Many factors in ‘Makeover’ casting

Family's misfortune is only part of show's criteria

If you visit the Hollywood office of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” you aren’t likely to run into any of the show’s nine-member casting crew.

“Our whole department spends very little time in the office,” says casting director Quintin Strack. “We catch up with each other on our BlackBerrys.”

That’s because they’re crisscrossing America year-round on the hunt for families to feature on the feel-good series. “It’s not just opening mail,” Strack says of the show’s casting process.

In fact, “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” which will have featured families from every state in the U.S. by the end of this season, spearheads major outreach efforts, getting leads on potential subjects from ABC affiliates, religious organizations, schools and nonprofits, among others. Ultimately, 20 to 30 families will be interviewed in a state before one is chosen.

“Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” is not only looking for a family that has dealt with a challenging situation but for one “where you know if you give them something great, they’re going to stay rooted in their community and pass their blessings on to other people,” Strack says.

There has been some controversy regarding past picks. Most recently, critics in Hawaii asserted that Theresa Akana and her family, who received a new home and a new community center for the nonprofit they run in Honolulu, weren’t needy enough to qualify for a makeover because of their six-figure income.

Strack thinks the critics were way off-base.

“There’s a was a woman who pulled herself off of welfare,” Strack says, “and she was putting a lot of her salary right back into the community center.”

Additionally, Strack points out that dire poverty is not a prerequisite for being cast.

“That’s a huge misconception,” Strack continues. “We have to be conscious of what we’re doing. We can’t give someone a big house knowing full well they can’t afford to keep it.”

Home-makeover recipient Brian Wofford of Encinitas, Calif., credits the show’s producers with “drumming it” into his head that “with a bigger home comes bigger upkeep.”

To ensure that he could afford a big, new house for himself and his eight children, “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” conducted a thorough check into his financial background, according to Wofford.

Someone’s financial history is only one part of an extensive background check. The show investigates every aspect of a potential subject’s life.

Strack contends that the background check “is the same as if you were applying for a job at the FBI.”

Veronica Ginyard, a resident of Capitol Heights, Md., whose family was the subject of an episode, says she had to provide court records to back up her contention that she was the victim of domestic violence at the hands of her ex-husband.

“You have to prove your story,” Ginyard says, “and I don’t blame them one minute for that.”

Once vetted, “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” pitches a family to ABC executives who make the final decision. A family doesn’t actually find out whether it has made the cut until the day host Ty Pennington and his crew arrives at their house.

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