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From TV's viewpoint, housing market is hot

Burst of home-flipping and improvement programs reflects what's on people's minds, executives say.

March 10, 2008|David Bauder | Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Real estate may have cooled considerably as an investment, but not real estate television.

House-flipping and home-renovation programs are still big hits on cable. While "for-sale" signs sprout on lawns across the country, TV programmers are like developers who plow ahead with new housing projects anyway.

A new season of the A&E Network's "Flip This House" -- one of a troika, with TLC's "Flip That House" and Bravo's "Flipping Out" -- premieres Saturday night.

A&E has several new programs in development. On TLC, at least six new ones are beginning in the next year, starting with "Date My House," hosted by former "Bachelor" Bob Guiney, in which potential buyers spend a night in a home on the market.

HGTV had its highest prime-time ratings ever in January. Nine of its top 10 series deal with the housing market, including "House Hunters," "My First Place," "Hidden Potential," "Buy Me" and "Designed to Sell." The network on Feb. 29 did a special theme day of "taking the big leap," or investing in that first house.

"What's driving interest right now is that people are worried about it: 'What's the value of my home? How can I increase interest in my home?' " said Jim Samples, HGTV president. "And then there's the 'life-goes-on' factor. People are still changing jobs, families are still getting bigger. If anything, they tend to nest in this environment."

Samples admitted, though, that one of his first questions last fall upon taking over HGTV was how the housing market downturn would affect the network's programs.

HGTV essentially built itself on the public fascination with property. At its start, the network had shows on crafts and landscaping, but now the home is the focus. "House Hunters," which premiered in 1999, helped introduce real estate as a prime TV target.

When TLC's "Trading Spaces" became a sensation, it showed that renovation and decoration could be entertainment instead of simply chores.

The network has concentrated recently on reviving that franchise, even bringing back original host Paige Davis after a two-year absence.

"Flip That House" will become more reflective of the economy, said Brant Pinvidic, TLC's senior vice president of programming. Not every "flipper" gets rich quick. The show will make sure every time at the end to clearly outline how each investor did, he said.

"If the programming reflects the attitudes in the community and what people are feeling, it will do better than if the programs feel outdated," Pinvidic said.

A&E's "Flip This House" is expanding its cast of characters for the upcoming fourth season, adding renovation teams in Atlanta and Los Angeles to join returning "flippers" from San Antonio and New Haven, Conn.

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