Hoarders return: everything you need to know

Despite being cancelled by A&E last fall, Hoarders returns tonight with a special one-hour episode on Lifetime, in addition to some other new content. I talked to executive producer George Butts from Screaming Flea Productions to get details about the new episode and the possibility of more Hoarders.

What new Hoarders content is airing on Lifetime?
There is a full update show airing June 2 at 9 p.m. ET that follows the model of the three update episodes Hoarders did while it was on A&E. It follows Dr. Robin Zasio, Dr. Suzanne Chabaud, Matt Paxton, Dorothy Breininger, and Standolyn Robertson as they follow up on five hoarders: Augustine, Constance, Shannon, Kevin, and Ruth.

The mini-updates are added to the end of existing episodes. There are five of those, each of which focuses on one of the two people featured in each episode: Deborah/Jim (Jim), Janet/Christina (Janet), Stacey/Roi (Roi), Phyllis and Janet R. (Janet), and Randy/Vicky.

The last episode is the one I went behind-the-scenes of (and in which I have a tiny, accidental cameo).

How are updates being added to the end of existing episodes?
By trimming other content. Since they are an “expanded version of the final full-screen text” that are about four minutes long each, as Butts told me, that meant re-editing episodes to make room for the updates. There was an additional challenge because early episodes were a lot longer than later episodes, and even those are longer than what Lifetime’s schedule allows for. Producers trimmed and condensed parts of each episode, especially in the second act, during which the episode’s doctor talks to the hoarder. Butts said that is “fairly seamless; you don’t really miss what’s gone.”

Why is the show on Lifetime now?
Lifetime actually began airing repeats of the series when the show was on the air on A&E, sometimes earning ratings that outperformed newer series on Lifetime. Earlier this year, Lifetime asked the show’s production company to produce an update episode, which filmed in March.

How were update subjects chosen?
The short answer: they’re the most popular. Lifetime and Screaming Flea Productions’ producers came up with a master list based on ratings, but not just repeat ratings on Lifetime–they also analyzed original A&E ratings. Producers also included “people we thought would be good story material,” Butts told me,” but said the ultimate list was “more heavily weighed toward the shows that had performed well.”

Filming updates for both people featured in a single episode “became very challenging” because “a lot of these people were not interested in participating again,” Butts said. “A lot of people that wouldn’t even talk to us.”

I asked if those who were selected were vetted somehow, to make sure that being filmed again wouldn’t hurt them or their progress. He said producers did “talk to the original doctor” about “what our intention was and what their thoughts were about the process,” to see if there were any objections.

Why would people agree to be filmed again?
The show was not offering the same kind of support it did initially–i.e. a clean-up, work with an organizer and a therapist, plus aftercare therapy–when subjects were at a point of crisis, which often motivated them to allow cameras into their homes. Update participants were given only a small stipend for appearing on both the full update episode and the smaller updates; Butts describes that as “not a great deal of money.”

Butts also pointed out that some of the subjects enjoyed the experience. In many cases, the subjects “became very attached to our crew.” That’s because many “had been so isolated from the world and living in shame and living in secret, and all the sudden you have a group of people who come into their lives and treat them with respect and are concerned with their welfare and are wanting the best for them.”

What did producers find when checking in with the show’s subjects?
The updates have “a heavier ratio of success to failure, which is encouraging,” Butts said, because “it made a big difference in their lives and in the lives of their families.” That said, he added that, “as a whole, probably a lot of them are still struggling.” He said that while it may be a “trite” statement, “if you could help only a few of them, it was worth the effort. For some of them, it has changed their lives in a dramatic way.”

What does this all mean for the future of the series?
I asked Lifetime why they ordered the special and follow-ups, and whether or not this meant the show might return. A spokesperson told me this: “Hoarders is still on A&E but we air repeats on Lifetime that have performed well. As a result, we wanted to give viewers some follow ups to some of the past hoarders on where are they now.”

In other words: There is no official word. Executive producer George Butts is, however, hopeful that the success of the special and updates will lead to additional episodes: he said that this new content was produced “with the hope that it could potentially lead to something more down the road.”

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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.