Circle, a new country music and lifestyle television network, will launch Jan. 1, 2020, with 16 original shows.
Circle will be available in 56 markets via Gray Television, as well as in markets including New York, Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth, Tampa and Detroit through a separate agreement with CBS Television, ultimately reaching 50% of U.S. television households. The Nashville market will be one of several additional markets and distribution that are in the works, with more announcements to be released. Circle enjoys a partnership with Opry Entertainment Group.
The original programming slate is designed to offer viewers a look into the music and lives of their favorite country performers in a way that has both depth and breadth.
Craig Morgan will host Craig’s World, which will offer insight into his life as both a music artist and a family man, both on the road and at home.
“We feel we are a platform that is by the artist and for the fan. We want to be a platform that facilitates that and connects artists with fans,” Circle Media’s General Manager Drew Reifenberger tells MusicRow. “Craig’s story—his military career, professional music career and outdoor pursuits—just immediately lent itself to offering an amazing experience for a fan. The episodes we’ve done and are planning are just good television. He’s a great guy and has the biggest heart in the world, and the world needs more shows like that. It’s a very collaborative process.”
Phil Vassar, Elizabeth Cook, Natalie Stovall, and bluegrass duo Dailey & Vincent will also host programs.
As previously announced, Circle will feature segments of Grand Ole Opry performances, via the program Opry Live, which will begin in February 2020 as a compilation of new live-recorded Grand Ole Opry performances to be released each week.
“Today’s audience is passionate about authenticity and transparency and the Opry is the most authentic, real thing I’ve been a part of,” Reifenberger says. “So we get to be part of telling that story. One defining moment for country music fans is the live Opry experience, but there are a lot of nights where people can’t be there live and that’s where we get to help bring that to people.
“We think it comes down to really understanding the artist and audience, and that relationship. The fan just wants to get closer to the artists they love. They love experiences, we live in an experience economy, and those experiences also include access to their favorite artist’s stories—stories about their families, stories about their hobbies, their lives. We find the artist wants the same thing—they want that one-to-one relationship with their fans to help build their brand.”
A couple of segments that previously lived as digital features on the Grand Ole Opry’s official site have been expanded as part of Circle’s programming. The Write Stuff features the songwriters behind several of country music’s recent hits, while Opry Debut takes viewers inside artists’ very first performances on the Grand Ole Opry stage.
With the January launch, Circle will also bring older episodes of Hee Haw, which aired from 1971-1993, and 1996-1997, and was led by Buck Owens and Roy Clark.
In addition to artist-focused programming, other shows will be dedicated to delving into some of country music’s most loyal fan bases (Fandom), acoustic songwriter rounds at Nashville’s Bluebird Café (Bluebird Café Sessions), and a look inside the lives of the spouses of some of country music’s most-loved artists (Better Half). Nan Kelley and husband Charlie Kelley will host Authentic America, which explores some of America’s backroads, and rural routes, spotlighting some of America’s lesser-known attractions.
According to Reifenberger, the programming will also include a live morning show.
“We are doing a three-hour live morning show, hosted by Bill Cody. There will be other co-hosts, correspondents involved. That will be a great laboratory to do some fun things. Of course we will do interviews and things, but we hope it will be way more than that, where artists can have regular sessions and bring their interests in. The beauty of live is it lends itself so well to social. Things can start off on-air and pay off in the social sphere.”
Ultimately, Circle aims to be a fun, encouraging experience for both fans and artists.
“The world is a divisive place, and you won’t find that here. There won’t be politics and ‘gotcha interviews,’ that kind of stuff. This is a fun, friendly place where you come to escape all that kind of stuff,” he sums. “We have at least another dozen developments and we are already starting to plot out next summer, so it just gets started on Jan. 1.”
Original programs at launch include:
Opry Live: Beginning in February, Opry Live is a compilation of new live-recorded Grand Ole Opry performances that will be released each week. In the Opry tradition, this show will be a mix of today’s top stars, up-and-comers and all-time greats.
Fandom: The artist-fan relationship is unlike any other. Fandom is a series that explores the impact and intimacy of the artist-fan relationship from the perspective of fans as well as some of country music’s biggest stars, like Eric Church and Zac Brown.
Bluebird Café Sessions: Each year, thousands of fans flock to see artists and songwriters at the world-famous Bluebird Café. The Bluebird Café Sessions is a viewer’s ticket in – without the line! In this series, viewers will enjoy performances and storytelling from one of Nashville’s most iconic venues.
Southern Weekend: Hosted by singer and musician Natalie Stovall, each episode will highlight the best in southern living by visiting all the great attractions of the South including restaurants, museums, unique stores, and music venues. Country music artists will join in along the journey and share some of their favorite places.
Backstage at the Opry: Peek behind-the-scenes of the Grand Ole Opry, alongside artists as they go from rehearsals to the stage – and everything in between.
Craig’s World: Follow Opry member and Army Veteran Craig Morgan at home and on the road as he and his tight-knit family navigate triumphs and challenges while developing businesses, writing hit songs and balancing a country music career.
Authentic America: Hosted by veteran TV host Nan Kelley and her Grammy- nominated husband Charlie Kelley, Authentic America takes viewers on a two-wheeled version of the classic American road trip by way of backroads and rural routes exploring some of the country’s best kept secrets – including lesser known attractions, off-the-beaten path eateries, and most interesting of all, the people who make America one of the most colorful and eclectic nations in the world. Guests include Blake Shelton and Alabama.
Upstream: Join Elizabeth Cook as she invites artist guests to a new fishing location each episode. While the fishing may be good, the real catch is the conversation. Early guests include Cam and Shooter Jennings.
Opry Debut: Enjoy mini follow-documentaries that chronicle the moments and emotions that artists experience leading up to the memorable career milestone every country music artist dreams of achieving – their Grand Ole Opry debut. Debuts include Opry NextStage 2019 picks Tennille Townes, Travis Denning and Riley Green as well as the Opry debut of Ashley McBryde.
The Write Stuff: Viewers get a peek inside the inspiration and creation of some of country music’s greatest songs. Join country music hit makers as they walk step-by-step – from the initial concept to the final chord – and share the key licks and lyrics that brought their stories to life. Episodes feature Little Big Town, Old Crow Medicine Show and Travis Tritt.
Opry Docs: Hosted by contemporary artists like Brad Paisley, Charlie Daniels and Amy Grant, Opry Docs is a series of documentaries on country greats like Johnny Cash, Bill Monroe, George Jones and Minnie Pearl.
Better Half: Meet the larger-than-life spouses of some of today’s brightest stars and find out what gives them their own star power. Featured spouses include Samantha Busch (wife of NASCAR driver Kyle Busch), Kate Moore (wife of Justin Moore) and Christine Ballard (wife of Frankie Ballard).
Dailey & Vincent: Join Dailey & Vincent – the world-renowned bluegrass, country and gospel duo – as they host and perform in front of a live audience along with some notable friends like Vince Gill and the Oak Ridge Boys.
Stand Up Nashville!: Shot before a live audience at Nashville’s legendary Zanies Comedy Club, each episode of Stand Up Nashville! features a well-known comedian host as well as four up-and-coming comedians. Laugh along with a packed Zanies’ house and the most brilliant comics the South has to offer.
Family Traditions: Follow the next generation of country’s legendary families as they honor their roots while forging their own path. Episodes include Sam Williams (grandson of Hank Williams and son of Hank Williams Jr.) and Ashley Campbell (daughter of Glen Campbell).
Phil Vassar’s Songs from the Cellar: Join country music hit-maker, Phil Vassar, as he welcomes artists, songwriters, entertainers, athletes, and wine enthusiasts into his favorite place to write songs – his wine cellar! Each episode will feature conversation and collaboration along with a shared drink. Simple in concept yet rich in content, Phil’s laid-back style and quick-witted personality brings out the best in his guests as they share entertaining stories about their interesting lives. Guests include Kelsea Ballerini, Charles Esten, Mike Tyson and Hunter Hayes.
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