HGTV is not what it used to be, so why are 40 million people (including me) tuning in every month?
When the channel launched in 1994, the schedule was filled with shows that showed homeowners how to do things themselves for reasonable amounts of money. The first show ever to air on HGTV, “Room by Room,” included projects that cost a couple hundred bucks or less. And onetime staples “Decorating Cents” and “Design on a Dime” had $500 and $2,500 budgets, respectively.
Those were great shows. I learned a lot — things that I used while finishing the basement of a home I used to own.
But those programs are long gone. Today, HGTV’s schedule is filled with shows like “Property Brothers,” “Flip or Flop” and “Love It or List It” that feature home makeovers that, more often than not, run into six figures. Or more.
That’s waaaay out of my league.
And yet ... I watch HGTV a lot. I sit down and watch several shows a week, and it’s become sort of the background noise at home if I’m doing something else.
I love “Windy City Rehab” (which returns for Season 2 next year) even though every house that Alison Victoria and her partner rehabbed listed for more than a million bucks. And I won’t be buying a million-dollar home in Chicago.
Why do I watch?
“Even though our price points may not resonate with every viewer, I feel like the projects that I do within that build are absolutely things that people can do at home without breaking the bank,” Victoria said, pointing to projects that like turning an old hutch into a kitchen island. “Anyone can do that for under a thousand bucks.”
She said she “got hooked” on HGTV when it aired those lower-budget shows, “And now, it’s more, ‘Here’s how we do it and here are the things that you can learn at home by watching what we do.’”
I can’t argue with her. I’ve gotten remodeling ideas from big-budget shows — although I couldn’t afford to buy new kitchen cabinets, so I sanded and painted my old ones, bought and installed counters from IKEA and a new sink from Amazon.
And it is undeniably entertaining to watch an ugly house transformed into a gorgeous home — what Victoria called a “redemption.”
“It’s taking something old and broken down and making it beautiful. And it’s a celebration,” she said. “And I think that’s kind of a universal theme.”
David Bromstad — who won “HGTV Design Star” in 2006 and currently hosts “My Lottery Dream Home” on the channel — said he thinks people tune in to HGTV “because it’s a happy network. It’s positive, you can keep it on. ... People love it. They love to tune in to the positivity.
“And with such a tumultuous world out there and all these news channels that only report negativity, HGTV is a positive light. It’s a rainbow. It’s a sea of fabulous. And no one else can touch us when it comes to that.”
I can’t argue with that, either. I often find myself tuning in to one of the 24-hour news channels and then switching away after a few minutes because I just can’t stand it — and, more often than not, flipping to HGTV.
Even though I haven’t got $100,000 to renovate my house.
LIKE AN ONION • Jonathan Knight, best known as one of the New Kids On the Block, has shot a pilot for his own HGTV show. These days, in addition to New Kids reunion tours, he restores old homes — and the proposed series is titled “Farmhouse Fixers.”
And, as is the case with so many HGTV shows, once the remodeling begins, all sorts of problems are revealed, from electric to plumbing to rot to termites.
“Old houses, it’s like an onion you start peeling,” Knight said. “The more layers you peel back, the more you’re going to cry.”