News

They're Fixing Rooms — and Ratings

12/01/2002 7:00 PM Eastern

Call them room revamping revealed, decorating reality competition or, as Do It Yourself Network president Jim Zarchin says, "how to outdo" shows.

Whatever. Shows that involve decorating rooms — and surprising the owners of said areas — are cropping up everywhere. And viewing guests are dropping by in big numbers.

TLC's Trading Spaces
is a staple of basic cable's top 10, and destination viewing for millions on Saturday nights. Its new lead-out, While You Were Out,
has delivered impressive ratings, too.

Discovery Channel, TLC's sister network, is thriving in daytime with its own recent entry, Surprise By Design.

Home & Garden Television, now north of 80 million subscribers, has constructed a successful grouping of room-redecorating shows in Designing for the Sexes, Designer's Challenge
and Love By Design. And Scripps Networks sibling DIY has expanded its reach while maintaining its how-to sensibilities with Warehouse Warriors.

There's also a musical version: VH1's Rock the House, which lets rockers imprint their personal styles on fans' living quarters.

"Given the long-running success of This Old House
and Martha Stewart Living, it was only a matter of time before someone made this into a spectator sport," observed Syracuse University professor of media studies Robert Thompson.

Added Tim Brooks, Lifetime Television's senior vice president of research and co-author of The Complete Guide to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows: "The underlying premise is smart. People have the same living room for 10 years. The change format talks to changes in fortune and are fun. This niche is more true reality, than sending someone to a tropical island."

Trading up

A lot of people have been planning their Saturday nights around TLC, largely because of Trading Spaces
and newcomer While You Were Out.

The former gives two neighbors a chance to remake one room in each other's dwelling over the course of 48 hours, aided by host Paige Davis and a team of designers. The payoff comes during the "reveal" — when the parties involved first gaze at their new environs.

"Most of the people seem to like what their friends create for them, but with our 'Crying Pam' episode, she left the room crying and sobbing," said Steve Schwartz, executive producer of Trading Spaces, co-produced by TLC and Banyon Productions. "You never know what the reaction will be."

Now in its third season, Trading Spaces's Saturday night 9 p.m. premiere averaged a 3.13 household rating through seven episodes (Nov. 16), a three-fold improvement over Human Beings
last year.

"The show has not peaked yet," TLC vice president of programming and acting general manager Roger Marmet said. "We're going to Las Vegas for our first live reveal. We'll tape on Jan. 16 and Jan. 17, and then go to the first-ever live reveal at 6:50 Mountain Time on Jan. 18."

Viewers got a glimpse of the show's British Broadcasting Corp. roots when TLC showed six hours (12 episodes) of predecessor Changing Rooms
on Thanksgiving. The next day, BBC America aired the same group of imports. On Nov. 30, TLC ran a one-hour special from London, with designers Genevieve Gorder and Hilda Santo-Tomas.

While You Were Out, which bowed in this September, has scored, too, improving ratings in its weekday 4 p.m. slot by 30 percent, said Marmet. When it follows Trading Spaces
at 10 p.m. Saturdays, it has averaged a 2.9.

While's feel is somewhat like that of The Newlywed Game, Marmet said. As host Teresa Strasser

interviews spouses about their mates' tastes, "you can tell how well one person knows the other from the interviews, and if the redo is going to be a good idea or not."

Daytime designs

Discovery Channel general manager Clark Bunting said Surprise By Design
— which began on Mondays in July before becoming a weekday strip at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. in September — has scored because of the chemistry between hosts Rebecca Cole and Robert Verdi. "Personalities are what make people come back to shows," he said.

On the show, friends and families, with help from Cole and Verdi, convert a room, while the resident is off doing other things over the course of a day.

Discovery has aired about two-thirds of the first batch of episodes and has ordered 40 more, which will start to air in second quarter 2003.

The first five weeks of the fourth quarter, Surprise
was first in basic cable among women 25 to 54 from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays, and helped Discovery daytime ratings rise 52 percent over last year.

HGTV is happy, even if TLC's show gets more ink. "It would be nice to have a cultural phenomenon, but Trading Spaces
validates us and what we've been doing over the past eight years: driving higher ratings, growing our distribution, and booking more ads at higher CPMs," HGTV president Burton Jablin said. "HGTV is its own cultural phenomenon."

In its fifth season, Designing for the Sexes
— hosted by the flamboyant Michael Payne — is a cable progenitor in the genre and part of the network's solid Thursday-night lineup (9 p.m.). The effervescent Payne is part grand designer, part marriage counselor, sprucing up rooms while gaining accommodations and compromises from both spouses.

Designer's Challenge, which airs after Sexes
at 9:30, showcases three teams of designers vying for — then carrying out — a redecorating project.

Licensed from producer West Wind, Love By Design, which originated on HGTV Canada, now airs here. A woman picks one of three bachelors for a blind date, based on a look at their homes. After remaking a room, the couple meets.

On the boards

Jablin said HGTV is working on a U.S. version. "We'll call it something different. Maybe Date and Design," he said, eyeing a third-quarter 2003 launch.

From River Media, the original producers of Trading Spaces, DIY's Warehouse Warriors
features two three-person teams working on similar projects from a well-stocked warehouse in concert with two master carpenters.

Zarchin said 65 episodes will have run by spring 2003, and DIY, now in 13 million homes, is negotiating another order.

Producer Kim Rozenfeld said the idea for VH1's Rock The House
predates the current boom, but "the trend certainly helps bring awareness to our show."

Sammy Hagar, Tommy Lee, Usher, Paula Abdul, Snoop Dog and the Goo Goo Dolls invade a fan's home and revamp a room. The former Mötley Crüe drummer turned one fan's garage into "Tommy Lee's den of iniquity."

"It's a way for the artists to connect with their fan base," Rozenfeld said. "The dynamic is dramatic because the fans are so passionate, and the artists want to give back. They are not paying lip service to the projects. At the end of the day, they are down on their knees sanding and painting."

Rozenfeld — who'd love to see the B-52s build a "love shack" —is pitching more episodes. "We can also expand the concept to include politicians, athletes, celebrities," he said.

TLC is eyeing celebrity editions of Trading Spaces
and considering other shows.

Bunting hints of more to come, saying that by this time next year, there will be four new daytime Discovery series, some of which will be announced in January.

Coming to DIY in spring 2003: Robot Rivals, pitting student teams from various universities in a "March Madness"-type tournament, building robots to perform tasks like home cleaning or extinguishing fires.

HGTV is putting the finishing touches on Designing on a Dime. Jablin said this half-hour show, likely to bow during March, centers on "a designer Mod Squad —two young men and a woman — who will take $1,000 and solve room problems for young couples with small living spaces."

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