A funny thing happened a few years ago when I was watching “House Hunters” on HGTV with my husband. We both noticed that gay and lesbian couples were regularly a part of the show that follows a couple look for a new house. But it wasn’t a very special episode, there was no overt statement about the show featuring a gay couple and we also realized that the show, which began in 1998, seemed to be reflecting a new norm in television – making a statement but not making a statement at all.
I decided I needed to know more and I ended up on the phone with “House Hunters” creators Tara Sandler and Jennifer Davidson, a lesbian couple who, shortly after this interview, were headed to Provincetown to get married.
I’ve been a fan of the show for a long time and I remember noticing that there were gay couples mixed in.
Jennifer: Actually it’s been like that since we first started doing the show in 1998.
Tara: This came out of our own personal experience. We were deciding whether to put an offer on a house and we were like ‘It’s nice but it’s really kind of a small house with a big pool. And it’s not perfect but we could do this and do that.’ We just looked at each other and said, ‘this is a really stressful thing to decide. This should be a TV show!’
Jennifer: So we put an offer in on the house, went back to the office and wrote up a treatment.
Was it always the plan to include gay couples since obviously you started the show at a time where things are different than they are now?
Jennifer: I will say that it’s the way we normally think and the network was entirely on board.
Tara: The network said, ‘Let’s not make a big deal out of it.’ They’ve always said that. ‘They’re a couple like anything else.’ We don’t point anything out and it’s been that way since 1998.
In general, how do you find the couples for the show?
Jennifer: It’s really two major ways. Because the show has been on the air for so long, we have a ton of people applying to be on the show. So that’s one way. They apply and then our staff calls them, does a video interview and we make sure there’s enough criteria there. What we are looking for are people who are truly passionate and opinionated about the kind of place they want to live in. And some people, their number one priority might be school district or vacation and that’s not quite as interesting to ‘House Hunters.’ So we’re looking for people who have very strong opinions about what their dream place looks like, what kind of features they want and what are the deal breakers.
Right now, because we’ve done so many episodes, we’re looking for more unique outlooks more than people who just want an open layout and granite countertops or kitchen appliances. We’re looking for people who are looking beyond that and maybe have a passion for vintage features like we had one woman in Michigan who wanted a laundry chute and one of those old fashioned mail slots in the front door. We had another guy who was an architect who refused to live in a house that had hallways because he thought they were such a waste of space. Right now, that’s what we’re looking for are those more unique stories, people who are passionate about their living style and space.
The other way we find people is we look for real estate agents and we call them. It’s as simple as that. So if we think we don’t have enough shows set in Hawaii we’ll start calling the real estate agencies in Hawaii and find people that way.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned the most from the show that you didn’t expect to?
Tara: That people are really strange in some of their opinions and the way that they live. I also think it’s fascinating the trends that happen. Right now, the biggest trend is that women seem to want an all-white kitchen. White flooring, white walls…and so many men seem to want to have a backyard that’s not seen by any neighbors so they can do ‘whatever they want.’ I don’t really know what that means but once we did have one guy who wanted to go out in his underwear, he wanted to be able to pee outside…
Jennifer: Because we’ve been producing the show for so long we do notice these trends.
Tara: I also think that people watch so much HGTV that they know what they want. People have learned the language about what they like and what they don’t like.
Tell me about one of the shows this month that features a gay couple, Brad and Christian. I believe it’s in San Francisco.
Jennifer: There’s an episode about a couple searching in San Francisco and in the Marin County area that is really fun to watch. So rich visually and the characters are good.
Tara: And we’re a little obsessed with San Francisco. In the show, he needed a place that had the right acoustics for his piano because he’s a piano player. They’re a really cute couple.
And there’s another episode coming up on June 24th with Randy and Greg in Washington DC.
Tara: The interesting thing about these city episodes is what your money buys you and what it doesn’t buy you.
Jennifer: And they’re architecturally diverse.
Tara: Yeah. And the cool thing about the DC episode is they look at a very wide range of house and that’s an eye opener, I have to say!
How has it been for the relationship working together all these years?
Jennifer: People ask us this all the time. Some couples just work really easily together and some couples don’t but we happen to work really easily together. We’re happy we’ve been working together because the first 16 years it was really, really intense at Pie Town and we wouldn’t have ever seen each other. It’s all worked for us.
Tara: We’ve been together for 24 years, we’ve had Pie Town for 19 and it’s just really great to work with your best friend.
“House Hunters” airs weeknights at 10pm on HGTV. The episode featuring Randy and Greg in DC airs June 24th at 10pm.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.
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