LAUREL, Miss. — Ben Napier is very large, 6-foot-6, 300 lbs. His spouse, Erin — 5-foot-5, slim — isn’t. She calls him “Big” and cranes her neck in such a continuing state of adoration that she seems to be risking long-term muscle pressure.
“Our show is a little bit ‘This Old House,’ and a little bit ‘Gilmore Girls,’ “ says Erin, 32, standing in the living room of the morning’s second makeover house, where the Napiers are taping “Home Town,” the newest hit present on cable big HGTV.
The present is a paean to this city of 19,000, as soon as wealthy in loblolly pine, a city of good-looking early 20th-century homes and dismal 1970s downtown city renewal, which the Napiers and their entrepreneurial associates are decided to undo.
Laurel has “seen some hard times,” says Ben, 34, within the present’s opening. “We’re committed to change that one house at a time.”
The Napiers — and Laurel — are rising stars of HGTV. This spring, greater than 16 million viewers watched the debut season of “Home Town.” Driving round, it’s straightforward to identify the 5 homes that the present is concurrently renovating for the second season, scheduled to air early subsequent yr. The driveways are full of dumpsters and a dozen manufacturing and construction-crew vans. Visitors tour the historic district looking for final season’s renovations — and the Napiers’ yellow 1925 Craftsman house.
“I keep asking, ‘Is this real?’ It’s like looking at the sun,” Erin says of turning into quasi-famous in six months. “You can’t look directly at it. We have to think of our lives now as something really regular.”
Really common lives catapulted into the movie star stratosphere, because of Americans’ habit to televised residence makeovers, the consolation meals of cable.
HGTV, the community of home goals, is the antidote to CNN, which it routinely kilos in prime-time scores. It floats in a timeless ether, aiming to please, distract and calm, by no means disturb. The acronym stands for Home and Garden TV, nevertheless it’s just about all residence — until you rely potted crops or shrubs for curb attraction.
The community, which reported $1.1 billion in income final yr, traffics in residential fairy tales. All its packages current, in numerous iterations, a Cinderella story the place any home, with the right fairy godhosts and throw pillows, can develop into a princess, seemingly in a single day. The proprietor barely lifts a sledgehammer or picks a paint shade. It’s a spa remedy makeover.
HGTV persistently ranks within the prime 10 of all cable and broadcast networks amongst viewers ages 25 to 54, and among the many prime 5 with ladies. Hillary Clinton has claimed that she watches it to unwind, deeming it “relaxing and entertaining.”
There are not any mentions of the president, politics or present occasions. The nearest factor to a disaster is shag carpeting. (Yes, controversies erupt with some hosts, however usually off-camera.) The exhibits play to the heartland, celebrating small-town America, neighborhood and group. They might as nicely be set within the “Leave it to Beaver” period, apart from the furnishings, which are typically Pottery Barnish, homey and private with out being particularly private.
The hosts, employed for his or her folksy, relatable appeal, are “the soap stars of our day,” says Allison Page, basic supervisor of home programming and improvement for Scripps Networks, which owns HGTV. “They’re a part of viewers’ lives.” (Scripps owns a majority stake within the Food Network, one other balm for an anxious age that persistently ranks within the prime 20. This summer time, Discovery Communications agreed to buy Scripps in a $14.6 billion deal.)
Tool-belt celebrities have turn out to be the luminaries of the grocery store checkout aisle, plastered on journal covers: mannequin-like Canadian twins Jonathan and Drew Scott of “Property Brothers,” nation bro Chip and photogenic Joanna Gaines of “Fixer Upper,” and the sensationally flamable Tarek and Christina El Moussa of “Flip or Flop.”
Tarek and Christina are going via a automotive wreck of a divorce however will co-host upcoming episodes of their present as a result of, apparently, cable is thicker than marriage.
HGTV has numerous time to fill, creating 567 hours of programming a yr. There’s a continuing have to find recent expertise. Becoming an HGTV host has grow to be an aspiration, like being a YouTube or Instagram influencer.
The community considers tons of of “sizzles,” teasers typically shot on smartphones, to develop 60 pilots a yr. Only a number of pilots will probably be greenlighted for a collection, of which solely a pair will turn out to be viewers favorites. In simply 11 exhibits, “Home Town” is successful. The debut episode attracted 2.2 million viewers, the second-highest quantity in HGTV’s 23-year historical past.
What is Page in search of in community hosts? “Vulnerability and realness,” she says.
“Home Town” is a love letter to the love story of Ben and Erin, photogenic deep-Southern 30-somethings who met on the native junior school, went on to Ole Miss and exhibit an inexhaustible capacity to spend time collectively.
“The best thing about the show is we get to do it together. We do everything together,” says Erin, holding her quilted make-up bag. (She does her personal for the present as she races from home to deal with.) “We’re never apart. My mother says it’s obnoxious.”
They share two canine, no youngsters, an previous home. All their followers know this.
The present’s formulation is straightforward; the renovation just isn’t. A possible proprietor picks between two homes chosen by the Napiers, buys the place and pays for the renovation however provides the couple full management of the aesthetics, promising to not peek till the cameras are rolling. (Erin is satisfied that one proprietor did.) The Napiers don’t do the development, however the imaginative and prescient is all theirs. “We’re the art directors,” Erin says.
Ben is a woodworker, a former Methodist scholar ministry director, and the official lumberjack mascot at city occasions, Mr. Loblolly. He sweats lots.
Erin is a graphic designer, a former creator of luxurious material wedding ceremony invites that have been successful with Martha Stewart Weddings. She claims to be “an introvert,” which appears patently absurd. She reveals not an iota of shyness and shares a day by day Web journal with loyal followers, tirelessly documenting their residence renovation and different tasks. As of Sept. 21, she was as much as Installment No. 2425.
She is given to providing pillow-ready aperçus like, “I think of doing homes not as renovations but designing the book cover of people’s lives.” Which is why she’s on tv. The digital camera loves her.
That “Home Town” is about in Mississippi, the nation’s poorest state, perennially occupying the cellar of just about each quality-of-life listing, appears no accident.
The community is unlikely to shoot a present in San Francisco, New York or Washington, D.C., Page says, the place costs are out of attain for many Americans. Laurel’s effective previous homes are a steal: Most tasks on “Home Town” have a $200,000 price range, together with the home sale worth and the renovation.
HGTV is the inverse of Architectural Digest or “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” It sells reasonably priced goals. If the present makes a star out of Laurel, even higher.
After solely 11 episodes — granted, rerun into the bottom — the Napiers have been featured in Southern Living (approximating a coronation in these elements), the duvet of Okra (a hipster Southern Living), and on “The Today Show.” People journal ranked the present 44th on its “100 Reasons to Love America,” a notch above American cheese singles.
Chip and Joanna, naturally, have been No. 1.
Successful present can ship a excessive thread-count payday for the community and hosts. Four years after their first episode aired, Chip and Joanna are an empire, extra Upper than Fixer with a employees of 450, a line of rugs and textiles, paints, a web-based Magnolia Market and a bodily retailer in Waco, Texas, which has turn out to be a vacationer vacation spot for followers. In an period of personality-driven publications, they’ve their very own journal.
The Napiers are the uncommon cable stars that the community discovered slightly than the opposite method round, the 21st-century model of discovering Lana Turner at a soda fountain.
This being the 21st century, a former HGTV government discovered Erin by means of her Instagram account.
“I’ve been stalking your Instagram for a while. It sounds creepy but it’s actually my job,” the chief wrote Erin. “I’m in love with your town, and I’m in love with your relationship, and your house. And I feel like there’s a show there. I’m just not sure what it is yet. Have you ever thought about doing TV?”
To which Erin says, “It was never our dream to be on television.”
The Napiers are companions in two companies: Scotsman woodworking (wooden furnishings, wooden furnishings, work aprons, workwear and flannel button downs) and Laurel Mercantile, an internet site and fetching bodily retailer that may not appear misplaced in Napa or the Hudson River Valley, stocked with American-made items together with $26 scented candles, heirloom instruments tagged with their provenance, and $125 ceramic platters created in Brooklyn. Customers can decide up playing cards, designed by Erin, of locations to go to in Laurel. The customer guide logs friends from England and Australia.
Are small-town Erin and Ben able to blow up massive, to function journal cowl catnip, to grow to be an empire, a model, Laurel’s reply to Chip and Joanna? Ben is already acknowledged on the streets of Manhattan. They landed a bank card endorsement deal. Are the Napiers ready to have extra guests drive previous their home?
“We will do whatever it takes to change the perception of our town and of Mississippi,” says Erin. “If there’s any way we can do that, show the beauty and magic of it, then we will sacrifice our privacy and our private lives to do that.”
They are, nevertheless, portray their home a unique colour.