HOUSE No. 85 has just come tumbling down, and the popular, hyper host of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," Ty Pennington, makes a surprising confession about his feelings toward his job: "I don't really know how to explain this thing because the worst part of what we do is a television show."
ABC's Emmy-winning series ranks 15th among most-watched shows and places 11th among the advertiser-coveted 18-to-49-year-olds. So why does Pennington lament his livelihood?
"The greatest part," he added, "is that we get connected.... We get people to show up that volunteer for two hours and end up staying three days. This town is about this business and working on a TV show, but this is a show where you can go home to your kids and say, 'I was a part of that and it was so great.' You can be proud of that. It's not every day you can say that in this business."
For the first time in 13 months, the roving reality series that started in Los Angeles has come home for a two-hour episode that airs at 8 tonight and covers the construction of a new Redondo Beach house for Los Angeles Police Officer Kristina Ripatti, who was paralyzed in June when she was shot in South Los Angeles. (Her partner, Joe Meyer, shot and killed the gunman.)
In the wake of the incident, producers were inundated with letters and phone calls from Angelenos, including LAPD Chief William Bratton, nominating Ripatti and her husband, LAPD Officer Tim Pearce, for a larger wheelchair-accessible home. On top of grappling with her physical injury, Ripatti has struggled with the emotional pain of not being able to sleep in the same bed as her husband because her wheelchair did not fit in her bedroom doorway and her 21-month-old daughter's confused distancing. Ripatti, her mother-in-law and her nurse slept in the living room for four months.
But transforming the couples' 849-square-foot cottage into a 3,234-square-foot coastal haven with a 646-square-foot detached garage in seven days was not "Home Edition's" primary mission.
"The most important thing we're doing is reconnecting this family," said designer Michael Moloney. "Mother and daughter had a bit of a disconnect because Mom was injured in a chair and the baby was pulling back, and it just broke Kristina's heart. We also have a husband and wife who have only been married three years and have not been able to spend a night together for four months. So more than building a house, we're going to put this family back together and give her a fresh start and give her back her freedom."
"Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" transforms neighborhoods into sets, uses communities as props, and showcases families as its central characters. On the morning of Oct. 13, about 200 South Bay locals gathered to observe the designers, local builder Cornerstone Construction Group and the LAPD SWAT team tear down Ripatti's house.
Normally, "Demolition Day" attracts thousands of looky-loos, but in a town where location shoots are as ordinary as traffic and smog, this is actually an impressive showing. While Ripatti and her family vacationed in Los Cabos, their block came alive when Pennington, in a helmet and goggles, yelled into his signature hand-held camera, "LAPD SWAT, let's do some demo!"
"Oh, my God! There he is! He is cute!" screamed one woman standing behind a barricade, 100 feet from the property because the police were about to set off explosives before striking the house with the department's battering ram.
"Ty, baby, I love you!" yelled another lady.
"I love you too!" the exuberant host shot back.
The ladies weren't the only ones going nuts over Pennington, as he and the SWAT team tore up window frames and busted the walls with chain saws. A powerful family show, "Home Edition" is the No. 1 show on network television among 2- to 11-year-olds.
"Ty's going crazy!" an elated little girl said, catching a glimpse of her hero through a living room window. "Run, run, run!" Pennington yelled to the police officers, as he rushed out of the house to wait for two explosions.
Then it was the battering ram's turn, followed by Pennington's amplified megaphoning, "Go! Go! Go! Yeah!"
In a matter of minutes, Ripatti and Pearce were homeless.
Starting from scratch
THE emotion of the demolition behind them, the designers quickly got to work. Maloney was in charge of Grandma's new quarters. Paige Hemmis met with Ripatti's physical therapists and worked on a recovery room for her. Paul DiMeo designed little Jordan's new bedroom, with a crib that opens from the side so Ripatti can reach in and pick up her daughter. Eduardo Xol landscaped and created two courtyards with fireplaces and waterfalls. Pennington concentrated on a new master bedroom and bathroom for the couple, with their love of the ocean in mind.