As Extreme Makeover returns, find out how Trading Spaces and other shows cheat reality

Ten years ago, I went to Houston, Texas, and spend three days on the set of Trading Spaces, which was at the height of its popularity. It was finally cancelled four years ago, but spawned the makeover genre that still lingers today in shows as diverse as Hoarders, which now does mini-makeovers after cleaning up hoards, and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, which is back for four holiday specials tonight after the finale of Dancing with the Stars.

The crew of the TLC makeover show–two neighbors, two designers, a carpenter, $1000–told me then that I was the first person to spend an entire shoot with them, and that allowed me to see the production from start to finish.

I wrote about that behind-the-scenes perspective for Salon in a piece that was published 10 years ago today. The story is titled “Home Decorating and Other Lies” because while the core of the show was real–a PA kept track of the budget, the designers worked even when cameras were off, the homeowners had no idea what their rooms would look like–there were a lot of white lies the show told.

Those white lies are illustrated flawlessly in a hilarious 2008 video by UK comedians David Mitchell and Robert Webb titled “Changing Meals,” a play on Changing Rooms, the UK series that became Trading Spaces in the United States. Upworthy linked to it last week, and oversold it a little bit, saying that it was “what reality shows are like.” Some of them, yes. Some are better; some are much worse.

Anyway, it’s worth a watch, and what you see here is the blurring of reality that the title of this site refers to: there’s deception and lying, but nothing that makes what we see entirely fake or, worse, inauthentic. It’s just TV, reality style:

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.