Growing the Television Audience
- You’ve said that things involving Remodeling Today got “real, real serious” the first year you went to the NATPE (National Association of Television Program Executives) trade show. And you’ve gone every year since, spanning more than 20 years. What was it like being the upstart, going for the first time?
I had a very modest booth. We hauled it, built it and set it up ourselves. It was in New Orleans and we were just down there to get a feel for things, to see if we could do some business in growing the show’s audience. There was a bit of a buzz about home improvement television, and it seemed to be good timing. It had already been tried and true, and other shows that were starting to surface at that point. In fact, HGTV was just launching.
- Were you encouraged by the reception you got?
I felt like the smallest tiny fish in the big giant sea. I wasn’t really sure we would be able to hang in there with them. Then I picked up 15 stations that weekend. And getting that support – people walking up, talking and thinking about it, that was the tipping point. I’m thinking, this is just a tiny bit of this country, maybe I can make a go of this thing. That was the most challenging and encouraging three days, let me tell you.
- Who was the first homeowner for Remodeling Today, and how did you choose them?
We had a Lipford Construction client who was so into her home that we felt like she would be very expressive for an episode. She was a very smart lady, so it just seemed like she would be a very good example of a passionate homeowner. We walked from room to room as we filmed and suddenly, I was not the contractor she was dealing with. Suddenly I was this TV guy, asking her questions to help her decide what she wanted. And she responded to that.
- What did you learn from the early episodes that helped the show evolve?
The first show was a large addition, architecturally designed and one of the most high-end projects I’ve ever done, and the homeowner was very polished. And as time went on, we found that any time we did the common projects, the projects most people would want to do to their home, that’s what got the most response. Projects involving bathrooms and kitchens were the most popular, and still are. They liked the way we did the showers and backsplashes, which was one of the early signs of the direction we needed.
- As Remodeling Today grew, it included more of the homeowner’s participation, where they used to be more of a project spectator. Did that happen organically?
Not at first. It was, and still is, all about the project. But what makes presenting the idea a lot more fun is having the homeowner assist us. And the more simplistic the idea, the better. So we really started encouraging the homeowners to join us in the projects each week.
- You’ve credited “great homeowners” for a lot of the success of each episode. In the early days, how tough was it to find folks that come across as accessible to the audience?
It’s true, great homeowners make for great TV. But it’s funny how being on a TV show can change people. We realized that early on. What happened so often is we would have a genuine, cool homeowner who was really into what they were doing. But when we were getting ready to put them on TV they would show up in a cocktail dress and start talking in a different way. And that became the rule more than the exception that shocked us more than once.
- Is that how you ended up filming an episode at your own home, with you as both host and homeowner?
That actually came about a few years later, when we were searching for a location to install a hot tub. We never could find the right situation, and we sure didn’t just want to just drop a hot tub on a concrete slab. And I thought, wait, we could do that at our house. So we did, and it made for a great show.
- In the late ’90s, Remodeling Today was starting to take off and you were getting national attention. And that’s when you started thinking about taking over production yourself. What prompted that expansion?
The company that I was working with kept messing up the shows, and didn’t have the talent for editing. And I thought, I just want to do this all on my own, how do I do that? So we bought the first camera, and that was a big, big deal, because we had to borrow the money. At first we had a camera, two microphones and light. That was it. I had to run the cord down my leg and tape it to my ankle, and people thought I had limp for a long time.
- So you went from being financially successful on a local level to incurring a lot of debt to improve the quality and editing of the show to be more nationally relevant. Did you ever doubt that decision?
Since we were doing fairly well locally, people wondered why I wouldn’t just stay right there? But that’s just not me. You keep going until you see how far you can go and I’m still on that path.