Home improvement new reality craze

— A poll conducted last year for HGTV revealed that television viewers considered "Trading Spaces" one of their favorite shows on the cable channel.

One problem: It's on TLC, not HGTV.

"Trading Spaces," the remodeling show where neighbors impose their decorating tastes on neighbors, was the most popular show on basic cable last week.

It has spawned imitators and transformed home improvement television.

Nowhere is that more evident than at HGTV, a network built on home design that somehow missed out on the biggest home design sensation on television.

Two programs with debuts on HGTV this year clearly show the influence of "Trading Spaces."

One, already on the air, is "Design on a Dime," which applies the TLC show's concept of strict spending limits in inviting designers to remodel homes.

The second, coming in March, is "Ground Rules!" -- which, HGTV says, "challenges homeowners to redesign and install their landscaping in friendly competition with their neighbors within a limited budget and time frame."

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AP Photo

Sam Kivett, center, host of Home & Garden Television's "Design on a Dime," and his design team of Summer Baltzer, left, and Charles Burbridge, help redo a room for a homeowner on a tight budget in the Los Angeles area. The series had its premiere on the cable network Jan. 1.

Sound familiar?

To be fair, HGTV shows such as "Designing for the Sexes" and "Designers' Challenge" predated "Trading Spaces." But in developing new programs, they've ramped up the energy level.

"Some of the shows we have are absolutely adding an element of entertainment," said Burton Jablin, HGTV's chief executive. "Yes, we do look at the competition, but fundamentally we believe we have the strength in our product. We believe in developing programs that build the relationship between viewers and HGTV as opposed to developing a hit mentality."

HGTV had a chance to air "Trading Spaces," but passed. The show is an American version of a British show, "Changing Rooms."

HGTV was offered a chance to lease the concept for American television but, at the time, it wanted to own its own programming outright, Jablin said. He said he's not kicking himself, but it's worth noting that HGTV's ownership policy has since changed.

Jablin puts a positive spin on the survey that erroneously found "Trading Spaces" one of HGTV's most popular shows.

See "Design on a Dime" most evenings at 9:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. on Sunflower Broadband Channel 45.

"I think that would make TLC cringe," he said. "I'm perfectly happy with that. What's great about these kinds of surveys is it says to me we are really doing what we set out to do, which is establish a brand that is associated with a certain type of programming."

HGTV's ratings have been static; viewership declined by 3 percent last year, according to Nielsen Media Research. Thanks to "Design on a Dime," though, things are looking up. TLC's viewership, meanwhile, surged 27 percent last year.

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