WHERE THE HEART IS 'EXTREME MAKEOVER: HOME,' 'THREE WISHES,' LEAD GROWING TREND IN FEEL-GOOD REALITY SHOWS.
EL SEGUNDO - As last-second touches are being applied to ``Extreme Makeover: Home Edition's'' latest project, host Ty Pennington dashes madly around its perimeter, bullhorn in hand. He's rousting assembled fans from their mid-afternoon stupors, beseeching them to make some spirited yet meaningless noise. They oblige.
The show's now-famous bus obscures the home's facade, waiting patiently for the catch-phrase (``Move that bus!'') that will unmoor it. This neighborhood crowd - here for four hours and counting - is anxious for local policeman Bruce Lewis and his family to appear. Lewis became the recipient of this televised home-remodeling job after twin tragedies: A contractor absconded with his money, leaving his house in abject disrepair; and his wife Paulita was diagnosed with cancer.
Friends and neighbors rallied to remodel Lewis' home before ``Extreme Makeover: Home Edition'' got involved.
``People came in on weekends and gave up their nights to put the house back together,'' says ``Extreme Makeover'' executive producer Tom Forman. ``It became important to us to maintain it - because so much love and effort had gone into it, you wanted to preserve that work.''
Now those friends and family await Lewis' response to ``Extreme Makeover: Home Edition's'' work. One bystander stands out: He could be the younger brother of Robert Smith of the '80s punk-goth band the Cure, replete with rambunctiously shellacked black hair, tight leopard-print pants and Dr. Martens boots; over all this, a squeaky-clean blue ``Extreme Makeover'' T-shirt.
Not someone you'd expect at such an event, perhaps, but something unexpected has occurred in reality TV. Long the province of cynical, venal behavior (think ``Big Brother,'' ``Surreal Life,'' ``My Super Sweet 16''), ``Extreme Makeover: Home Edition'' and now ``Three Wishes'' have ushered in an era of kinder, gentler reality. The worthy are rewarded, while conniving is not; none are depicted as boobs who deserve condescending sniggers.
Hearts, above all, are warmed.
As Daniel Kucan, designer for ``Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,'' says, ``Reality TV for a long time was based on cruelty and a sort of diabolical mischief. This show demonstrates that viewers are interested in a greater sense of selflessness. It's been said that we're a 'Jerry Springer' nation, and I don't think that's true. I think we're an `Extreme Makeover' nation, a nation of huge hearts and extreme generosity.''
Last month, ``Extreme Makeover: Home Edition'' won the Emmy for Outstanding Reality Series; while waiting for the Lewises to arrive, ABC Entertainment president Stephen McPherson presided over a Champagne toast to the victory with cast and crew. Recently, the series teamed up with first lady Laura Bush for an episode in Biloxi, Miss., one of the towns hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina. Her press secretary says the first lady wanted to be on the program because she shares the ``same principles'' that the producers have.
Perhaps most significantly, ``Extreme Makeover: Home Edition'' boasts of a host of imitators this season. NBC's ``Three Wishes'' offers aid to needy small-town residents; that network's ``The Biggest Loser,'' in its second season, helps overweight contestants become healthier. At midseason, ABC will premiere ``Miracle Worker,'' highlighting medical extreme makeovers. In syndication, ``HomeTeam'' helps deserving families realize the dream of home ownership. ``Random 1,'' featuring a duo doing good deeds for complete strangers, debuts in November on A&E.
``If we've ushered in a trend where people pack up their television shows and head out in the country and help people, then bring it on,'' says Forman. ``We love that kind of competition. It's good for people, it's good for America, it's good for reality television, and we're thrilled it's happening.''
Each of these programs confronts a challenge from the outset: How to choose whom to help.
``It's impossible,'' Forman sighs. ``It's the hardest thing we do.'' ``Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,'' receives 15,000 applications a week, and Forman says the decision of whom to help is based on twin considerations. There's the emotional - ``People who have tried the best they could all their lives and somehow have been dealt a lousy blow, and we can step in and make a difference'' - and the logistical - ``Will the neighbors let us do it? Will the city let us build 24 hours a day?''
Amy Grant, host of ``Three Wishes,'' notes that the way her show is structured, what happens on-camera is only the surface of the good being done. Those waiting in line to reveal their wishes to the producers often end up doing good themselves.
``Someone came up to me and said, 'If you have the number of the child in front of us, we can take care of that wish,' '' Grant recalls. ``In New Mexico, a woman came up to me and said, 'My wish is that the wish would come true for the woman standing in front of me.' People are talking to each other - how novel.''
Grant continues, ``You don't want to rush people through, because people want to tell their story. A grandson comes up and wants his grandmother to fly in a hot-air balloon. He says, 'I have the most amazing grandmother.' That kind of communication - how many days do we go through where no one asks us anything of significance?''
She offered another example: ``A woman who extricated herself from a very abusive relationship wanted a warehouse to stock with things for women starting over. She wasn't chosen, but afterward, three women were hugging her, saying, 'You did it, you finally told your story.'
``I realized then, whether or not the wish is chosen, something very important happens. It's not just about what NBC is doing.''
On Friday, Grant's ``Three Wishes'' will help those who perhaps need it the most: victims of Hurricane Katrina. In a two-hour episode, Grant and company help a displaced New Orleans family of four re-settle in Brookings, S.D., where the whole town is anxious to lend a hand.
Ben Silverman, executive producer of NBC's ``Biggest Loser'' and ``30 Days,'' FX's summer documentary series promoting tolerance - programs he describes as ``activist television'' - also notes that ``Loser's'' a winner, regardless of ratings.
``On our Web site, people can get information about how to tailor their diets,'' he says. ``The Web site is so successful, and the audience is engaged in it; it's a big part of the show. It gets 10, 15 times the traction of the highest-rated scripted show, which shows that good reality wins in multiple ways.''
Troy McClain, a contestant on the first season of ``The Apprentice,'' now serves as host of ``HomeTeam,'' a syndicated show airing locally on KNBC (Channel 4) that helps deserving families move into their first home by providing a down payment and the first year's mortgage payments. With experience in Donald Trump's boardroom and now as host of a feel-good alternative, McClain defends both brands of reality TV, competitive and philanthropic.
``There's a place for both of them and ('The Apprentice') definitely gave me a platform,'' he says. ``I appreciate it. I didn't win the ultimate job - if I had been more ruthless, maybe I would have - but by sticking to my values and me being me, I won the best job with this show. ... At the end of every show, I almost break out bawling.''
But even this brand of reality has detractors, decrying the shows' exploitative and manipulative portrayals of the needy. Karla Peterson, San Diego Union-Tribune TV critic, calls the trend ``corn porn.''
``It exploits the people it purports to help for ratings and advertising,'' including copious product placement, Peterson says. ``And it clubs us over our heads with these obviously emotional stories like we're baby seals. They don't trust that we'll be moved, so they bash us in the face with our Kleenex boxes. Where one slow-motion shot would suffice, they use 20.''
Lewis, the El Segundo police officer, and his family, having finally arrived at their home, don't seem worried about such exploitation. After the requisite chants of ``Move that bus!'' they behold their new-and-improved home, responding with hugs and high-fives and numerous victorious punches to the heavens, even after the entrance into their home has to be reshot, then reshot yet again.
Forman says, ``We know we're making lives better for people - and that's great. And it's exciting to know you're making a great TV show at the same time. That's what the Emmy is for. Sometimes we forget we're making a TV show. Out here, day to day, trying to get the house done, it's very real, and it means a lot to these families - and that's where we concentrate. So it's great to step back and say, hey, we're making a nice TV show, too.''
David Kronke, (818) 713-3638
EXTREME MAKEOVER: HOME EDITION
What: Homes are rebuilt for deserving families.
Where: ABC (Channel 7).
When: 8 p.m. Sundays.
What: Needy small-town residents are assisted. On this Friday's special two-hour show, victims of Hurricane Katrina find a new home in the heartland.
Where: NBC (Channel 4).
When: 8 p.m. this Friday, thereafter 9 p.m. Fridays.
THE BIGGEST LOSER
What: Reality competition encourages contestants to adapt healthy lifestyles.
Where: NBC (Channel 4).
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays.
What: Deserving individuals are assisted in their quest for home ownership.
Where: KNBC (Channel 4 - syndicated).
When: 4 p.m. Saturdays.
(1 -- cover -- color) Ty Pennington, host of ``Extreme Makeover: HOme Edition'' pitches in.
(2) ABC's ``Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,'' which recently renovated a home in Colorado, above, has seen its brand of altruism imitated by other reality TV shows.
(3) Amy Grant hosts NBC's ``Three Wishes,'' which this Friday sets up a home for a family displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
(4) On NBC's ``The Biggest Loser,'' contestants such as the meditating Andrea work to drop those pounds.
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Oct 5, 2005|
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