Viewing Habits: HGTV


Confession: I spend a lot of time watching HGTV. As long as I have cable, my non-scripted go-to is always HGTV. I’m finding it tougher to defend this particular viewing habit as the programming focuses on unattainable locations for impossible to please people. The shift from modest home decoration to extreme home renovation makes it difficult to pretend my house will ever achieve its potential.

I’ve always been a sucker for project shows. I could sit for hours with a bag of Cheetos and marathon of Bob Ross. My favourite after school program was Furniture To Go. My favourite segments on the Home show were the craft projects, although wicker baskets can only capture so much of my imagination. I wasn’t so hot for Bob Vila or This Old House.

When I first started watching HGTV in the 1990s (or “home and gardening television” as it was so quaintly known), it was mostly Carol Duvall’s craft projects and a couple doing little home projects like replacing a light fixture or putting up/removing wallpaper. How many cabinet knobs could be replaced before this channel would get cancelled? In those days, it was all mom jeans and sweater vests and floral stencils.

Then came Trading Spaces and the housing bubble and house flipping and extreme renovations. Now everyone wants to remove whole walls. It’s all quick cuts and heightened drama, stainless steel and granite. Carol Duvall is a relic of the past, destined to languish in the 4am timeslot on HGTV8.

HGTV was a fine way to pass time when it offered tips and ideas for improving one’s own domicile. It was dedicated to showing people how to best utilize small spaces and freshen up one’s decor. We satisfied a little voyeuristic craving by peeping into other people’s homes and filled our heads with attainable fantasies.

Now HGTV presents a slew of programs showcasing potential homeowners with inflated senses of entitlement and unrealistic expectations. What began as a string of shows giving homeowners a sense of real estate realities and hints for house hunting evolved into formulaic drivel that only tangentially reflect the current real estate climate. The featured homeowners regularly regurgitate things about closets and counter tops and “open concept” spaces that are “perfect for entertaining.”

The standard procedure for these home-based programs goes like this:
a) person(s) dissatisfied with living conditions
b) person(s) look to change living conditions, enlists assistance from professional
c) tensions arise, drama ensues
d) neutral narrator provides running summations of situation
e) time runs out
f) living condition altered, person(s) appeased with end result

If you’ve never bought a house and hope that a television show can help sort out the confusion, you are in for trouble. House shopping shows offer little in the way of helpful tips to apply in reality. Potential homeowners provide a budget and a list of unreasonable demands, neither of which can be compromised. The realtor presents three homes that are over budget and off the mark. Buyers are pressured to pick one and justify their purchase decision, oftentimes claiming their selection was perfect. And in 95% of all cases, the end selection was clearly not perfect. You, Mr. and Mrs. Homeowner have obviously settled. We can see you’ve settled. You could’ve retained your standards and walked away. Or admitted to the cameras that you’ve settled. But that’s not the satisfying ending. Audiences expect happy endings. The unlikely couple marries, the homeowner buys a house, the rag tag team of misfits wins the big game—all results of a satisfying narrative arc. You watch a show about buying a house, you expect to see someone buy a house.

Two years ago, we started seeing stories revealing the truth behind shows like House Hunters. The featured homeowners had already long made their purchase by the time they were chosen to film and went touring other houses that weren’t under consideration. Sometimes we’re just taking peeks around the homeowners’ friends’ houses. Which takes 80% of the fun out of watching the program. All the bickering and shoving spouses into closets and humming and hawing over which location is best and what can be done within the budget becomes a pack of pointless lies.

I don’t know why I continuing watching this channel. I’m not in the market for a new home. The internet keeps me up to date on the latest in wallpaper removal techniques and cabinet knob innovations. I’ve come to accept that none of the doors close properly in my apartment because there’s twenty layers of paint on the doors and the frames. I’m not going to paint the fireplace to “brighten things up.” We’re nearly 10 years into the whole stainless steel appliance fad, so I imagine popularity will soon wane and we’ll be conditioned to expect transparent appliances. At least we’d finally put the whole refrigerator light debate to rest.

(I would’ve included some ancient clips of HGTV but really couldn’t be bothered to do that much research for the sake of nostalgia. I do have limits. Those Mitchell and Webb sketches were pretty well spot-on. Your time would be better spent watching their clips on YouTube all day, since Netflix inexplicably removed That Mitchell and Webb Look again.)

One thought on “Viewing Habits: HGTV

  1. Agreed with everything you’ve covered; I haven’t spent AS much time comparing the various shows’ patterns, but I nailed the Property Brothers formula here:

    House Hunters Int’l just makes me grab the remote. It makes me way too anxious, like I never know what is considered an appropriate price range/deal, there’s no basis to compare to. I can’t handle it. Also these people all seem to be independent millionnaires or have immaculate credit, which bums me out to the nth degree.

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