My initial excitement for the impending return of Trading Spaces has now been replaced with worry. After all, how in the world could the show, which ran for eight years on TLC, even begin to compare to the original? We as viewers have changed, and I wonder if the show is willing to change with us.
For those who are unfamiliar, Trading Spaces showed two sets of neighbors who for some reason were given permission to remodel one room in the other person's home. Set up with the help, or hindrance depending on who you ask, of a designer and a relatively minimal budget of $1,000-$2,000 dollars, each team had a few days to completely transform their neighbor's space.
Part of what made the show must-see television, was the realization that anything could happen. Unlike other remodel shows of the time, this wasn't about some fancy-schmancy designer and thousands of dollars being invested in an elegant remodel. This was the show where an entire room was nailed into the ceiling to create an "upside-down" environment; this was the show where they brought in sand to create an oasis that really resembled the inside of a termite tent; this was the show where a neighbor's one request was explicitly the thing that was denied and thus reduced to a puddle of tears. In other words, the show demonstrated the ridiculous, silly side of reality television.
However, in the years since the show has been off the air, those of us who consider ourselves fans of remodel shows have come to expect more. The design shows of today feature approachable people who will expertly remodel your home but also seem down to earth enough to grab a beer with after (I'm looking at you, Chip and Joanna Gaines). The current lineup of design shows has created a world where we can expect outstanding work within our normal homes.
This is where Trading Spaces really needs to rethink its model. Certainly it can opt to stick with its tried and true "shock" method of interior design, but that's not going to pull people away from HGTV and DIY. To grab this new audience, the design needs to be good. We know now from other three-day makeover shows, specifically those within the House Crashers family, that good design doesn't have to be sacrificed for creating riveting television.
In the years since Trading Spaces was on, reality TV has gotten even less real and even more cringe-worthy. Trading Spaces has two options: either keep the crazy to a minimum and market towards the design-oriented viewers, or go full-on reality cuckooness. Considering the show is on TLC, the network that brought us Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and 19 Kids and Counting, I know the desire is to keep within its niche and make it a little loopy. TLC is a go-to channel for loopy reality TV. Yet, it's because of this that they should not be tempted to match its other shows in terms of reality craziness. If it doesn't, I fear it will get lost in the lineup.
If it really wants to set itself apart, then the casting director has got a big job ahead of them. Instead of picking quirky people who can barely hold a paintbrush, they need to find people who are relatively capable. Considering the plethora of home-design programming, this aspect should be easier than before. The challenge that it has made for itself is that now people, thanks to other design shows, have become a little too self-assured in their abilities. This is where potential reality TV drama can happen, especially when you begin mixing styles. One neighbor's shiplap is another neighbor's trash.
Lastly, since Trading Spaces went off the air, quality design has become much more accessible. Now that we can pick up a stylish dining set, artwork, and display pieces at the same place we buy our toilet paper, the show is going to have to appeal to this kind of buyer. We as a society know better, and for Trading Spaces to succeed, they need shop at places that their viewers frequent.
Reboots are inherently problematic (ahem, Gilmore Girls) because to do it well they need to accept that their viewers have changed, and while I'm excited as the next design-loving person for Trading Spaces to return, I hope it doesn't fall into the same trap as other reboots. The network needs to create a delicate balance of nostalgia and modern tastes, and that's not short order.