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'Trading Spaces' Turns Paige

As the pop classic says, "you always hurt the one you love."

TLC sure loved "Trading Spaces," so much that the cablenet nearly loved the poor show to death.

Based on the British series "Changing Rooms," "Trading Spaces" premiered in the fall of 2000 and within a couple of years became a true TV phenomenon.It had a simple premise: Two sets of neighbors each have a designer, the shared services of a carpenter and $1,000 to redo a room in each other's home -- without having a say about what's done in their own home.

The result was ratings magic, spawning spinoffs, books and a crazy number of new episodes each season. Eventually, the seams began to show.

By January of 2005, TLC had decided to revamp the franchise and give the boot to perky host Paige Davis, who joined the show in its second season in 2001.

"Trading Spaces" is still on the air, but with no host and after much tweaking of the format, the thrill is gone. When a new team came in to run TLC a few months ago, a top priority was to return the channel's one-time tent-pole show to its former glory.

On Saturday, Jan. 26, two days after the third-year anniversary of the announcement of her departure, Davis returns.

Calling in from a "Trading Spaces" location in Las Vegas -- over the sounds of shouting, hammering and circular saws -- Davis says, "I'm back! It feels wonderful. I had a wonderful reception from all of my fellow cast members. I'm really happy."

It's not often that a door reopens in television, and Davis didn't see this one coming.

"I was initially freaked," she says, "because I couldn't imagine how this turn of events would have happened. I would not have imagined anyone like TLC asking me back. When I found out it was all new people at TLC, then it made more sense.

"It had been expressed to me that the new people at TLC didn't believe that 'Trading Spaces' had really run its course, that it had been run into the ground. (They believed) that there'd be a way to restore it to its original fun and family entertainment and bounce and joy.

"They wanted to give the fans another chance to see the show they actually loved, as opposed to the show it became."

Speaking from TLC's new offices in Los Angeles (relocated from Discovery Networks' headquarters in Silver Spring, Md.) is the new senior vice president of programming, Brant Pinvidic, who had the task of restoring the "TS" magic.

That process began with Davis.

"Paige Davis really was the key to that magic," Pinvidic says. "They tried many different things until everybody here said, 'She really was what made that show what it was.' That was a key decision to bring her back."

That first call wasn't easy.

"We were feeling like the bad boyfriend that broke up with her at the prom," Pinvidic says, "coming back for a second chance. Anyone who's been in that situation is a little leery."

Understandably, Davis had a few requests.

"I definitely expressed," she says, "that I was only interested in coming back if they really want to restore the show to its original feel and approach and joy. The way to do that is to get back all the people who created it in the first place.

"And I said, 'If you really want to go back to old-school "Trading Spaces," then that's what you should mean.' But that is what they wanted. They were planning on doing it anyway."

The design team now includes longtime "TS" veterans Doug Wilson, Hildi Santo Tomas, Edward Walker, Frank Bielec and Laurie Hickson-Smith, along with more recent cast member Lauren Makk and newcomer Goil Amornvivat (Bravo's "Top Design").

Carpenters are Faber Dewar, Brandon Russell and Thad Mills.

Also on Pinvidic's to-do list was jettisoning all the ultimately unsuccessful alterations to the show's format.

He says, "The show is two rooms, $1,000, two days. ... There's no overspending. The time is a deadline. When we say two days, we mean two days now. When we say $1,000, we mean $1,000."

"If we say we're a show about time and budget," Davis says, "the last thing we should do is start adding more money."

But that's not to say there aren't new elements.

As "TS" fans know, original carpenter Ty Pennington has moved on to big stardom as host of ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." The executive producer of that show is now Denise Cramsey, who used to have the same position at "Trading Spaces."

Cramsey's former company, Banyan Productions, is also no longer in charge of "Trading Spaces." That job now belongs to A. Smith & Co., which produces FOX's "Hell's Kitchen" and "Kitchen Nightmares."

"I missed my Banyan peeps so much," Davis says. "We were all so tight-knit, so close. The show had gone astray, but a lot of it was the direction they had been given from the network, so it's not like I blame Banyan or anything like that."

So far, Davis is pleased with the new folks. "They strike the perfect balance of qualities. They're all completely confident and yet 100 percent open-minded. They're decisive and yet flexible. They are so open to listening to all of us, whether it's me or Doug or Hildi or Frank or whoever it is."

Also, expect more compelling stories from the participants.

"In the end," Pinvidic says, "it isn't just about neighbors; it's about people and the emotional connections they make. ... There'll be lots of crying and lots of laughing and lots of everything in between."

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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