knight, president of Retirement Living TV, a subsidiary of the Erickson Retirement Communities in Catonsville, said of creating a network without backing from a major media company.

"We're not TV people. We're learning very quickly. I believe we are closer to doing this than ever before," Knight said.

The news was reported by the Baltimore Business Journal.

Knight acknowledged yesterday that the network's biggest challenge is mass distribution, which would provide greater revenue from cable companies as well as help determine more competitive advertising rates.

Advertisers with Retirement Living TV include pharmaceutical company Pfizer and Prudential Financial.

The network, which can be seen in 30 million homes nationwide, can be found on Comcast CN8 and DirecTV as well as small, privately owned cable providers.

It signed a carriage deal with Verizon Fios in March and is negotiating with other cable providers, including Time Warner, Knight said. At least one show, a noontime live program called Daily Cafe, featuring famed journalist Walter Cronkite, will return in September after the summer break, Knight said.

The show just completed its second season.

As many as 20 affected workers could return to work on the show, he said, noting that the network has provided severance to eligible workers.

Currently, Retirement Living TV has 102 employees, although the work force is expected to get smaller when the rest of the affected workers leave in August.

Three other programs on hiatus include The Florence Henderson Show; What's Next?, a lifestyle makeover show; and Another Chance for Romance, a dating show for seniors and baby boomers co-sponsored by the dating service

The network is still testing the shows with focus groups to determine whether they are viable, need to be revamped or scrapped altogether, among several options, Knight said.

For instance, What's Next? recently won a regional Emmy, one affirmation that the show is on the right track, he said.

"A lot of shows go through changes and rewrites before they get the formula that fits what you really want," said Kimberly Simmons, a spokeswoman at Retirement Living TV.

Each of the three shows has completed its production run, but new episodes will be available in the summer, the network said.

Simmons said the network is helping affected workers with job placements, resume writing and other services.

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