Photo Credit: Courtesy of Hulu
It’s pretty much a given that “reality” TV is more or less “staged TV” with some real aspects, but I never expected HGTV’s House Hunters and House Hunters International to fall into the staged category.
House Hunters has been in the headlines since it was revealed June 11 that the hunt it portrays is, in fact, fake -- or fabricated to the point where the network had to make a comment based on the backlash.
The controversy began when Bobi Jenson, a former participant on the show, spoke with Hooked on Houses about her experience filming with HGTV.
Jenson and her husband were “searching” (or as it was revealed, had already searched, found and were closing on a home) for a new property in Texas when HGTV considered them for the show.
“They didn’t even ‘accept’ us being a subject for the show until we closed on the house we were buying. So then when they decided to film our episode we had to scramble to find houses to tour and pretend we were considering,” Jenson admitted.
Not only had HGTV scripted a plot for the family (their desperate search for a larger home wasn’t entirely true), but the network asked Jenson and her husband to “consider” properties that their friends already owned. Jenson had to scramble and ask friends to clean their homes in a weekend so they could tour them.
Back in February HGTV general manager Kathleen Finch told Slate that HGTV is “a network of journalistic storytelling, not dramatic storytelling,” and that producers are “very conscious of not allowing any kind of fake drama.” Then on June 12, an HGTV programming executive Brian Balthazar issued this statement to Entertainment Weekly, bolded for emphasis:
“We’ve learned that the pursuit of the perfect home involves big decisions that usually take place over a prolonged period of time -- more time than we can capture in 30 minutes of television. However, with a series like House Hunters, HGTV viewers enjoy the vicarious and entertaining experience of choosing a home -- from establishing a budget, to touring properties and weighing the pros and cons of each one. We’re making a television show, so we manage certain production and time constraints, while honoring the home buying process. To maximize production time, we seek out families who are pretty far along in the process. Often everything moves much more quickly than we can anticipate, so we go back and revisit some of the homes that the family has already seen and we capture their authentic reactions. Because the stakes in real estate are so high, these homeowners always find themselves RIGHT back in the moment, experiencing the same emotions and reactions to these properties. Showcasing three homes makes it easier for our audience to “play along” and guess which one the family will select. It’s part of the joy of the House Hunters viewing experience. Through the lens of television, we can offer a uniquely satisfying and fun viewing experience that fulfills a universal need to occasionally step into someone else’s shoes.”
Isn’t House Hunters supposed to be one of those shows that we watch thinking one day we’ll make a similar move? I often watch and ask myself, “Why am I living in a cramped three bedroom Brooklyn apartment when I could very well live lavishly in Texas or even Normandy?” The dream of moving into a bigger space has now been crushed with the reality that these families aren’t actually looking for a new home at all. They’ve already found one and are simply recreating their experience (minus the real stress they felt in real time).
Now that we know we’re not seeing the reality of the complicated and messy buying process, we’re asking ourselves: How many of the homes we see are actually for sale? Are the prices real? Does it even matter? Is it important to you that the process be as close to the real thing as possible or do you watch to see beautiful homes and try to guess which one will (or has already won) out? Tell us what you think in the comments below.