There's a misconception that edgy and risky content is what drives Hollywood and draws viewers. But what's in high demand throughout America is family and faith-friendly content, said the founder of Up Entertainment.
Charley Humbard, founder and president of UP Entertainment (UP TV), home of the series “Heartland,” said there are over 40 million people in America who want wholesome content on TV.
Since the network’s launch in 2004, Humbard’s mission has been to entertain, uplift and inspire viewers.
His passion to create safe family-friendly content came from his childhood.
"The way I grew up with my father, that definitely had an influence on the way I see entertainment and the power it can have to draw an audience,” Humbard told The Christian Post after “Heartland” premiered on July 25.
The UP leader is the son of Rex Humbard, one of the nation's first televangelists who pioneered his way in the entertainment business with a message of faith.
"Dad was always really great about combining great music and quality production with a message,” he said of his father’s ministry which “saved his life.” “I think a lot of what I still have in my approach to how I create UP today and what our brand stands for comes a lot from my youth and my childhood and experience firsthand of seeing the impact of music and entertainment, and quality production, combined with a message from that."
The channel is fully distributed in 70 million households and according to a statement shared with CP, viewers rank UP as the No. 1 most trusted entertainment network, and it is a top 10 network for co-viewing.
The channel viewers are called the “UPsiders” and Humbard said that is a group of more than 40 million Americans, according to research done “in conjunction with Nielsen” and other research studies.
"We just completed the fifth phase of that research and interviewed over 20,000 people, and biometric research done on it; it's a very thorough, deep dive into this audience called the UPsiders,” he said. “It represents about 42 million Americans who seek entertainment with their family in mind. What that really says is, it doesn't mean they want to watch everything on TV with their family. But it means the types of entertainment that they want in their house, they would feel good if a family member also watched it.”
Humbard said TV is firstly about "great entertainment."
"We're not news and we're not sports, we're entertainment and we have to tell great stories," he noted. "But at the same time, it's important that we tell the kind of stories that put forward Christian values and have a positive influence on people that watch us on TV or on our streaming service.”
The network's most popular show, “Heartland,” is now in its 12th season and the family drama has resonated with thousands. Humbard believes it’s because of the show’s strong family values.
"It executes on a lot of good basic Christian and family values so well and it's real and authentic. With a lot of people in the Christian industry in the entertainment industry, sometimes it gets a little too perfect and it doesn't feel real and authentic and relatable, he explained.
Humbard added, “Just because you're a Christian doesn't mean you don't have a kid that sometimes ends up with a drug addiction, or a teenager who gets pregnant before they should, or tough times happen to you, or you lose your job. Things happen. Just because you're Christian doesn't mean it won't happen to you. Your beliefs are about getting you through tough times, not necessarily always avoiding those things that happen in life. So I think it's important for us to tell those stories. ‘Heartland’ is one of the great shows on our air that I think does it really effectively.”
Throughout the years, UP Entertainment has produced material showing that actions have consequences and relationships matter. The family-focused series “Heartland” has spearheaded the message with the theme that unconditional love helps a family get through anything.
"I think our viewers who come to us relate to those stories because they're done in a very authentic way,” he stated.
Humbard anchors his success on his faith in Jesus Christ. He became a Christian at 12 years old at one of his dad's services.
"Something came over me to literally get me up and walk down to the front of the church by myself,” he admitted. “I just happen to be sitting in the audience on a Sunday evening service; I'll never forget it.”
The professing Christian worked in the Christian business ever since. He traveled the world with his dad performing gospel and Christian music with a lot of top artists, such as Johnny Cash, June Carter, Debby Boone, Pat Boone and Andre Crouch.
"We were exposed to constantly some of the best in the business. We toured and sang and performed as part of my dad's ministry; he would preach and I was part of the Humbard family singers,” Humbard told CP.
He wasn’t always walking the straight and narrow road, however. He eventually became rebellious and went astray.
"I think it's easy to lose sight of some of the key things you need to work on in your Christian faith when it becomes a business. I'm not unlike any other human out there that you tend to wake up one day and go, 'how did I get caught over here? And how did I lose some of the things I needed to have in my life, for my Christian faith,' because as it becomes a business like that's your experience with it,” he confessed.
Humbard wasn’t necessarily “the black sheep” of the family but he found himself a typical preacher's kid who wanted to prove he was still “cool” even though he was a Christian and Rex Humbard’s son. He shared that he probably lived a “pretty crazy wildlife” in his teens and 20s.
He eventually got himself back on track at what he called the “right times” and set his values and priorities in order. Humbard credited a popular Andre Crouch song, “Take Me Back,” for helping him remember his first love of God again.
"Today, I try to live a Christ-like life. If I search each day and put in the time I need to grow mentally, spiritually, and physically, I think that's really important to work on all three parts of your life to keep them all in balance,” he continued.
While the standards on mainstream TV might have lowered the bar, Humbard said he continues to share a wholesome message without condemning others for sharing ideals he doesn’t agree with.
"I'm not a big believer in telling people that they're wrong. I think you should just stand for what you believe in and be a light on a hill and you'll attract the right kind of people when it's time for them to be attracted to you,” he said. “We don't go out and spend time telling people, 'That's not how you should be.' But we do spend time telling stories and representing characters, with characters that we believe are the right types of characters on our air to tell our stories the way we want to tell them. The right people, when it's time, will be attracted to that and if somebody is living a different lifestyle and they see this as impactful to them, that's great!”
Humbard recalled a story his father often shared about approaching a kid, who was holding a knife with candy, hoping the kid would drop the knife rather than having to launch toward the child to take the knife away. He said he always found that approach to be most effective when it comes to sharing a hopeful message with others.
"It's a pretty simple statement but it is something that I brought into the way I think about a brand and I think about our entertainment. We do not have things on the air that say you're wrong. We certainly have things on the air that say, ‘you know, this is a great way to be with great values,’” he noted.
In addition to their network, UP now also has a subscription streaming service called UP Faith & Family which has quickly grown to be a category leader. The service is their version of Netflix but for what he described as “more faithful families.” It's rated for all members of the household and is the exclusive place to watch all of UP TV, including “Heartland.”
The service has over 2,000 hours of carefully selected movies and fan favorites and Humbard insisted, "It's really something for every member of the household."
"That is a really exciting feature for us. It is the future of viewing. We've had amazing success. We've grown over 200,000 subscribers in the last 12 months. It's a really fast growth service, our research and what we like to believe about is [that] it's America's favorite streaming service for families.”
Along with the new season of “Heartland,” another season of "Bringing Up Bates" and the original series "Our Wedding Story," also now on UP TV is the Reba McEntire series which premiered Aug. 5 and is on every night at 7:00 pm EST.