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How Marcus Lemonis’ The Renovator is different from other HGTV shows

How Marcus Lemonis’ The Renovator is different from other HGTV shows
The Renovator Marcus Lemonis opens the door to the Fowler family, whose house he just renovated—and also to a new reality show. (Photo by HGTV)

HGTV’s new series The Renovator includes what you’d expect from an HGTV show about home renovation: demolishing walls, choosing paint colors and backsplashes, and revealing a gorgeous new space to a couple or family.

But it also makes what is sometimes subtext into text by bringing personal conflict directly to the surface—and part of its renovation goals.

“Renovating the house is just a portion of why I’m here,” its star, Marcus Lemonis, tells the first family moments after meeting them. “The other reason is to renovate the way you guys think about each other.”

It’s also very different because of the actual process, including that Marcus does not worth a design team, nor does he plan renovations in advance.

“HGTV has been unbelievably kind to allow us to do things, but they have said to me on multiple occasions: This is very different for us,” Marcus told me.

Doing things differently for HGTV

HGTV's The Renovator star Marcus Lemonis in a Jacksonville, Fla., kitchen renovated on his new show
HGTV’s The Renovator star Marcus Lemonis in a Jacksonville, Fla., kitchen renovated on his new show. (Photo by HGTV)

On The Renovator (HGTV, Tuesdays at 8), Marcus Lemonis helps a family renovate their home, using their budget but his design, construction crews, and process.

“When we first started the show, everybody said to me, You can’t do the show the way you’d like to,” he told me. “And I said, What does that mean? And they said, We know you. You’re gonna want to not do any prep work. You’re gonna want to go to the house for the first time, and you’re gonna want to figure it out with the family. We can’t do it that way.”

“They said the way that we do it—the bigger, broader brand—is we go to the house in advance. You don’t have to be with the family. You come up with exactly the design you want. You put it on paper, you get the permits approved, and you present it to the family, and you move forward.”

“I said, I’m not doing that. They said, well, it’s going to cost more money and take more time. I was like, I’m not going to somebody’s house, after I’m telling them that they’re doing it with me, and then telling them that it’s already been done. I’m not doing that. I understand if that doesn’t work, but I really feel strongly that we’re going to learn together.”

Marcus Lemonis, W82, Windward Boardshop, The Profit,
Marcus Lemonis in the remodeled Profit business Windward Boardshop, now called W82, and its basement skateboard section. (Photo by CNBC)

Marcus told me that doing it this way added time to the production (“it probably cost me two months of time”) but he wouldn’t change that. “I like the fact that I don’t know them other than their casting video, like The Profit. I don’t see their financials. I don’t know what their house is worth. I don’t know what changes they want to make to their house,” he said. “I want to figure it out with them on the fly, which is part of that authenticity and the arrival and discovery that feels probably pretty similar.”

What is not similar is that most HGTV shows stage renovated houses with furniture and design elements that are removed after filming, because none of that is in included in the budget. But before the family on The Renovator’s first episode walk through the house, Lemonis tells them, “What you see in there is yours,” calling it a gift from him and his wife.

Bobbi Lemonis, who married Marcus in 2018, is actually in the credits of The Renovator, listed as design coordinator, along with two design associates.

That’s because, Lemonis told me, the couple actually drove around doing design work themselves, as if they were Trading Spaces designers shopping at Ikea.

“Bobbi was with me through the entire process. While I did the floor plans, I’d asked her opinion with the rest of the team. When we went and finished the houses, she really played a big role. We did all the shopping for every single thing you see in that house,” he said.

“There was no team, no buyers, no design team, no Internet. We would literally rent vans and drive around Jacksonville and buy stuff. We’d be at Bed Bath and Beyond, we’d be at the local hardware store, we’d be at the nursery, we’d be doing all that stuff together,” he added.

That’s very different than when Marcus was doing The Profit. “My daytime is filled with Camping World, and my nights and weekends would be filled with The Profit, and she would say to me, When is it, like, our time?” Marcus said. So now they spend a lot of time together.

“The final decor—us going into Publix and putting the lemons in, and us going and getting the baked goods—it’s as crazy as it sounds,” he said. “There was not a SWAT team of people doing it; it was us. So I wanted to give her that credit.”

While Bobbi didn’t want to be on camera or ask to be in the credits, Marcus said, “It felt disrespectful to me to not recognize the fact 1) this gift is from my wife and I, because it’s not my money, it’s her money and I get an allowance, and 2) if she’s really doing all that work, she needs to get the credit.”

The house’s owners pay for the renovations, which is typical on HGTV shows, but they also benefit from discounts that regular homeowners might not be able to get. Marcus told me that the owners’ budget completely covered the renovation itself, from demo to fixtures.

He accomplished that in part by getting good deals. He said that he told some local businesses and distributors, “I can’t give you any trade out. I can’t mention your stuff. And you can’t give me stuff for free. It’s not allowed. I don’t want free stuff because I can’t give you anything in return. What I would ask for is: I’ll give you all this business, but you’ve got to give me better than a trade discount.”

The TV show’s budget, on the other hand, covers “good solid temporary housing for their families and their pets,” Marcus told me. “I never wanted to stick them in a hotel room, and I never wanted them living through the construction.”

He added, “unfortunately I had to dip into my pocket a couple of times because permits took longer supply chain took longer, and these families are all operating on limited budgets. … When the unexpected happens, like a delay, the families don’t have don’t have the resources, nor do I want to ask.”

Human drama is a key part of HGTV shows, whether it’s the Property Brothers or couples ripping apart houses they never intended to buy on House Hunters. But The Renovator can get surprisingly vulnerable and emotional—and Lemonis told me that more is to come.

While Marcus presents design options to the home owners, he also draws connections to the house’s owners. “Every single activity that we did was based on me trying to solve a problem that existed in their relationship,” he said.

In the first episode, while talking about the different ways that a couple is parenting, Marcus shares a story with a couple about his father’s “extreme” discipline, revealing that, when he was 10 years old, “my dad drove me somewhere and dropped me off. I didn’t know what to do. It was a super-frightening” and “created a separation of relationship between him and I to this day.”

Marcus told me that “most people were stunned when I did it,” but that he’s glad he did. “The father of the family came to me after a couple of days and said to me, Hey, man, that thing really rattled me, and I said, I wanted it to. I wanted you to understand that your kids are going to be rattled if you do that kind of shit with them.”

The first episode filmed—which is set in Las Vegas, while the other homes are in Jacksonville—features a divorced couple who aren’t even living together because of the state of disrepair of the house, and there’s more to come.

“We’re going to deal with a husband and a daughter who had death in their family and couldn’t move on. We’re going to deal with a spouse hiding $200,000 of cryptocurrency from their other spouse that comes out. We’re going to deal with mold and sickness the family didn’t know it, and the guy almost died. So the episodes are going to get a little saltier,” Marcus said.

How The Renovator resembles The Profit

Marcus Lemonis poses in front of one of the houses he renovated on his new HGTV show The Renovator
Marcus Lemonis poses in front of one of the houses he renovated on his new HGTV show The Renovator (Photo by HGTV)

Production on The Renovator overlapped with what is now the final season of CNBC’s The Profit: its pilot was complete and two renovations begun by the time The Profit finished filming.

But moving into a new space took time and convincing. His first meetings with HGTV were in January 2000. Marcus Lemonis had to face typecasting, just like actors on successful scripted TV shows do.

“My goal was to try to do some different television. I think HGTV gives me a chance to to show a different side of me—I hope,” he told me. “But business television is ultimately what the big networks and streamers want from me. They don’t want something that isn’t as familiar—maybe they’ll feel differently after The Renovator, but for the most part what the big networks/streamers want is they want something that feels more familiar.”

On The Profit, Marcus Lemonis sometimes dinged people for being in businesses they didn’t have experience in, so I asked him where his knowledge of—and love for—interior design came from.

“I’ve done it my whole life, whether it’s in residences, or whether it’s in homes,” he said. “I apply a lot of those project management skills and those business skills, along with my love of design, to make it happen. But that isn’t why I made the show, and I didn’t make the show to renovate.”

Marcus said that when he pitched the show to HGTV, it was focused on “three principal things that I want to solve: Financial literacy is a huge problem in America. I was able to address it with The Profit from a business standpoint; I want to address it from a home standpoint. Generational wealth is a big deal for me. When you when you buy something, you see all these families buying something to pass it on to their kids. The third thing is kind of what The Profit was built on: How do we resolve your personal and interpersonal issues, and use either business or renovation at your home to force you to deal with those issues?”

The themes aren’t the only similarities, but the structure is similar, too.

“I was hoping that you would see a similar path in The Renovator to what you saw on The Profit,” Marcus told me. “You arrive at the home, you assess everything, you sit down, you go over that comps in the area, you put a game plan together, you go to work, you deal with all the personal issues and trying to resolve them throughout … and you’re getting ready for the new product, new process, or new people reveal. It’s really kind of the same format. That’s what I use the exact same playbook.”

Even if the format is similar, there are key differences. One of those, he said, was in getting permits and permissions.

“Unlike The Profit, we actually had to go to the city and get stuff,” Marcus told me. “It had to be perfect. It’s reputational risk for the network, it’s reputational risk for us, and I was much more of a T-crosser, I-dotter in this construction process than I ever have been, because these are people’s homes. It’s not a burger place. These are these are people’s homes.”

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

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