|The House That Home-Makeover Shows Built|
David: When "This Old House" premiered on the Boston PBS station WGBH in 1979, few could have predicted it would spawn an entirely new television genre: the home-improvement show. The series that made Bob Vila a household star and inspired the top-rated sitcom "Home Improvement" also sparked a seemingly insatiable American appetite for real estate programming ? a format that mushroomed in the '90s thanks to HGTV.
The cable network originally specialized in how-to programming on crafts, decorating and gardening. But following the premiere of what would become its flagship series, "House Hunters," in 1999, HGTV began to focus more narrowly on real estate shows driven by big personalities. Today, HGTV is a top-10 cable network in prime time that last year brought in $880 million in revenue.
Another major moment in the genre's evolution came in 2000 with the premiere of "Trading Spaces" on TLC. In the show, pairs of neighbors were given $1,000 and two days to redo a room in each other's homes. It became a huge breakout hit for TLC, raking in as many as 9 million viewers and inspiring spinoffs and imitators.
In 2003, telegenic carpenter Ty Pennington left "Trading Spaces" to host "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," the tear-jerking ABC reality series that rewarded families in need with elaborate renovations. It became a top-20 network hit, reaching a peak of nearly 16 million viewers in its second season.
The success of "Trading Spaces" and "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" ? not to mention skyrocketing housing prices ? led many networks to add their own aspirational programming. By the mid-aughts, real estate programming had become its own cottage industry, especially on cable, where shows like "Flip That House," "Flip This House" and "Flipping Out" popped up like so many suburban McMansions.
When the market came crashing back to earth in 2008, cable outlets A&E and TLC scaled back on real estate programming. The notable exception to this trend was HGTV, which continued to focus on home shows but adjusted its lineup to fit a more sober time. The strategy worked. The network now produces some 800 hours of pleasantly escapist shows like "Property Brothers" and "Love It or List It" as well as the ubiquitous "House Hunters" and its various spinoffs.
Six years after the Great Recession, the real estate boom on the small screen shows no signs of stopping.