Is your home cable-ready?

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - REAL ESTATE - Mary Um­berger

If you chan­nel-surf through cable, the home ren­o­va­tion and real es­tate shows are hard to miss. Ev­ery day, all day long, view­ers can watch some­body rip­ping out old bath­room tiles or turn­ing a back­yard into some­thing that looks like it came from Ver­sailles, France. Cam­eras fol­low con­sumers all over the globe as they stalk (and in­evitably ren­o­vate) new places to live, from Bur­bank to Bos­nia.

TV pro­duc­ers go through hundreds, maybe even thou­sands, of these home­own­ers each year. How do they get on these shows, any­way?

The an­swer — at least from the per­spec­tive of one of the cable chan­nels, Home and Gar­den Tele­vi­sion — is that they asked to par­tic­i­pate. Of course, it’s not as quite sim­ple as that, ex­plains Kath­leen Finch, se­nior vice pres­i­dent and gen­eral man­ager of HGTV:

Q: How do you get the at­ten­tion of a pro­ducer if you think you have a home ren­o­va­tion project that’s Tv-wor­thy?

A: Our web­site, HGTV.COM, reg­u­larly lists which of our shows are cast­ing for home­own­ers, and lists the gen­eral cri­te­ria each one is seek­ing. The cri­te­ria vary a lot. You ought to check back reg­u­larly, be­cause that’s some­thing that changes all the time. (On the site, go to the “On TV” tab near the top of the home page and click on the “Be on HGTV” link.)

Some of the shows are ge­o­graph­i­cally lim­ited — a num­ber of them film only in the Los An­ge­les area. But we have shows in the works all over the coun­try. Meg’s “Great Rooms,” for ex­am­ple, fea­tures Meg Caswell, who won our “De­sign Star” com­pe­ti­tion, and she’s cast­ing in the Chicago area. We have a show com­ing in the spring called “Mom Caves” that’s shoot­ing in the New York area. We have shows in At­lanta and based in Min­neapo­lis. We’re re­ally all over the place. It just has to do with what’s posted at a given time on our list.

Q: What makes a good can­di­date for par­tic­i­pa­tion in a show?

A: In terms of peo­ple, we’re look­ing for a com­bi­na­tion of things. Ob­vi­ously, we’re try­ing to cast shows in such a way that the liv­ing sit­u­a­tion of the home­own­ers will be very re­lat­able to our view­ers. Our view­ers like to see them­selves re­flected in the shows. We like sce­nar­ios and dilem­mas that peo­ple can un­der­stand.

The se­cret is that you need some­body with a vi­brant per­son­al­ity — they’re happy to be on cam­era, they find it fun and in­ter­est­ing to do. I’d want them to be able to ar­tic­u­late very well what’s wrong with their house or what they want done to their house. If you’re shy, you’re prob­a­bly not go­ing to come to the top of our list, but some­times a makeover will be so com­pelling that we can work around some­body who may be quiet but isn’t go­ing to freeze up in front of the cam­era.

Once you think you might be a can­di­date for a given show, pic­tures are the way to start — show us your space. If we’re in­ter­ested, we will ask you for video. Not only are we look­ing at the room, but quite frankly, we’re look­ing at you. It comes down to: Are you some­body who Amer­ica wants to watch on TV for half an hour?

You have to want to be on TV. You get this great makeover, but we also sub­ject you to a bit of in­va­sion of pri­vacy.

Q: What about the homes them­selves?

A: There are some con­struc­tion con­straints. You need a home that’s easy to shoot in, and you need a prob­lem that can be fixed with­out months and months of time.

Q: Are the ren­o­va­tions free, that is, do the shows pay for the projects?

A: It runs the gamut. In some shows, we come in and we pay for every­thing. In oth­ers we are fol­low­ing along on a reg­u­larly sched­uled ren­o­va­tion any­way. In some cases, we share costs with the home­owner. There is no hardand-fast rule.

Q: Dur­ing the hous­ing bub­ble, shows about buy­ing homes popped up all over the place. Yet, even with the hous­ing down­turn, there seems to be no short­age of real es­tate shows. Wouldn’t you think that as the prop­erty mar­ket has waned, peo­ple’s in­ter­est in that topic would wane, too?

A: Oh, no, not at all. Much of our prime-time sched­ule still does in­volve real es­tate. Just be­cause there may be fewer peo­ple buy­ing and sell­ing right now, it doesn’t mean that real es­tate doesn’t make great con­tent for sto­ry­telling.

Look at dec­o­rat­ing, for in­stance. We know that peo­ple aren’t go­ing to dec­o­rate their liv­ing rooms ev­ery year, yet they watch our dec­o­rat­ing shows over and over and over. Peo­ple watch lit­er­ally for in­for­ma­tion or just for en­ter­tain­ment.

It works the same with real es­tate shows — the op­por­tu­nity to peek into peo­ple’s win­dows is pretty tempt­ing and maybe even more so than it used to be. We’re still pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tion. We may not be buy­ing and sell­ing as much as we were, but we’re learn­ing to love the home we’re in, and make it the way we want it. In the real es­tate shows, you’re see­ing a lot of im­ages of peo­ple buy­ing and sell­ing beau­ti­ful homes, and peo­ple get ideas from those im­ages.

We’re even ex­pand­ing our real es­tate con­tent. We have a num­ber of them com­ing and oth­ers in de­vel­op­ment for next year. One that’s in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar now is “The Prop­erty Broth­ers,” where we fol­low along as some­body buys a home and you see the ren­o­va­tion and dec­o­rat­ing process af­ter­ward. That show works on a num­ber of dif­fer­ent lev­els. That show has done well, so we have shows in de­vel­op­ment for 2012 that also go through the whole process — we fol­low along as peo­ple get ready to sell their home, and they do the com­plete dance of which home to buy af­ter they sell, and they worry, how am I go­ing to time all of this?


HGTV’S Meg Caswell, cen­ter, re­veals a new kitchen to home­own­ers Kim and Andy Freed­lund on the cable net­work’s “Great Rooms” show. HGTV keeps a list on its web­site of shows for which it is cast­ing home­own­ers.


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