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Missing (Designers of) Color on HGTV

Why is HGTV’s design pool more beige than the neutral kitchens in their shows? I spent 20+ hours watching every pilot available on HGTV under HGTV Sneak Peek to find out just whose pilots are aired, and from there, who gets to film a full series.

First, a brief explanation of how filming pilots even works. Now that social media is one of the biggest ways to PR for interior designer success, staff from various production companies reach out to designers to see if they want to film a sizzle reel. These 4-7 minute reels give the network brass an idea of what to expect from the designers, and if they approve, the production company can film a pilot. Most full house reno projects are given around 16-20 days to film, and then it’s up to the network to either air the pilot, or the pilot disappears. (A couple of the episodes I watched were never aired.) However, of the probably hundreds of pilots filmed a year, very few make it to air, and of those even fewer receive series orders!

HGTV hosts all of its (and DIY Network) pilots from late 2017 to the present as episodes under the series, HGTV Sneak Peek. There are 38 episodes, but a few of those are actually multiple episodes for one series attempt. Of those, 27 were renovations (for a client or to rent) and the now popular flipping model. (I do not include house hunter shows here.)

Two were outliers, the first was focused on staging the home to sell, and the second was about new builds. The latter, 90 Day Dream Home actually did get picked up as a series, re-titled 100 Day Dream Home and had the only interracial couple!

House Reno/Flipping Hosts

Some quick stats:

6 pilots had designers (and contractors) of color. Just one (100 Day) received a series pick up.
10 were house flippers.
7 were siblings, one set of twin sisters, mothers and their kid(s).
15 (!) were wife/husband teams, and only one of those husbands also worked on the design of the home. Every other husband was there for the “dirty part” and building.
5 shows were individual designers with teams to help them.
2, just 2 received a full series order with already mentioned 100 Day and Home Suite Home which now airs as My House is Your House, a show all about renovating so that the house is a more appealing rental home for vacationers.

Based on this data alone, only 7% of pilots get ordered to series which is way less than my usual sandbox of broadcast and currently HGTV is really focused on the wife/husband pair or the family angle. All of the shows  (except those already mentioned) share the same general gimmick of “renovating for our clients!” or “flipping homes in fill in the blank city!”

Unsurprisingly, the most interesting (well, most shocking?) pilot of them all followed a wife/husband pair who renovated homes for polygamist couples outside Salt Lake City, did not get a series order. The pilot followed a man whose wives are a set of twins, and their cousin…You can imagine how House Full of Spouses went over on social media when it premiered. (Should have tried TLC!)

Speaking of TLC, the only gay couple that I’ve seen on TV designing is Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent on Nate and Jeremiah By Design which air(ed) on TLC for three seasons. Who knows where the lesbians are. Honestly, though, it’s one of my favorite approaches to the “let’s go in and help people who are really struggling with some hard shit and make their environment more wholesome” theme in reality tv. (That’s a whole different article.)

Even from the new shows that premiered in the last three years, half are wife/husband or family members working together. The four that aren’t have their own gimmick.

My personal favorite is Unspouse my House, hosted by Orlando Soria (the second of two currently out men on HGTV) and is all about renovating after a breakup. It’s hilarious, completely unexpected, and honestly a lot of fun. The others are Windy City Rehab, One of a Kind and Hidden Potential. Alison Victoria designs high-end Chicago homes (and spends beaucoup bucks doing it). Grace Mitchell literally creates one of a kind designs (spoons on the wall!) and has a penchant for wild wallpaper. Finally, Jasmine Roth renovates suburban Californian cookie-cutter homes to stand out (everyone gets a new garage door). Of the eight new series, only one couple is of color flipping homes in Going for Sold set in Houston.

Their last two specials? Also entirely white (except for some guest judges). The Brady Brunch renovation (hosts pictured above) and Rock the Block centered on the most popular hosts but are white!

Here’s the thing, HGTV was one of the first cable networks to even have openly gay (and of color) hosts with David Bromstad winning the first season of long-dead HGTV Star in 2006 and going on to host Color Splash. Vern Yip actually judged all eight seasons of the show! Not that 2 of like thirty shows with gay hosts is something to celebrate. However, for the cable networks, 2006 is early! Of all the shows currently airing (and coming) on the network, I counted only five (!) series that have hosts who are not white.

And, the ratings of each pilot didn’t really show a strong trend for what makes it and what doesn’t. Of the three shows that did receive series orders (so far) including the one house hunter series titled What You Get for Your Money received a .2+ on their premiere episode. However, other shows did the same and did not receive a series. I’m not entirely sure if that means the new series also had good second (or third) pilot airings? I’m sure part of it was how the show trended on social media during the air time which can be in the afternoon or evening. Doesn’t seem to have rhyme nor reason to when they air stuff. Finally, depending on the social media following of the hosts, there’s a built in audience there.

All this makes me wonder if HGTV’s current focus on finding more flippers to follow in the legacy of Chip and Joanna Gaines means that production companies aren’t seeking out more individual designers? Are there not popular designer couples of color on social media? The Going for Sold couple was found on YouTube and every single one of the series piloted was due to some production staff of a company reaching out to the designer! Maybe there are just less designers of color in the US. Similarly, there must not be a lot of men who work with their wives and do the designing when they renovate and/or flip a home if we’re to believe what’s shown on HGTV. Now if they’re an individual designer, or two brothers, two sisters, whatever, everyone’s designing!

Considering that HGTV series consistently show up in the top 50 rated cable series and is accessible to 95 million homes (as of 2015), people love their renovation and flipping. Of course, without any data on the ethnic backgrounds of self-identified designers or American Society of Interior Designers members, it’s hard to know which demographics are most poorly represented on TV. Still, production companies and HGTV should move beyond the same gimmicks and order more inclusive series. They’re clearly trying to do so with 100 Day.

All ratings data is from ShowbuzzDaily and all series can be viewed on HGTV’s streaming site. Image courtesy of HGTV.

Seher
Written By

Seher obsesses over show ratings and usually writes about media representation issues. Otherwise, she's reading away for her graduate program in anthropology.

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