‘Modern Family’ star goes to extremes — and comes to Utah — to host a TV reboot on HGTV

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jesse Tyler Ferguson gets the crowd going while filming an episode of the TV show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" in Ogden, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019.

If you thought you saw a “Modern Family” star at a Salt Lake bar in the past few days, you probably did. Just not the one who’s a part-owner of the place.

“I actually stopped into Bar X on my way into set here last night,” said Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who stars as Mitchell Pritchett in the hit ABC sitcom. He’s been there before to visit his co-star, co-owner Ty Burrell (who stars as Phil Dunphy).

But Ferguson has been back in the state over the past couple of weeks for an entirely different reason. He’s the new host of an old show come back to life: HGTV is reviving “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” and the first two of 10 new episodes have been filming in the Ogden area.

The format remains the same: Deserving families have their house turned into a dream home. Or, as was the case with the Barobis — the first of two Utah families — a six-bedroom, 2¼ bath, 2,900-square-foot home was built from the ground up, in 96 hours.

“I mean, it’s a true miracle. They say that the world was built in seven days, and we can build a house in less,” Ferguson said with a laugh.

Almost as surprising as when the offer came “out of the blue” for him to host “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”

“I was a fan the first time around. I’m a big fan of design shows, and HGTV is actually always on in my house,” Ferguson said. “But I never anticipated being a host of an HGTV show, much less the host of ‘Extreme Makeover.’”

He mulled over the offer and decided “if there’s any reality show that I was going to tie myself to, it’s a show like this where we’re giving back so much to deserving families.”

Like the Barobis. Siblings Ashraf, 20; Azida, 17; and Zulufu, 14, escaped from the Democratic Republic of Congo after their parents and younger sister were killed by rebels, and they spent four years in a Ugandan refugee camp before they — along with their Aunt Anifah and cousin Habiba, 14, immigrated to the United States. They’ve struggled to make a life for themselves, and were living in a tiny apartment.

Ferguson flew in for the “door knock” — when the family learned they were chosen to be on the show — and was bowled over by the response. Particularly by Habiba’s response.

“I just went and hugged him so much,” she said. “I was, like, ‘Oh my gosh! I love you!’”

And he shared the Barobis’ excitement at the big reveal, hopping up and down when they got their first look at their new home.

“I’ve worked very closely with refugees in the past and have a lot of emotional connection to them,” Ferguson said. “I want this to be real moments that I’m having with people. I don’t want it to feel generated.”

“That’s what makes the show so special. It’s humans coming together and helping each other.”

He’s following in the footsteps of Ty Pennington, who hosted 200 episodes of the show on ABC from 2003 to 2012.

“I have an appreciation for design,” said Ferguson, whose home was recently featured in Architectural Digest. “But I certainly don’t know anything about construction, whereas Ty Pennington was a fantastic carpenter. He was the heart of that show, but I think we’re allowing my heart to sort of be what I contribute to this experience.”

Ferguson signed on to “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” despite the fact that he’s also in the midst of production on the final season of “Modern Family” — which is turning into “a scheduling nightmare.”

“It’s the busiest three months of my entire life, juggling all this. But we’re making it work,” Ferguson said. “I have a lot of support from my ‘Modern Family’ family, and the network has been really supportive. Somehow they’ve made it work out.”

Even though “sometimes I don’t know when I wake up in the morning if I need to be in Utah or on the Fox lot.”

He never expected to host a reality/home design show, but then again, he never expected he’d be anywhere other than performing onstage.

“Every step of my career has been a surprise to me,” Ferguson said. “I’m a theater actor, and I was put into a TV show called ‘The Class’ 12 years ago and that was my first exposure to Hollywood. And then from that, ‘Modern Family’ happened. And then this. All of these moments of my life have constantly been a surprise.

“I never set out to be a TV actor, and I certainly never set out to be the host of ‘Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.’ So all of these things are sort of folded into one another in a really beautiful way.”

He’s signed to star on Broadway next spring in a revival of “Take Me Out,” which won a Tony as best play in 2003. And he’s hoping to do more episodes of his HGTV show after the 10-episode first season.

“I love that my career has allowed me to juggle all these interesting choices,” Ferguson said.

HGTV’s reboot of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” is tentatively slated to premiere in early 2020. The 11th and final season of “Modern Family” begins Sept. 25 on ABC/Channel 4.