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I Want My HGTV

A bit of idle watching of cable's Home & Garden Television can quickly become an addiction.

April 05, 1998|ELLEN MELINKOFF | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

My name is Ellen M. and I'm addicted to HGTV.

If you haven't channel-surfed lately, or your cable company doesn't offer it, I'm talking about Home & Garden Television--20 1/2 hours a day, every day, of programs devoted to architecture, gardening, building, remodeling, home repairs, decorating, crafts and entertaining.

My addiction began during a recent, protracted cold when I was stuck in bed, too sick to read, not too sick to watch TV. It began harmlessly enough. A tour of a Pennsylvania farmhouse here, a segment on steel-frame homes there.

Even in an antihistamine haze, I learned how to place rocks in a Japanese garden, mix fertilizers in a Cuisinart, spot authentic Meissen porcelain.

The haze lifted. My need for HGTV did not. I began clicking between two channels. During "Today" show commercials, I checked in on the pros and cons of vinyl siding. When "NYPD Blue" got a little predictable, I clicked into a tour of Savannah homes.

Suddenly, Must-See TV paled in comparison to Design at Nine.

I entered an evangelical phase. I called my cousin Linda in New York. Yes, she said, she knew all about HGTV and used the word "addiction" first, and in reference to herself. We spent a glorious hour comparing favorite shows. Then I phoned my friend Karen in Ohio, to learn that her 15-year-old, football player son is hooked too.

I am not alone.

HGTV went on the air in December 1994 and has gone from being available in 6 million homes to 38 million.

"We're the fastest growing cable station in the U.S.," said Burton Jablin, senior vice president of programming and production. "We're going like gangbusters."

In Southern California, HGTV is carried by 43 cable companies, including Media One and Tele-Communications Inc. Since March 31, the network has been available to Century Cable subscribers in West Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, bringing it to a total of 2.4 million homes in Southern California. The network is owned by E.W. Scripps Co., which also owns the Food Network.

With the exception of "This Old House Classics," "The Victory Garden" and "New Yankee Workshop", all the programming is original.

HGTV has production companies all over the country and, as word catches on, has no dearth of gardeners and decorators proposing new shows.

Several shows are produced in Los Angeles, including "At Home With" and "Homes Across America," produced by Cinetel Productions; "Awesome Interiors," "Kitty Bartholomew: You're Home," "Party at Home" and "Simply Quilts", but I hear a lot of drawls, twangs and Canadian diphthongs these days.

And I'm not turned off by shows that extol mud rooms and double-glazed windows and forsythia bushes; I find them exotic. I'd be bored with too much palm tree and patio programming.

Each week, episodes are shown several times (the prime-time shows twice in one night). But then they are retired and won't be seen again for three to six months. Some programs have a large inventory (craft maven Carol Duvall does 65 shows a year and has 300 shows in inventory).

"The toughest aspect of programming is making sure we appeal to every level and geography," Jablin said.

HGTV does seem to have something for everyone: first apartment budgeteers, home buyers, remodelers and those seeking "wish fulfillment," Jablin's term for homes and gardens most of us can only drool over.

HGTV has 14 building and remodeling programs, 15 decorating and design shows, 14 on gardening and landscaping, five on crafts and hobbies and 12 miscellaneous ones (wine, pets, etc.).

A sampling:

"Location! Location! Location!" is devoted to real estate: how to house hunt, dealing with credit problems. Sometimes the advice is a little simplistic.

"Extreme Homes" features people living, for example, in an old school house, terradome (a postmodern sod house) and a spaceship-esque structure in the middle of Iowa.

"Before & After" tackles a major home remodeling job in each episode. The project unfolds through time-lapse photography.

"Awesome Interiors" is aimed at twentysomethings with cool (their word), budget-driven decorating. One semi-makeover cost $80.

"Surprise Gardener" features Shelley Taylor Morgan and her crew of dozens making over some lucky family's yard in one day. Yes, one day.

There's a cumulative effect to watching these shows so much. The number of ways to paint walls is staggering, and next time I tackle a wall-painting project I don't know if I'll be able to make a decision among speckling, sponging, stenciling, ragging, rubber stamping, even reconfiguring paint rollers to give a plaid effect.

I am not equally smitten with all the programs, which is a good thing or my life would come to a complete halt. (The early morning hiatus for infomercials and the nightly encore performances of prime-time shows also helps me keep a grip on reality.)

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