Thursday, July 8, 2010


When it comes to your average basic cable reality TV nightmare, I think we can all agree that anything but reality is represented.  Most every show is scripted, exaggerated or worse, making it difficult to even utter the phrase reality TV without the use of air quotes.  We know better than to think a couple from The Bachelor could possibly last…we’re not surprised when “America’s Next Top Model” actually becomes “America’s Next Tall Waitress”…yet too many people watch in disgust as an entire house is built in half the amount of time it took to have their new dishwasher correctly installed, or a room is re-done using the amount of money they spent on their throw pillows.  I suppose it’s all part of the age old “if they say it on TV, it must be true”, misconception but unfortunately things aren’t always that straight forward.  Here are a few de-bunked home decorating Reality TV myths and the truth about these interesting but often misleading programs.

The Time-Frame Myth 

I must admit, I never really understood Television until I studied Broadcast Journalism in college.  I was always under the impression that TV programs were created out of the need for entertainment and the concept of using advertisements on them was a secondary notion.  Not so.  The truth is, advertising was always the primary goal of television…your favorite program exists so that you have a reason to turn on the TV and watch the ads.  Most home-improvement reality TV programs are funded by the massive do-it-yourself industry, which means if they want to keep their sponsors it’s in the best interest of the program to make do-it-yourself look simple, fast and fun.  SO- a project that actually takes a group of professionals weeks to accomplish is presented as a piece of cake that two average Joes tackled in two days.  Let’s talk perception vs. reality for just a moment.  Perhaps what you see on your television is a husband and wife team aided by a designer with just 48 hours on the clock.  Don’t forget, whatever is accomplished during those 48 hours was made possible by weeks of planning, consulting, and shopping by teams of producers, designers and trade professionals.  Before the first camera man stepped foot in the door every detail was determined, every item purchased, every material available, every permit granted, and every member of the massive team whose only job is to ensure this project is completed on schedule was present.  I’m not trying to unravel a conspiracy theory here…I’m just letting you know how it works so your expectations are in line with reality.  Don’t be fooled- when starting a project, make sure you schedule a reasonable amount of time to complete it and don’t get discouraged when it isn’t finished overnight. 

The Money Myth

When it comes to the “amount spent”, the same principal applies…1,000 TV Land dollars does not equal $1,000 Benjamin Franklins.  Not only does the figure they give leave out labor, design fees, tools (and the list goes on), but it doesn’t include items that were donated by sponsors (for product placement purposes) or big ticket items that many shows allow contestants to “win” throughout the program.  Whatever amount they say is absolutely no indication of what it would cost you to achieve the same space.

The Quality Myth

Although this isn’t true of all home design shows, many sacrifice quality designs for the sake of good TV.  Trading Spaces, for example, has a DVD series entitled “They Hated It”, chronicling the reactions of homeowners who were less than pleased with the grand reveal of their new space.  Watching people lash out is just as (if not more) entertaining as watching them jump for joy and sometimes bad ideas are used intentionally to incite a reaction.  Even when they’re not intentionally pushing buttons, they often offer advice that’s just plain bad to make an expensive project appear affordable.  Many times what they suggest looks cheap…even in their professional hands, with professional lighting and professional camera angles.  Can you  imagine what it will look like in your home?  I don’t want to come off as Debbie-Downer, because many of these shows do have lots of entertainment value as well as very talented designers.  Others, like Extreme Home Makeover, really do help families in need in an admirable way.  You can absolutely strain out some good ideas from watching, so by all means do so guilt free…just don’t be fooled into thinking they’re any more linked to truth than their VH1 counterparts.


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