Homeowners who spend more time talking about renovating their living room than doing anything about it soon will have one less reason to procrastinate.
After a decade in storage, TLC’s “Trading Spaces” returns this weekend, hoping to ride the same wave that brought old favorites “Will & Grace,” “Full House” and “Roseanne” back onto the pop-culture landscape. Paige Davis, the show’s unsinkable host, said her social media following ballooned by 20 percent the day the reboot was announced.
“It really felt like the right moment with this big sweep of nostalgia hitting the media,” said Nancy Daniels, who left her position as TLC president last month to become chief brand officer at Discovery Channel and Science Channel. “From the moment we announced it, people have been coming out of the woodwork with their favorite episodes and stories.”
The network has fanned the flames by luring back almost all of the show’s favorites, including Ty Pennington, Vern Yip and Twin Cities native Genevieve Gorder.
“You don’t bring back ‘Friends’ with only half the group,” Gorder said. “When I heard rumors about it, I was scared because if other people weren’t going to do it, it would lose the power of what it was. The sum of all of us will always be more than any of us on our own.”
With so many familiar faces on board — including Carter Oosterhouse, whom TLC is standing behind despite allegations of inappropriate behavior on the set of HGTV’s “Carter Can” — viewers will have a hard time distinguishing the eight new episodes from reruns.
Two neighbors still swap house keys for 48 hours with the mission of turning each other’s most neglected room into a center spread for Architectural Digest. The budget has been doubled to $2,000, which is probably how much Pennington spends annually on hair products.
“When we first started the show, we were dumpster divers,” said returnee Frank Bielec. “I mean, we almost got arrested taking down people’s fences and stuff. With $2,000, at least we can get a good lawyer if we need one.”
In Saturday’s two-hour premiere, which incorporates a reunion special, decorators Doug Wilson and Hildi Santo-Tomas spend more time rebuilding their prima donna images than picking up a paintbrush. The biggest question looming over the first episode is whether a couple will accept Wilson’s concept for burlap wallpaper — or end up stuffed into a burlap bag.
“If you’re the average homeowner, it can become incredibly overwhelming to figure out how to make the most out of your money,” Yip said. “It’s part of our job to show people how to embrace everything that’s at their fingertips right now.”
“Spaces” was a hit by basic-cable standards, but it never posted the numbers enjoyed by the network shows that have been resuscitated recently. At its 2003 peak, a “Spaces” special could draw 9 million, a little more than half the number tuning in that season to “Will & Grace.”
But the show, based on the British hit “Changing Rooms,” unexpectedly drew youngsters, especially girls ages 6 to 17. In 2003, during the show’s only Twin Cities taping, three preteen girls staked out the set, giving carpenter Amy Wynn Pastor a Domino’s Pizza coupon and passing around pillows for the cast to sign.
The show launched five spinoffs and dozens of copycats, from TLC’s “The Adam Carolla Project” to DIY’s “Yard Crashers.” Minnesotan Nate Berkus, who will make a guest appearance on an upcoming episode, has his own inspired hit in “Nate and Jeremiah by Design,” which will kick off its second season immediately following the “Spaces” premiere Saturday.
“I was always in awe when people approached me at airports,” said original cast member Laurie Smith. “Half of them were men, husbands, coming up and going, ‘Hey, I watch a home design show. Let me show you a quick picture of our kitchen.’ That was really thrilling for someone who went to school for interior design and has a passion for it, to feel like we were educating on some level.”
But the show’s success may also have contributed to its downfall. Some of its most popular personalities, including Gorder, Pennington and Yip, left to launch their own shows. TLC also started monkeying with its image, putting the emphasis on tabloid TV titles like “Little People, Big World” and “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.” By the time “Trading Spaces” was canceled in 2008, viewership was less than 2 million a week.
But as the success of TLC’s more tawdry shows has waned, executives believe they can benefit by relying on old friends rather than chasing new ones.
“It feels like a particularly poignant time in our history where a lot of people are looking for something familiar,” Yip said. “A lot of people are looking for comfort. ... It just feels like the right time.”
Especially if you have an open mind about burlap walls.