Entertainment

09.08.13

The ‘Property Brothers’ Are Reality Television’s Crack Cocaine

It’s the crack cocaine of reality television. HGTV’s ‘Property Brothers’ are handsome twins from Canada who fix up dilapidated houses into real estate gems. By Itay Hod.

William Humphries, a 41-year old from Lubbock, TX, says he’s never been a home improvement kind of guy. He doesn’t care for furniture stores or interior design, and if he ever bought a house (he currently rents), it would be move-in ready. But when he stumbled on the HGTV hit reality show Property Brothers, he was hooked.

“I just loved it,” said Humphries. “It was one of those marathon days. I sat through four or five of them and just kept on watching.”

That was back in March. Since then, Humphries estimates he’s racked up anywhere from 100 to 200 hours of viewing. “It’s my number one channel right now,” he said with a chuckle.

Humphries is not alone. Ratings for Property Brothers are, well, through the roof.  Close to 19 million people tuned in last season, an astronomical number for cable TV.  This year’s season premiere was watched by more than 1.6 million, making it one of the top shows on the network.

Walking through a North Carolina airport, the newly-minted celebrities are spotted by a five-year-old boy who, with the excitement reserved for Disney Channel stars, exclaims, “Mom, look! It’s Drew and Jonathan from the Property Brothers!”

“The pinch me moment is every day when I wake and I realize this isn’t a dream,” says Drew Scott. “We’re doing what we set out to do years ago and we’re successful in all our different ventures.”

“We’re not one of those stuffy people who tell you this is the only way to do things. We take our job seriously, but not ourselves.”

When asked whether the meteoric success of the show took them by surprise, Jonathan delivers one of his signature brotherly jabs, “Having grown up with Drew, I never thought he’d amount to anything,” he said.

If you haven’t seen the show, chances are you know someone who’s already obsessed. The Property Brothers are the crack cocaine of reality television. The premise of the show is simple. Twin brothers Jonathan and Drew Scott take young couples to their dream house. After the prospective buyers drool over every inch of the place, Drew, the real estate expert, quashes their hopes by revealing the price, which is way out of their budget.

That’s when the brothers suggest buying a fixer-upper instead.  To add to the drama (this is TV, after all), the brothers take them to places that look like they were pulled straight out of a Breaking Bad set. At first, the couple is apprehensive, if not downright appalled. There’s stress and crying… but in the end, Jonathan, the contractor twin, delivers big time. Within five to six weeks, he manages to transform the dilapidated house into a real estate gem that would make Lisa Vanderpump squeal with envy. Open-space concepts, curb appeal, and frameless glass showers in beautifully renovated master baths (excuse me, “ensuites”), all for a fraction of the price. Everyone is happy except, perhaps, for the viewers who are left to wonder why they can’t seem to find time to reorganize their sock drawer, let alone renovate an entire house in a little over a month.

The show is built on a somewhat unrealistic foundation; what viewers don’t see are the weeks of work that go into the project before a single camera is turned on. Most of the renovations featured on the program would take months for regular mortals without the limitless resources of a television network to speed things up. And yet, it’s hard not to be impressed. The guys are talented.

Drew and Jonathan were born and raised in Vancouver. They bought their first house at the age of 17. After renovating it, they flipped it for a $50,000 profit, all while still attending their freshman year of college. Before landing in real estate, the two dabbled in acting. Drew had a role in Smallville and Jonathan was in The X-Files. But they were so good at fixing houses, they decided to open their own real estate business.  Ironically, that’s what got them their foot in TV’s front door.

The ratings for Property Brothers broke all HGTV’s records. It wasn’t long before the bigwigs at the network offered them more airtime. The Scott brothers are currently headlining three shows, all of them with stellar ratings. A fourth one, about their own family home renovation in Vegas, is already in the works. They’re also working on a new book, a feature film (they have their own production company), and their own furniture line. Through it all they’ve managed to keep that aw-shucks humility for which they’ve become famous.

“We’re not one of those stuffy people who tell you this is the only way to do things. We take our job seriously, but not ourselves,” says Jonathan. “It’s not something we’re putting on.”

In the last three years since the show first aired, the twins have become an advertiser’s wet dream. They’re handsome, tall, polite almost to a fault, and they ooze charisma. Not coincidentally, more than 70 percent of their viewers are women between the ages of 25 and 54.

“What I like about the show is that it really hits in the sweet spot of what we do,” says Tom Lamb, chief marketing officer at Lowes, one of the Property Brothers’ biggest advertisers. He says unlike other renovation shows, such as Extreme Makeover Home Edition, Drew and Jonathan go for average-size homes, and that makes them more relatable. “Shows about the renovation of a 12,000-square-foot home makes for intriguing television, but the reality is our consumer doesn’t live in a mansion,” he says. “What we see in the Property Brothers is approachability.  A focus on the real American home gives people confidence to go into our stores and say, ‘You know what? I can change a home or a room with a reasonable budget.’”

Their latest show, Brother Vs. Brother, pits the duo against each other. The twins mentor a team of contractors who compete for a $50,000 grand prize (think American Idol for interior design). This latest spinoff drew in more than two million viewers for the final episode, solidifying their status as ratings stars.

“They’ve hit a nerve not only with our core HGTV viewers, but even more excitingly with new viewers,” says Kathleen Finch, SVP and General Manager of HGTV. “You’re sitting at home flipping through the channels and these two handsome 6’4” real estate experts come on television… you really can’t not watch them. It really has been a magic potion for us.”

The Property Brothers have also helped elevate the HGTV brand when it comes to their home lines.

“HGTV is to home renovation what ESPN is to sports,” said Jason Camp, SVP of Retail at Bassett Furniture. The company, which won the exclusive rights to HGTV’s furniture line almost a year ago, has seen a double digit increase in revenue since its partnership with HGTV. But while it appreciates the buzz and ratings that the Property Brothers have brought to the network, there is no “Property Brothers Furniture Line” in the works.  As far as the store is concerned, the only star is HGTV. “These guys are terrific and I enjoy their shows, but it’s not likely that the Property Brothers franchise will be as popular in ten years,” said Camp.

Whether or not the show will still be popular a decade from now is anyone’s guess. Extreme Makeover Home Edition ran for nine seasons on ABC before it was cancelled. But the Property Brothers say that was because it was all about the personalities rather than the actual renovations. “All of these shows have an expiration date,” said Jonathan, “and this has an expiration date, he says pointing to his face. Which is a perfect moment for his brother to tease him. “I’m plastic so I will never age,” says Drew, “but Jonathan definitely has an expiration date.”

“We’re very cognizant of how much we’re out there,” adds Jonathan.  “The nice thing is the way we balance out these shows, there’s fresh content all year round but you’re not getting us all on all at the same time. “

With the sweat equity the Scott brothers have put into their career, one has to think there’s still room for expansion.