EM:HE Executive Producer/show creator answers the questions you asked about his show.
What criteria do they use to choose a particular family? Do you receive many tapes of families? Or is other information used to help you select a family? Is there a specific section of your production staff just to select families?
Also, how much weight is placed on the video? Are other aspects of the application considered as well, or is the video the most important part?
Family selection is, without question, the toughest part of the job. We’re currently receiving upwards of 10,000 application tapes per week — a daunting number to say the least. There’s a large Casting Department that watches those tapes, and sends promising candidates on to me for approval. In addition, they’re constantly reading local newspapers and magazines, searching for stories and families that might be right for EM:HE.
As for criteria, there’s no one answer. We’re obviously looking for families with a compelling story and an immediate need. Our families are typically active in their communities (their neighbors will have to agree to 24/7 construction on their block before we can move ahead, so it helps to be well liked) and have suffered a sudden, unexpected reversal of fortune. We’re always impressed by families that have tried to solve their problems on their own, and are turning to EM:HE as a last resort. We’re looking for geographic and ethnic diversity. And, well, families need to be able to express themselves clearly — after all, they’re going to be on television.
In short, there are a million factors in play and it’s hard to pin down exactly why we choose any single family. The short answer is: I look at a lot of tape and go with my gut.
Which comes first in selecting a location, the Builder or the family? I found on your ABC site under the "Apply for a Makeover" a (location) list that was updated a few times in early 2005 of cities and/or states that you were soliciting submissions from. I assume these were locations of builders you got to pledge to build a home. Or where they merely locations that you have not gotten alot of feedback from and were wanting more submissions to consider?
Actually, we typically find the builder after we’ve found the family. When you see us searching in a particular state, it’s often at the request of an ABC affiliate. Sometimes it’s simply because of weather – it’s very hard for us to build up North during the winter.
One other bit of “inside information“: we shoot two episodes simultaneously. It’s a brutal schedule, but we have to do it to deliver 28 episodes during the television season. Four designers work on each house, with Ty travelling back and forth. It’s much easier on both of my teams if those homes are located in adjoining states – or at least the same part of the country. So sometimes when you see us casting in a particular state it’s because we’ve already found one great family, and now we’re looking for a second nearby with which to pair them. Make sense? I have trouble keeping it straight, too.
With upwards of 12,000 submissions and letters a week do you keep a database? I would imagine that paper filling would be impossible and that you keep a morgue of tons of stuff related to the show. So what happens to submissions that are not accepted? Do you keep everthing or only the ones that you are considering?
Is the critical information on Every Family submitted stored electronically so that if you consider doing a show for North Dakota for instance you can just call up all the submissions (or most deserving ones) for that area and decide then. Or are selections more on the basis of a submission story just being read and a video that blows you away?
We do save everything we receive, but sadly, we’re not as high tech as you might imagine. Every submission is read or viewed as it is received. Those that seem promising get immediate, individual attention from the Casting Department. Everything else goes to storage. It’s not a perfect system, but we’re still a relatively small staff. And we’re receiving an overwhelming amount of mail.
Do the designers ususally stay in hotels, the bus or have their own trailers and do any of them have unique requests of "things" they just have to have with them while on a site?
The designers bounce between a shared trailer and the bus while on the build site. We also keep hotel rooms for everyone – though given our hours, we don’t see them often.
As for “things“ that the designers bring with them… Paul and Preston bring guitars to every build. Ed brings his harmonicas. Michael brings scented candles. Ty brings a helmet and goggles (no joke). Tracy brings her beautiful baby, Oliver.
You have been to nearly 30 of the continental 48 states. Might EMHE ever do a show in Hawaii or Alaska?
We’re dying to. As I mentioned earlier, we shoot two shows at once. Hard to figure out what we would pair with Alaska or Hawaii – as we need to travel constantly between our two locations. But we’re working on it…
Of all of the shows you‘ve done, which family touched you the most and why? Was there a certain location involved? What was the hardest show for you to do and why? What moments stick out for you as being particularly poignant? Frustrating?
I don’t even know where to begin.
I’ll never forget the Powers family – our very first episode. We had NO idea what we were doing. We tore down their walls… and then just hoped we could put them back up in time. It was terrifying and exhilerating all at the same time. And I’ll never forget their reaction, as they were the only family that TRULY had no idea what to expect. They thought this was just another home renovation show. They expected new carpet and cabinets. Boy, were they surprised.
I’m moved by every family we visit. Though I think we’re all particularly touched when the stories involve children battling disability or disease. Those are the sorts of stories where a home renovation really can make a difference and change a life. Usually, the improvements we make are things the parents could never afford on their own. And their humble gratitude and obvious love for their kids makes me cry every time.
What's your favorite part of the show? ...Something that you could do for families, or see in people, over and over again and it always touches you..
Three words: “move that bus!“ There’s just nothing better than the moment we reveal the house for the first time. Whatever the reaction, I’m always standing in our production trailer cheering and tearing at the same time. It makes a very long, tough week instantly worthwhile.
The first few episodes of season 1 included scenes of designers in conflict, which is only natural. Without being too specific, have designers ever been "strategically" scheduled opposite one another?
Nope, the conflict has always been real. My background is in news and documentaries, and it’s important that EVERYTHING be real.
But you make a good observation: we certainly AIRED more conflict in season one. As the show has grown and matured, the in-fighting between the designers just began to bore me. Given the overwhelming need of the families and the incredible effort that was going into building the home, these “reality moments“ just seemed small and petty. OUR issues are pretty insignificant when you’re building a house for a family facing a life-or-death issue. So I started cutting around most disagreements… And the designers responded by, well, buckling down and working together. It’s been good for everyone.
WHEN will they stop the skits and get back to the heart of what this show is supposed to be about?
Not entirely sure what this question means, but I’ll take a stab at it. The thing is, we’re not really a home renovation show. We’re not about tips and projects and DIY secrets.
We’re about families in need. We’re about communities coming together. And, well, we’re family entertainment that parents can actually watch with their kids. I think there’s room there for some wish fulfillment… Some comedy… Some emotion… A little bit of everything.
Frankly, I’m not entirely sure what “this show is supposed to be about“ – and I’m the guy who created it. We’re making it up as we go along.
Who does Ty's secret room when he's not there?
Ty designs everything, and does a lot of the work himself. He’s assisted by LOTS of volunteers, as well as our staff carpenters: Daryl “Big D“ Paine, Brandon Malong, John Best, and Justin Ballard.
What would you like to see as a future project for Extreme Home Makeover?
Extreme Makeover: The Moon Edition.
I’m only half joking. We’ve got some VERY big ideas — everything from rebuilding entire towns, to working internationally. Right now, we’re concentrating on our four hurricane relief specials. They’ll air Thursday nights at 8:00 EST. We’ve been in Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Texas for a couple of months now… Rebuilding schools, churches, city halls, baseball fields. It’s been incredibly challenging and remarkably rewarding. And it’s like nothing we’ve ever done before.
How many shows/projects are slated for next season?
I wish I knew! ABC hasn’t officially ordered EM:HE for next season. We assume we’ll be around… But networks typically wait until Spring to actually pick up a show. We’ll see!
When will we see a Fan show? I remember seeing something in print about the show wanting to do a special on Families and communities that do their own Extreme Makeovers and asking that people send in video of what they did.
It’s a great idea. We’re always encouraging ABC to consider new ways to give our fans updates and inside information. We got to do a little bit of that this year on our Holiday Special. We visited a few of the families we had built homes for, and helped them say “thanks“ by helping others. It’s something we’d like to continue doing in season four.
Is there a place that we can send fan mail to the wonderful designers?
Is it really true that preston is opening up new stores/showrooms and does preston really have his own website too?
Check out our webite at http://www.abc.com
for info on where to send fan mail. And read the designer bios for info about their shops and websites. Preston should have his store up and running any day now. We keep him pretty busy…
Will they make a season 2 DVD with the How'd they do that episodes as well? Also, what happened to the How'd they do that show and will they ever bring it back?
Yep, we expect a Season Two DVD… And I hope it includes some of the “How’d They Do That?“ shows. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t a spot for that series on the 2005/2006 ABC schedule. Darn those Desperate Housewives!