FEEL­ING THE LOVE

Toronto-made se­ries spawns ver­sions in U.K., Aus­tralia, France, Bel­gium, Den­mark, Nether­lands, Ger­many, Swe­den and Nor­way

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - TONY WONG

There is a peren­nial scene in re­al­ity home makeover show Love It or List It that should be trade­marked: It’s when de­signer Hi­lary Farr throws a fit af­ter be­ing un­able to bal­ance the de­mands of the home­owner and a dwin­dling bud­get.

I never promised you a rose gar­den, the brit­tle Farr seems to lec­ture the ag­grieved home­own­ers. But of course, at the be­gin­ning of the show, she did. Be­fore she dis­cov­ers the usual cul­prits of struc­tural is­sues, as­bestos, leaky pipes or ter­mites that have made the bud­get un­man­age­able.

The home­own­ers then go into a melt­down and much con­flict en­sues. The clash of wills is cen­tral to the nar­ra­tive of the show. One part­ner wants to stay and ren­o­vate their home. The other wants to go. Farr is the ex­as­per­ated ref­eree. And it has made the Cana­dian show ar­guably the most suc­cess­ful fran­chised ex­port yet.

In terms of bal­ance of trade, Cana­dian television is in a ma­jor deficit. It does a woe­ful job of ex­port­ing home­made television to the out­side world while we im­port many of our most watched shows.

The top se­ries on Cana­dian TV last year was an Amer­i­can fran­chise, The Amaz­ing Race Canada. That was fol­lowed by The Big Bang The­ory and Sur­vivor. Shows based on in­ter­na­tional fran­chises such as Big Brother Canada also con­tinue to do well here.

For net­works, it’s cheaper to rent an NCIS pro­ce­dural than to spend mil­lions pro­duc­ing their own.

But you have to give credit where it’s due. The un­der-the-radar, Toronto-pro­duced Love It or List It is that one rare show that has bucked the trend, pro­duc­ing two other spinoffs and, now, an up­com­ing bushel of global fran­chises.

While Cana­dian TV has had its share of ex­port suc­cesses such as CTV’s Flash­point and Space’s Or­phan Black, few of them have been “fran­chised” shows. That’s where the pro­ducer sells the for­mat to another coun­try to make their own ver­sion. Cre­at­ing that in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty for ex­port means li­cens­ing fees for Cana­dian pro­duc­ers: money which flows back into the coun­try.

The lat­est is Love It or List It Va­ca­tion Homes, which de­buted in May, join­ing the first spinoff, Love it or List it Van­cou­ver.

But pro­duc­ers have been on a global march, ink­ing deals in­ter­na­tion­ally. Be­sides Kirstie and Phil’s Love It or List It, which de­buted in 2015 in the U.K., there are eight more in­ter­na­tion­ally li­censed shows in the pipe­line. That in­cludes: Love It or List It Aus­tralia, France, Bel­gium, Den­mark, the Nether­lands, Ger­many, Swe­den and Nor­way.

Not bad for a con­cept de­vel­oped in Toronto, mak­ing the show one of the most suc­cess­ful fran­chises in Cana­dian his­tory.

The new en­trants join the orig­i­nal Love It or List It, which al­ready plays in 150 ter­ri­to­ries glob­ally. Staffing for the cur­rent three shows can be over 200, the ma­jor­ity in Canada.

“Peo­ple can re­late to it, be­cause not one home­owner out there has not sat down and had this ques­tion on their minds. Should I ren­o­vate my house, or move out and buy some­thing else?” said Maria Arm­strong of Big Coat Me­dia, who de­vel­oped the orig­i­nal con­cept.

The show got a boost in 2012 when then Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton told the New York Times it was her favourite show and she found it “very calm­ing.”

Now that Clin­ton has her sights set on the White House, maybe a re­design is in or­der by Farr. Un­less real­tor David Visentin can find a house that’s nicer than the White House. Which might be a stretch.

Like most good ideas, the pitch came from real life. Arm­strong was look­ing to ren­o­vate her Riverdale home to ac­com­mo­date her grow­ing twin boys.

“It was a small gar­den and no park­ing, two very small bath­rooms; I re­ally didn’t have enough room,” said Arm­strong.

The pro­ducer, along with part­ner Cather­ine Fog­a­rty, pitched the show as a kind of Hail Mary pass when their other ideas seemed to fall flat dur­ing a meet­ing with TV ex­ec­u­tives. Arm­strong orig­i­nally called her con­cept “Should I Stay or Should I Go” based on the hit song by the Clash. But some thought the ti­tle was too long.

The show was bought by the W Net­work in 2008 and is in its sixth sea­son. And given Canada’s un­re­lent­ingly hot hous­ing mar­ket — by some es­ti­mates the most over­priced on the planet — it makes sense that real es­tate TV has be­come one of our strengths. Other stars from the Cana­dian real es­tate fac­tory in­clude Mike Holmes, Prop­erty Brothers Jonathan and Drew Scott, and Bryan Baeum­ler of House of Bryan.

“We don’t know of any other Cana­dian shows that have been for­mat­ted like this,” says Fog­a­rty. “That’s why we’re so proud of it. As Cana­di­ans, we’re typ­i­cally low pro­file and we don’t toot our horns as much.”

Per­haps the No. 1 ques­tion that Fog­a­rty gets is whether the con­flict is man­u­fac­tured. Do home­own­ers re­ally get that an­gry at Farr and Visentin?

Fog­a­rty claims none of the show is fic­tion.

“Trust me, when you’re ren­o­vat­ing some­one’s place it’s stress­ful and ten­sions can flare,” she says.

The cost of the ma­te­ri­als is borne by the home­own­ers, but Farr and her team do­nate their time and labour, which can be sub­stan­tial. Pro­duc­ers also have a pipe­line of sup­pli­ers where they get favourable pric­ing.

Still, not ev­ery­thing has gone per­fectly. Pro­duc­ers were sued by a North Carolina cou­ple who al­lege that their ren­o­va­tion was botched. The suit also al­leges that the show is re­ally a “drama­ti­za­tion” with Farr and Visentin play­ing pre­scribed roles. The al­le­ga­tions have been de­nied by Big Coat.

Still, the dura­bil­ity of the fran­chise means that the spinoffs seem end­less. Fog­a­rty says she would love to do a Love It or List It condo ver­sion next given the in­creas­ing pop­u­lar­ity of the hous­ing over the last decade.

Mean­while, Love it or List it Va­ca­tion Homes looks at the de­ci­sion­mak­ing process be­tween ren­o­vat­ing that old cot­tage or buy­ing a new one.

That’s some­thing that Arm­strong also had to wres­tle with.

“I had to de­cide whether to get rid of the cabin in Colling­wood or ex­pand it,” said Arm­strong. “So I could def­i­nitely re­late.”

What’s not so re­lat­able is the speed of the ren­o­va­tion, which some view­ers, who may have had to ren­o­vate them­selves, might be rightly skep­ti­cal of. But be­cause of the ex­pen­sive pro­duc­tion process (crews may be shoot­ing three or four projects si­mul­ta­ne­ously), the ren­o­va­tion has to wrap up in six to eight weeks.

Sev­eral years ago Fog­a­rty bought a home in Riverdale and de­cided to ren­o­vate.

“The funny thing is, I’m the pro­ducer of Love It or List It and it was still shock­ing to me how real life is dif­fer­ent,” laughs Fog­a­rty. “I found out it’s not quite like TV. It took me 18 months of ren­o­va­tions, which I find very ironic. I just wanted to press the fast for­ward but­ton.”

JAMES ACOMB, BIG COAT PRO­DUC­TIONS

Hil­lary Farr and David Visentin, hosts of Love It or List It.

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