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Extreme Makeover: Upstate New York Edition

Saratoga and the Capital Region have crazy connections to HGTV.   

Ty Pennington, the host of the original 'Extreme Makeover: Home Edition' series on ABC, now appears in a supporting role on HGTV’s 2020 reboot. (HGTV)

I’m a proud cord-cutter, but every time I find myself at my mother-in-law’s house in the Utica area, I immediately fall back into my old ways. You know, surfing between Law & Order: SVU, American Pickers and SportsCenter. More often than not, though, I do a full stop when I get to HGTV, because its brand of home-décor-and-design-centric reality shows don’t make me feel as guilty as watching, say, American Idol, because I actually feel like I’m adulting. I find myself daydreaming about that never-going-to-happen second home in Paris via House Hunters: International or tricking out my Troy pad Home Town-style. Sometimes, I join Property Brothers for Demolition 101—though my wife would argue that it hasn’t helped my handiness much—and other times I get caught up in the too-cute-for-a-tool-belt lovefest that is Fixer Upper.

What ultimately keeps me—and I’d venture a guess, most people—coming back to HGTV is that its shows are like a friendly, fantasy homeowner support group. Despite what some people might think, owning a home isn’t a walk in the park: Houses can be massive money pits and everyday sources of stress. No matter how many upgrades you make to your home, there will always be other ones begging to be tended to right as you think you’re done. But in the world of HGTV, none of that is your problem—and there’s always a resolution at the end of the show. You can sit back, blissfully, while a Property Brother takes a sledgehammer to someone else’s wall and finds a nightmare of electrical wires and mold behind it.. 

Not surprisingly, HGTV is in constant need of real people and houses to make its popular shows tick, and the Capital Region has made a number of cameos in its various series. Here are my five fix-it favorites.

If Walls Could Talk (1998-2008)
HGTV’s show If Walls Could Talk started airing during my senior year at Saratoga Springs High School—and ran for a respectable 20 seasons. In its final season in 2008, the show aired an episode focused on 595 North Broadway in Saratoga—the famed Pruyn/Pettee home, built “backwards” so it’s not facing the road—which was owned by one-time Spa City Mayor Harry Pettee (the city’s second ever), who was active from 1917-19. Let’s just say he wasn’t that savory a character, embezzling $300,000 and disappearing under strange circumstances, never to be seen again. In other words, perfect fodder for cable TV.

Offbeat America (2005-2007)
The short-lived HGTV series Offbeat America went in-depth on the US’ quirkiest homes—including one that had a backyard amusement park, a natural light-less home built inside a cave, and an abode completely fashioned out of foam. The show stopped by Saratoga for the premiere episode of Season 5 to take a peek inside John “PJ” and Carolyn Davis’ house, which has a strong 1950s motif inside (John’s nickname should ring a bell: He’s the “PJ” behind hometown fave PJ’s BAR-B-QSA). Of entering his unique home, John told the Post Star at the time: “It’s a very calming feeling stepping out of today’s rush, rush world.” 

House Hunters (1999–present)
In a March 2017 episode of the OG House Hunters—Season 122, Episode 8, to be exact, if you’re, say, interested in streaming it on Amazon Prime—couple Jodi and Kirk and their two children set out from Stow, MA to find their forever home in Saratoga. (The family play together in Congress Park and eat ice cream at Dairy Häus—and filler shots include a drive-by of North Broadway.) “It’s really such a unique place,” says Kirk of the city. “There’s a great downtown with tons of restaurants, lots and lots of culture, and it’s very close to all the things we love.” But the couple has differing ideas of what they want: She’s looking for something traditional (Cape Cod/Colonial), while he’s got his heart set on something rustic (Craftsman/Farmhouse). With a $650,000 budget, the couple sets out with Keller Williams real estate agent Michelle Poccia, who eventually hooks them up: They end up choosing the first house they see. 

A scene from the brand-new rebooted ‘Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,’ which is now airing on HGTV. (HGTV)

Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (2003 – present)
Long before “Queer Eye and cry” was a thing, I was known for getting weepy during episodes of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, which originally aired on ABC in the early aughts, with proto-bro Ty Pennington hosting. The concept was simple: Pennington would find a family in need, and bring in a crew of workers and volunteers to do a shockingly amazing renovation of their house. The climax always featured Pennington, with a bus blocking the newly renovated home from its future occupants’ view, gleefully shouting, “Move that bus!” The big reveal was always awash in tears, hugs and high-fives. The show aired for nine years. In the 26th episode of Season 4—the two-hour 2007 season finale—Pennington and his crew, with 20 million viewers across the country eagerly watching, rolled into Colonie to help out a woman and her four sons, two of whom were HIV positive and had special needs. The resultant 3,700-square-foot home was a doozy—and according to a Times Union story that ran a few years later, so was the woman who owned it (I’ll let you Google it). 

Just this year, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition got the reboot treatment on HGTV (so I hope you’ll forgive me that this technically isn’t a perfect HGTV anecdote), this time with Modern Family actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson in as host and Pennington tooling around in a supporting role.

More than a dozen Upstate New York towns are vying to star in a new spinoff of HGTV’s hit series ‘Home Town’ (seen here) called ‘Home Town Takeover.’ (HGTV)

Home Town Takeover (2021)
In 2017, HGTV debuted Home Town, starring wife-and-husband team Erin and Ben Napier, who are experts at restoring Southern homes in their (you guessed it) hometown of Laurel, MS (the show is currently in its fourth season). Late last year, the cable network announced that it would be launching a six-episode spinoff of the show called Home Town Takeover, to air in 2021. The concept? The Napiers would branch out from their neck of the woods (and one episode, one makeover format) and choose one small town or village in the US to make over throughout the six-episode run. The network put out a nationwide “casting” call, noting that potential home towns needed to have a population of 40,000 people or fewer and apply for the role online. The deadline was this past February. Unbelievably (or quite believably, depending on where you live), a plethora of Upstate New York towns and villages produced videos, arguing why they should be chosen to take the Napier plunge. Among them were Albany County’s Ravena; Rensselaer County’s Hoosick Falls; Washington County’s Whitehall, Fort Edward, Cambridge and Salem; and Fulton County’s Gloversville and Johnstown. Interestingly, Amsterdam, the birthplace of the late Kirk “I Am Spartacus” Douglas, originally told the Daily Gazette that it was all in but ultimately pulled out. Even some towns don’t want to be the next reality TV has-been.  

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Will Levith

Will Levith is Editorial Director at Saratoga Living and Capital Region Living magazine. He's a native Saratogian and graduate of Saratoga Springs High School. His work has been published by Esquire, Playboy, Condé Nast Traveler, Men's Health, RealClearLife and many others. He lives in Troy with his wife, Laura, and dog, Esopus.

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