As the fate of many Hollywood productions remains up in the air due to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly as cases sharply rise, HGTV stars Jonathan and Drew Scott — aka the “Property Brothers” — are moving forward with new TV episodes for their vast home-improvement empire.
“The catalyst for us was that construction was never shut down,” Jonathan Scott says. “It was considered essential for obvious reasons, because we can’t have people displaced from their homes. But really, it was a challenge for us. Do we pause the shows and leave these houses as they are, or do we try and get these families back into their homes?”
That’s why the two, via their Scott Brothers Entertainment shingle, are about to complete Season 7 of their series “Brother vs. Brother,” and also beginning the casting process to find six families (instead of the usual 20, due to COVID-19 delays) in the Los Angeles area for “Property Brothers: Forever Home.”
The initial casting process, usually handled online, won’t be much different initially. But beyond that, things have changed: Producers and crewmembers can’t scout the homes in person, but will utilize home-operating/illustration software to figure out design plans.
“We’re used to a heavy pace,” says Drew Scott. “In a year we do over 45 houses, and at one given time we have about 20 houses on the go. We’re not going to go back to that busier pace.” The brothers are also focusing on more reasonable projects that won’t be as taxing on a crew that’s already been slowed down by social distancing and other safety concerns.
“The important thing for us is that it’s realistic work in this time of additional precautions,” Drew Scott adds. “We’re trying to find projects that we can take on that aren’t so over the top or so massive that it’s not realistic. Some of the renovation projects are going to focus on smaller areas in the home, but to be really impactful in those areas and to make sure our timelines can be fast.”
For many of the homeowners, this will be the first time they’re allowing strangers into their house since the pandemic began. That’s why, for the safety of all participants, the producers have put together a process that includes a minimal crew, closed set, hand-washing stations, temperature checks and a morning safety brief — all overseen by a health and safety manager who makes sure protocol is maintained.
“Unfortunately, there’s no distinguishing right now between someone who’s maybe suffering bad allergies vs. COVID, so to take the extra precautions, anyone who’s displaying any of the symptoms at all is not able to come to set,” Jonathan Scott says. “We have trained COVID personnel on set who will be taking the temperatures. We will also have people re-sign affidavits every morning, to make sure that they haven’t attended large group gatherings, that they haven’t done things that expose risk.”
All group scenes will also be shot outdoors, with people a safe distance apart. The brothers will also maintain separation from the show’s families. “We’re not going to be hiding the fact that we’re not going to be getting close,” Drew Scott says. “People are used to seeing us playing with the homeowners’ kids or hugging the homeowners. There won’t be that sort of an intimacy with the shows.” Masks are already a part of the construction process, as are separate crews socially distanced by working in different parts of the house.
Then there’s the actual issue of how the pandemic may change the way homes are renovated. Drew Scott says he’s already hearing from homeowners who are more interested in having separate kid and adult living areas so that they can maintain some sense of sanity while all being at home, all the time.
“People are asking for storage solutions, they are asking for home offices,” Jonathan Scott says. Adds his brother: “You started to see that for a lot of families, it was less important to have a large formal dining room, because families ate out a lot. But this is a time where people are actually shifting back around. The dining area is going to be very important, as people are dining together at home in the new normal. People are also looking for more pantry space, and they’re going be looking for larger refrigerator and more counter space. So it will definitely affect the kitchen.”
Meanwhile, as unemployment rises and the economy weakens, the Scotts say that so far, the real estate market has still been holding steady: “Strangely we’re still seeing a lot of inventory moving, and with the interest rates being as low as they are, the banks are backed up,” Jonathan Scott says. But he’s also cautious about what’s next: “It’s definitely a scary situation because this is the largest investment for a lot of people, and so you don’t want somebody to jump in and all of a sudden, six months later, their home is worth 70% of what it was before.”
The Scotts say they’re heading back into production with the support of HGTV, but they don’t feel forced to do so: They’ve already got several months of original shows in the can, and editing on those episodes has continued remotely. “We were in a strong position when COVID shut things down,” Jonathan Scott says of the production company, which has a full-time staff of 80 people. “One of the priorities for us was to try and keep everybody employed.”
Scott Brothers has taken a hit with its retail business, however, as it has products in many stores and in several different categories. “The [physical] retail business was decimated,” Jonathan Scott says. “Last year we hit $1 billion in retail sales with our company, and it’s not going to be like that this year or the next year.” The company has shifted to more online retail in the meantime. He adds: “It’s a scary time for more than one reason but we’ve really tried to take pause to make sure that we’re taking the right steps.”