2004-09-16 / Arts & Entertainment

Home Improvement Reality TV Can Be “Misleading”

By James and Morris Carey

For AP Weekly Features

Home improvement and do-it-yourself television shows that document and demonstrate how to maintain and improve the Great American Dream have been popular for more than two decades.

Over time, the home improvement genre became so popular that it gave way to Home and Garden Television (HGTV), a cable television network that devotes all of its programming to home improvement, remodeling, de-sign, decorating and gardening. The home improvement novice could “kick it up a notch’’ and get the equivalent in college credit in the field of home improvement by becoming an HGTV junkie.

As a result, home improvement television has evolved from a harmless “public broadcasting’’ style of entertainment to a more serious “just do it” method of programming.

And just as programming became more serious, network television de-cided that home improvement types were taking themselves too seriously and, thus, launched the highly successful sitcom, “Home Improvement.” Ame-ricans saw the lighter side of home improvement and any do-it-yourself performance anxiety that they might be feeling was relieved as they yucked it up with Tim the tool man and his sidekick Al.

This brings us to the latest and perhaps the most popular style of home improvement television programming: reality TV. Shows such as “Trading Spaces,” “While You Were Out” and “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition’’ have caused ratings to soar by combining two of the most popular topics in American pop culture today — home improvement and reality television.

Though these shows can be entertaining and informative, they can be equally misleading, thus sabotaging many a project before the first nail is driven or, in the case of these shows, before the first blow of a sledgehammer is struck.

For example, in a recent show, a crew of five tackled a master bedroom and bath. They replaced carpets with wood floors, added decorative wainscoting, applied a fresh coat of paint, hung new drapes and installed ceramic tile ALL IN TWO DAYS and for under $2,000. Can you say UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS? No? How about IMPOSSIBLE?

Take it from us, third-generation con-tractors with more than 50 years combined experience in the remodeling industry, even with the best of planning, a project such as this can take weeks or perhaps even months. What’s more, even considering a frugal design, mainstream finishes along with a ton of sweat equity (that’s home improvement lingo for do-it-yourself participation), the cost would be SIGNIFICANT-LY more than $2,000!

While reality TV shows create interest, they lull people into thinking that “major” home improvements are weekend projects and that tasks traditionally performed by skilled trades people can be easily attacked by a willing weekend warrior. NOT!

Even a modest kitchen remodel performed by professionals can take weeks or months to complete. There’s design, budgeting, materials selection, hiring contractors (and subcontractors), sche-duling, ordering products, delivery wait times, demolition, actual construc-tion and so on.

Beyond their entertainment value, home improvement reality TV shows do have lots to offer the viewer. For example, viewers have learned not to underestimate the power of paint. Thanks to these shows, before going white or beige again, viewers are considering vibrant colors for a cheap and easy designer touch.

The shows have also taught viewers their golden 90-10 rule: remove everything, lose most of it and only bring back the very best ten percent. Not a bad idea!

Take it from us, the power of television is fabulous! A picture is truly worth a thousand words especially when it comes to home improvement. Thus, most half-hour shows can convey volumes of information on the sub-ject.

But: View home improvement reality TV shows for their entertainment value and as a means of gleaning a few ideas that might inspire your next project. Beware when it comes to “doing it.’’

We suggest that you proceed with caution and realize that when it comes to home improvement in the real world, reality TV is anything but.

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