By Lance McCarthy
The problem with HGTV
I had a friend recently complain that he was having trouble finding someone he wanted to marry. I told him I had the perfect plan. He should invite 25 eligible women to his house for an evening of wine and hor-d’oeuvres. At the end of the night, have a ceremony to announce which women get to stay. Then have them live in a house together for awhile while he goes on various glamorous single and group dates with them. This will help him narrow the group down until he finds the woman that he knows he can spend the rest of his life with. He dismissed my idea as unrealistic, which made me really upset. I said it was the opposite of unrealistic. It was REALITY! I said it worked for Tristan and that fireman, what could go wrong!
Too over the top? Sorry. You are probably thinking old news? Everybody knows reality tv isn’t real. Its like criticizing WWF for being fake. And yet, the shows are still sneaky. Especially the ones on HGTV (by the way, does anyone remember what the “G” stands for? The “H” totally won that battle).
There are some great shows on HGTV. Property Brothers (who can’t love two tall, charming, smart, sexy Canadians brothers that help people find the house of their dreams?) House Hunters. Love it or List It. These can be really entertaining. So what’s the problem? Of course we all know that these aren’t real. I hope we know that? When construction experts have long pages on IMDB…
Here’s why it’s a problem. Just like cop shows or war movies, HGTV shows are about an experience that most people very rarely encounter and have little context for (major home purchases and projects). This means that the show becomes the only context the viewer has for that experience. Let me test this. How do gangsters hold guns? Answer: sideways above your head while grimacing or doing the duckface. Do we know this from personally seeing it? No, from tv of course. Is it true? I have no idea.
HGTV gives us some dangerous context for how real estate and construction really works. Here are three examples (whew! That may be the longest intro to a column I’ve ever written!):
- Design and construction takes a long time. Many shows depict 1 or 2 design meetings, then cut to a project that takes a few weeks. All the down time, wait time and lead time is literally edited out. In reality, design can take 3-4 months on larger projects, and even a typical kitchen project takes 6-8 weeks.
- Budget: This one is my favorite. Many of the shows do deal with budget struggles, but those obstacles are always overcome before the second commercial break. The costs are skewed by sponsorships and volunteer time and all kinds of other slick tricks. Reality? Budget is a never-ending challenge during a project.
- The star: The show usually revolves around an amazing character who is able to bring the client’s needs into focus while actually listening very little. In reality, talented designers and contractors listen more than they talk, which would make for a pretty boring show.
- The story arc: Every show has a convenient story arc of introduction, complication, climax, resolution. In reality, it is not that tidy. There are setbacks and challenges, joys and tedium sprinkled throughout…