TLC is giving “Trading Spaces” an extreme makeover -- bringing back former host Paige Davis and enlisting the brains behind “Hell’s Kitchen” to revive a show that was once a ratings powerhouse on cable.
A. Smith & Co. has replaced current “Trading” production shingle Banyan Prods. as producers of the home redecorating format, which TLC plans to relaunch as early as January. Move, along with TLC’s recent purchase of the Miss America franchise, is part of a major overhaul of the net being planned by new prexy-G.M. Angela Shapiro-Mathes.
Davis left the show two years ago. Her departure -- along with a glut of copycat cable makeover shows -- led to declining ratings for “Spaces,” which at its zenith was the No. 1 cable show on Saturday nights. One episode even drew 9 million viewers, outdrawing the major broadcast nets.
Shapiro-Mathes said reviving “Spaces” has been a priority since she started at the net earlier this year.
“When you say TLC to anybody, ‘Trading Spaces’ is still the show most people connect with (the network), because it was so huge,” she said.
Exec compared TLC’s handling of the franchise to ABC’s decision to maximize exposure for “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” when that quizzer was red-hot. Cabler tried a variety of brand extensions for ”Spaces” and aired it frequently -- just as rival nets sent in the clones.
”It was no longer unique, it didn’t have a clean format and it didn’t have a host that said ‘Trading Spaces’ to the audience,” Shapiro-Mathes said.
Shapiro-Mathes said her new senior VP of programming, Brant Pinvidic, suggested going after Davis, a move that led to bringing in A. Smith & Co. -- and parting ways with Banyan.
“They did an incredible job keeping the show on the air for so long,” she said, adding that TLC is working with Banyan on other projects.
As for A. Smith & Co., Shapiro-Mathes said the shingle has “the sensibility and the experience” to put a new spin on “Spaces.”
Skein will maintain much of its original format. Two teams will still perform makeovers on the other’s rooms, with a budget of $1,000.
“The big difference will be in the casting,” exec producer Arthur Smith said. “People want to be more vested in the people they’re seeing. The couples may not be next-door neighbors all the time.”
Indeed, Smith -- who will exec produce with Kent Weed and Frank Sinton -- said the show might now focus on a divorced couple or dueling mothers-in-law.
“You might have a little more conflict and drama than you had before,” Weed said.
That doesn’t mean Davis will start calling people donkeys or cursing them out, a la “Hell’s Kitchen” chef Gordon Ramsay.
“We want to protect the things that made the show popular in the first place,” Smith said. “It’ll still be heartwarming.”
In addition to Davis, a number of designers are returning to the skein, including Doug Wilson, Laurie Hickson-Smith, Frank Bielec and Hildi Santo-Thomas.
“This feels like a great big reunion,” Davis said.
After leaving “Spaces,” Davis inked a development deal with King World Television (now CBS Paramount) and returned to her theater roots, starring in Chicago and Sweet Charity.