A company that typically makes its own celebrities is now tapping folk famous for things other than cooking and home repair
Set viewers on “stunned”: William Shatner the popular actor whose portrayal of heroes like Captain Kirk from “Star Trek” has captivated TV fans for decades, is about to star in a reality series about renovating his house.
As an actor, Shatner is no stranger to action roles. He shot phaser beams in “Trek” and drew a police revolver as “T.J. Hooker.” But the prospect of wielding a crowbar or a bag of plaster gave him a feeling of apprehension. Sgt. Hooker “could handle a gun” said Shatner. “But I don’t know about a hammer.”
“The Shatner Project,” slated to debut on Scripps Networks’ DIY cable network in October for five 30-minute episodes (Shatner says six may be possible), will put the actor and his wife, Elizabeth, at the center of what Shatner says is just good television: “This is like a dramatic show with a revelation at the end,” he said, adding: “There’s conflict and there’s tension, and characters evolve.”
So, too, do TV networks, and Shatner’s place at the helm of a program set to run on a network owned by Scripps says as much. For years, Scripps-owned cable outlets like Food Network and HGTV have by and large made their own stars, tapping home-renovation experts and chefs with regional followings and turning them into famous gurus of the house and kitchen. Guy Fieri, who stars in Food Network series like :”Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” and “Guy’s Grocery Games,” was less well-known until he won the second season of “The Next Food Network Star.” Mike Holmes, featured on HGTV’s “Holmes Inspection,” was a successful Canadian contractor before partnering with that network.
Now, said Kathleen Finch, president of Scripps’ HGTV, DIY Network and Great American Country, the network is willing to consider outsiders who have already developed a cult of personality. “We are really interested in following people as they renovate their home,” she said. “If they are people that America is generally curious about, we are even more interested.”
The executive has reason to seek out famous folks who seem to have little to do with sweat and spackle: Recent shows featuring the formula have been successful for DIY and have begun to surface on HGTV.
“The Vanilla Ice Project,” a series that launched on DIY in 2010 features Rob Van Winkle – the one-time rapper who called himself Vanilla Ice and had the 1990s hit “Ice Ice Baby – started its fourth season March 8. What’s more, an eyebrow-raising second series featuring the artist – “Vanilla Ice Goes Amish” – debuted this past October. In the series, Ice tosses out the modern tools of home remodeling to learn the ancient techniques of the Amish. “Rev Run’s Renovation,” a ten-episode series centered on one of the principals of Run D.M.C. redoing his family mansion, debuted on DIY in January and is getting a second unspooling on HGTV.
And there’s more. DIY has a home-renovation series featuring Hall & Oates lead singer Daryl Hall, “Daryl’s Restoration Over-Hall,” set to debut in May. HGTV will launch “The Jennie Garth Project,” a renovation series starring the actress known for her role in the original “Beverly Hills 90210,” in June.
Scripps said last year proved robust for DIY, which was watched by more than 7.6 million viewers on average each week. “Vanilla Ice Goes Amish” proved to be the network’s leading regularly scheduled primetime series in all key adult and female demos last year. The network was able to increase the per-subscriber fees it collects from distributors by a penny, according to market-research firm SNL Kagan, to ten cents in 2013 from nine cents in 2012. And its ad revenue rose to more than $70.3 million last year from about $57.8 million in 2012, Kagan said.
After the success of the first Vanilla Ice series, said Finch, executives decided to expand. “He has a crew of guys he’s been working with for years. It was an immediate hit,” she said. “We started thinking, well, who else is out there?” The shows give viewers what they expect – home-redo action – but offer a twist by providing a peek inside a celebrity’s home and a different lifestyle.
Such series can be tricky, because there is no guarantee the celebrity will want to return for a second season – or even offer a reason for a second season to exist – even if the show is successful. And the shows work best if the famous person at the center of it all has some real experience with or at true passion for home remodeling. When it comes to Darryl Hall, for example, the singer has long indulged a yen for remodeling antique homes, Finch said.
Sometimes, the programs seem to delight instead in capturing a snapshot of a fish out of water. Shatner said his series is less about him trying his hand at tile work or carpentry and more about the feelings one goes through when allowing massive work to be done on one’s home. “The importance of your home cannot be overstated,” he said. “I mean, it is your castle, but it is also your sanctuary – and especially with people who are in the public eye.” He will “symbolically” use a sledgehammer during the series, he said.
For Shatner, the new series continues a career that has regularly veered off the beaten path. Yes, the actor is best remembered for “Star Trek, “ Hooker,” “Boston Legal” and, more recently, his appearances in ads for Priceline, but he has also hosted a talk show, “Shatner’s Raw Nerve,” for A+E Networks’ Bio or tried his hand at covering The Beatles and Bob Dylan in offbeat spoken-word albums. “This is along the lines of that experimental nature,” he said.