‘Growing Bolder’ producers tweak self-help genre to promote healthy aging lifestyle in pledge

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Jacob Langston/Growing Bolder

Middleton, founder and CEO of Growing Bolder, hosts “Launchpad to What’s Next.”

A new pledge program from American Public Television blends the motivational self-help format with TED-talk inspired speeches on living an active, healthy lifestyle in retirement and beyond.

Launchpad to What’s Next, co-produced by Florida-based Growing Bolder, is the first from APT’s PitchFest initiative investing in new program concepts for on-air fundraising. Beyond the producers’ experiment with a traditional pledge-show format, they’re also creating premium-access digital content and live events intended to attract donations and build audience engagement.

The telecasts also support the producers’ strategy to build Growing Bolder, the multimedia lifestyle brand and APT-distributed TV show, into a membership organization that inspires people to pursue active lifestyles as they age.

“I want to build an intergenerational worldwide community,” said Marc Middleton, founder and CEO, during an interview last month at APT’s Fall Marketplace conference in Phoenix. “Our vision is global because what’s happening in the U.S. is happening in every industrialized country in the world in terms of an age wave of people living longer.”

Middleton described Launchpad to What’s Next as an extension of Growing Bolder’s brand focus to guide people through a stage in life that never existed before. The 74 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 — Baby Boomers — are looking to pursue new interests and experiences in retirement. Many have time on their hands and money to spend, he said.

“We always try to create content that will appeal to a wide range of people, but we are internally targeting people over the age of 50,” said Middleton, a former TV newscaster and sports anchor for Orlando’s NBC affiliate. He left commercial TV to start his own production company and develop Growing Bolder into a multimedia property.

The public TV audience “is a perfect demographic for us,” Middleton said. And public TV’s brand values of quality, credibility and authenticity are a great match for where he wants to go with Growing Bolder, he said.  “We love all of that.”

Launchpad to What’s Next released into national distribution last month. At stations that have already begun airing it, programmers and fundraisers expressed enthusiasm about the show’s content and approach, though its fundraising potential is being tested.

“It’s a show you feel OK putting on,” said Jessica Turk, program manager at Nashville Public Television. “You’re not selling snake oil. It’s good, valuable information for our viewers.”

‘Convert inspiration into action’

Launchpad started as a chapter in one of Middleton’s books and has also been developed into a segment in the Growing Bolder public TV show and magazine, Middleton said.

“For years, we primarily created stories that inspired people to know that more was possible,” as they approached retirement, he explained. “Launchpad was our realization that now we needed to provide them the tools and the resources that would enable them to convert the inspiration into action.”

The pledge show was taped at The Villages near Orlando, Fla., which claims to be the world’s largest active lifestyle community. With Middleton as host, nine lifestyle experts, including famed swimmer Diana Nyad, rock star Roger McGuinn and Olympian Rowdy Gaines, speak on a variety of topics and take questions from the audience.

Swimmer and journalist Diana Nyad plays the trumpet. (Photo: Jacob Langston, Growing Bolder)

Nyad opens her segment blowing Reveille on a trumpet.  “Don’t miss the dawn. Don’t miss your life,” she says.

Middleton is similarly encouraging. “Now is not the time to retire from life,” he said. “Not yet. This is not the beginning of the end. This is the beginning of what’s next. And you get to choose.”

Author Jim Smith Jr., who advocates a “no excuses” philosophy, told the audience: “When we’re young, we look a lot like our parents. But when we’re older, we look a lot like our choices.”

Viewers who pledge receive a code for the online portal at the Growing Bolder website, which allows them to unlock tools, tips, worksheets and additional resources in key subject areas: health, travel, finance, tech, fitness and arts and entertainment. The website also hosts five seasons of the Growing Bolder television show as well as links to merchandise and the magazine.

“Whether it makes money or not is always the larger question but, in terms of content, it’s on board with what we do.”

Jessica Turk, Nashville Public Television

Launchpad is available as 90- and 120-minute versions. Middleton said his team is also producing a series of video shorts that stations can embed on their websites for round-the-clock pledging.

The partnership with APT is integral to Middleton’s plan to expand his media company into a membership organization. He’s raising capital to build a studio in Florida, quadruple the size of his staff and host workshops and live shows across the country, he said.

A live show version of Launchpad to What’s Next, already road-tested at the National Senior Games, will tour Florida next year. A scaled-down version, developed as a special event or workshop for public TV donors, are also available to local stations. “We’ll put on, at our expense, a live event for them,” Middleton said. “A small, scaled-down event that is an inspirational thing.”

New iteration of self-help format

Nashville Public TV also airs Growing Bolder and produces its own local series Aging Matters. Turk was first drawn to schedule Launchpad because one of the featured speakers, geriatric medicine expert Bill Thomas, had previously appeared on the station’s local show. “Aging issues are really important to us,” she said.  “It seemed like a good thing for us to give a spin.”

Thomas delivers his talk during “Launchpad to What’s Next.” (Photo: Jacob Langston, Growing Bolder)

Turk first aired Launchpad in Sunday primetime, and now plans to try it in late-night slots, she said. “That’s actually a great place for self-help for us.”

“Whether it makes money or not is always the larger question but, in terms of content, it’s on board with what we do,” she said.

Maryland Public Television is also assessing viewers’ response to Launchpad, said Eric Neumann, managing director for fundraising and development productions. The show “represents a new and different format in the self-help genre.” He declined to discuss pledge results because MPT doesn’t disclose fundraising performance of its programs.

Membership directors at two stations reported weak pledge responses on weekend broadcasts.

In its first run on Oregon Public Broadcasting, Launchpad aired on a Saturday at noon and brought in a “lackluster” $741, said Anne Ibach, senior director of membership. Programs before and after it did better, she said.

Pioneer Public Television in Minnesota also scheduled Launchpad on a Saturday — during a college football game between the Minnesota Gophers and their longtime rivals, the Wisconsin Badgers, said Janet Suckow, director of individual giving. The mid-afternoon broadcast failed to bring in a single pledge, she said, but neither did the lead-in program This Old House.

“I enjoyed it,” she said, referring to Launchpad, “but most people were watching the Gophers.”

Managing Editor Karen Everhart contributed reporting to this story.

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