The Formulaic Comforts of HGTV

Waco Texas Fixer Upper LogoI grew up on a steady diet of This Old House, but since that’s only on every so often, I settle instead on HGTV. I watch it on the treadmill at the gym, and it’s good workout entertainment because I can drop in and out whenever and still get the gist of what’s going on. The nice thing about HGTV shows is that I can still understand it even if the captions aren’t working on the treadmill TV. (I don’t bother with headphones, since my gym plays pretty good music.)

Let’s take a look at the five HGTV shows that are usually on when I’m working out, ranked from worst to best.

5. Love It or List It

My least favorite thing about HGTV shows is the reality show aspect. Like the History Channel, HGTV often focuses more on the interpersonal drama than it does on actual home renovation. All of the shows on this list are guilty of this, though my least favorite is Love It or List It. This show features a realtor and an interior decorator competing against each other. The decorator wants the featured family to “Love It” (stay in their renovated house,) while the realtor wants them to “List It” (move to a new place.) This show really plays up the rivalry, with the two hosts bickering and (unconvincingly) acting like they hate each other’s guts. I find this off-putting, but the real deal-breaker is that the whole thing is staged. With each family, they film both “Love It” and “List It” endings, and decide in post-production which one to use.

4. House Hunters

House Hunters is a whole series of shows, but even on the original, the episodes are very hit or miss. On the upside, the show has minimal reality show aspects. On the downside, however, it’s hard to stomach how picky the home buyers can be. I often see people rejecting houses for easily fixable things like paint color. I also have a lot of trouble watching some of the spinoffs, like House Hunters International or Tiny House Hunters. Seeing people deciding on a beach house in the Bahamas does not interest me. It just reminds me that I’m not looking for a mansion on a tropical island. Conversely, the people on Tiny House Hunters come off as rich people trying to “slum it” by living in an overpriced trailer. Perhaps I have too much class resentment, but these things really turn me off of the House Hunters franchise.

3. Property Brothers

Of the five shows on this list, this one is the one I feel the most “meh” about. It’s not my favorite, but I don’t dislike it either. Property Brothers has two twins, one a realtor and one a contractor. The show starts with the realtor brother showing the featured family a lush McMansion, only to disappoint them with an exorbitant price. Every time, the family seems shocked, even though this is the setup for every episode. After realizing they can’t afford their dream home, the family finds a “fixer upper” by the end of the first half hour. Then the other brother fixes it up to compete with the unobtainable mansion. I like watching the renovations, but since this is a reality show, there’s still way to much time dedicated to conversations and arguments.

2. Flip or Flop

I’ll admit that I “hatewatch” Flip or Flop, which I suspect is the proper way to watch any reality show. This show features a young couple who buy abandoned houses and “flip” them around for sale. Since they’re not working with home buyers, the show has a much stronger mercenary feel. They’re there to make a buck. This affects many of their interior design aspects, with lots of neutral shades. But at least that part feels real. What doesn’t feel real is everything else. There’s one episode where, after they buy the house, some hooligans come and throw a party inside of it, causing a lot of damage. Except, all the damage happens to things they planned to fix anyway. Every episode has some crisis like this, but it’s all fake. As fake as the couple’s relationship evidently, as it recently came out that they’re getting divorced.

1. Fixer Upper

Fixer Upper also features a husband-wife team that fixes up old houses, though the couple on this show actually get along. Like all HGTV shows, Fixer Upper still has a reality show streak, but it’s nowhere near as fake as Flip or Flop. And because they work with families buying houses, the design choices are bolder and the renovation is less profit-driven. And best of all, I can relate to this show better, as it takes place in Texas. Unlike the shows taking place in L.A. or Vancouver, Fixer Upper takes place in Waco. The cost of the houses seems reasonable compared to other shows, and the people seem more relatable. Most interestingly of all, the success of this show has led to a revitalization of Waco. A city once infamous for harboring a cult is now becoming a tourist attraction. Not bad for basic cable.

I like watching HGTV on the treadmill, but there’s simply no home improvement show like This Old House for me. I’d love to see more shows that focus on renovation instead of drama, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

Do you ever watch HGTV? What’s your favorite show on the network? Let me know in the comment section.

Steve Lovelace

Steve Lovelace is a writer and graphic artist. After graduating Michigan State University in 2004, he taught Spanish in Samoa before moving to Dallas, Texas. He blogs regularly at

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2 Responses

  1. March 25, 2017

    […] “Pawn Stars”), “This Old House” focuses on the work at hand rather than the interpersonal drama. It seems you can’t make a documentary nowadays without adding some reality show like aspect. […]

  2. March 25, 2017

    […] goofing off in front of a camera. In this regard, Richards’ character presaged modern reality stars who become famous just for playing slightly exaggerated versions of […]

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