the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Really Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

BEFORE the arrival of ABC Television’s Extreme Makeover:  Home Edition


Life has never been easy for the Wilson family.  After she lost her job at the auto plant and her husband was killed in a freak explosion at an Office Depot, Deborah Wilson and her seven children, three of them disabled, became homeless. 

Deborah remarried, but her new husband — an alcoholic, abuser, and wife beater — ran away with Deborah’s sister, leaving Deborah with three of his children.  Two of his children suffer from a rare untreatable skin disease, and the third child, alas, was recently mauled to death when a Burmese tiger escaped from his cage during a class trip to the Phoenix Zoo.

The Wilsons now live in a tiny shack in the poorest section of Phoenix.

The arrival of ABC Television’s Extreme Makeover:  Home Edition


Ty Pennington and his design team roll into town from Los Angeles.  They have decided to build a new home for the the family because, frankly, the Wilsons are one unlucky, miserable bunch of losers.  The Wilson’s shack is bulldozed and three hundred construction workers, whose boss wants to be on TV, quickly build the Wilson’s new 5000 square foot home.  

Every room is equipped with the latest appliances from Sears (the show’s official sponsor).  There is to be a plasma TV in every room (from Sears).  An elevator to the second floor is installed for the disabled children.  Special space suits are developed by NASA to be worn by the children with the rare skin disease.  The new house has a swimming pool, a tennis court, and a huge kitchen where Deborah can further her dream of becoming a gourmet chef.  And to help her further her goal, ABC has convinced famed Scottsdale Chef Anthony Dematto of Anthony’s Bistro to give Deborah a job as an assistant chef.


After the house is built, the design team cries.  The Wilsons cry.  Three hundred workers cry…  because their boss, who got his 15 minutes of fame, "volunteered" them all for this grueling ordeal for no pay.  A beautiful new home has been built for the Wilsons — a family desperately in need of help.  The show returns to Los Angeles — a job well done.

Three months after the airing of  ABC Television’s Extreme Makeover:  Home Edition


Life has never been easy for the Wilson family.  Deborah has been fired from Anthony’s Bistro after she accidentally poisoned a customer and famed Scottsdale Chef Anthony Dematto called her "an absolute moron." 

The Wilson home has been robbed three times in the last three months by neighbors who resent a fancy house in the middle of their ugly impoverished neighborhood.  All of their plasma TVs have been carried off by angry mobs. 

Deborah’s youngest son is beaten up in school every day by bullies.  Another child is mocked as "Ty Pennington’s Love Slave."  The elevator in the house broke, and no one from the show returns the phone calls, so the disabled children haven’t been able to leave the second floor for two months.  One of the children with the rare skin disease suffocates to death in his NASA space suit. 

The wife beater who ran away with Deborah’s sister returns for the funeral service of the child he left behind.  He reveals some more sad news — Deborah’s sister has bled to death after she cut off her finger to try the "sue Wendy’s because there is a finger-in-the-chili trick."   But the car broke down while they were stuck in Houston rush hour traffic, and the finger ended up getting lost somewhere in the engine.

One good note — after the funeral, the abusive, cheating, alcoholic, child abandoning wife beater decided to stay in town, so he’s now living with Deborah again!  They couldn’t afford the upkeep of the new place, so they moved into another tiny shack.   It  feels more spacious this time around, because they had to leave some of the children behind.   The elevator on the second floor is still broken.   So, everything is fine!


UPDATE:  A network memo on The Smoking Gun shows that this post is not as far-fetched as it may seem.


  1. Jaclyn

    Thanks for this Neil. I’ve had a really rough day and your story made me chuckle. 🙂

  2. anne arkham

    Those were union workers. They got paid.

  3. Neil

    There’s always that one troublemaker in every group.

  4. brando

    you call that extreme? when sears starts retailing Anti-Improvised Explosive Device driveways I’ll start watching.

  5. Scarlet

    I hate that show. The men at my office always talk about how inspiring it is. I wish it was more like how you described it one week to really turn their (coworker’s) lives upside down!

  6. The Retropolitan

    Hey, hey, hey — there’s nothing wrong with being Ty Pennington’s love slave.


  7. Used Hack

    That’s fucking awesome!

    I have a friend who works for that show, and I watch it from time to time, but I couldn’t agree more.

    Poor people have poor ways. Some of these miserable losers will surely find a way to fuck their lives up again.

  8. Brooke

    This was so heartwarming.

  9. cruisin-mom


  10. Bre

    See, I’m a big ole sap… I cry when I watch it… but sometimes because it’s so tacky what they did!

  11. Fitèna

    Sounds like this show should have been called “Back to Square One”.

    The poor family!

    PS: Is it staged or for real?

  12. helen

    I dunno which show is that…. probably I have yet get to watch it over here. *scratch head*

    The only Extreme Makeover I watched before was about those ppl going for plastic surgeries, boob job, dental surgery…etc. They were transformed into beautiful people and lived happily ever after.

    Are we talking about the same show? 🙂

  13. Neil

    No, Helen. It’s a take-off of that show where they find a family that has some sort of special need and they build them an amazing new house in a short period of time with hundreds of workers — and everyone cries at the end…

  14. groovebunny

    I can’t even watch Extreme Makeover because I always start crying at the big reveal. lol Plus Ty really gives me the willies.

  15. Sandra

    Maybe Deborah should call “Cheaters” on the wife-beater…

  16. Stacy Elaine

    neil is super. ty is orange.

  17. Bill

    Not only does everyone cry, if it’s the show I’m thinking of, everybody shouts. What’s with people bursting into your life bellowing at the top of their lungs? If people like that entered my life I’d be calling for a SWAT team.

    Three months later they’re all seeing therapists as they try to get over the trauma of a home invasion.

  18. xtessa

    now, that’s good TV!

    just what i needed! a good laugh!

  19. ams

    brilliant! i just love what they’ve done with the place in the last picture!

  20. Miss Golondon

    My ex used to direct a very similar show but rather than build a home they shoved them on their “dream holiday”; and he said most of the families could not shake their misery and negative attitude. Does this imply that we are firmly rooted in our cosmic karma circle? or merely offer another example of tv’s desire to play jesus to redeem itself for the deaths it causes although it will constantly fail due to its inherently evil nature? i don’t watch tv btw ; )

  21. Edgy Mama

    It’s kind of like winning the lottery. I think someone should make a reality TV show on lottery winners–1 year later, 5 years later, 10 years later, etc.

  22. mariemm3

    Snort. Once again I am laughing my butt off. Better than aerobics.

    Thanks for the smile.

  23. Kevin

    I KNEW IT! It’s the dirty little secret ABC is trying to hide from all of us!!!! Those bastards!!

  24. AWE

    You forgot the part where the wife beater pimped Deborah out to all of the cousins.

  25. Caitlinator

    Oh my god, Neil. You KILL me.

  26. JustRun

    EMHE rolled into a city close by not too long ago. Ty was spotted at no less than 7 night spots and a rodeo. Five out of those eight sightings, he did not have a shirt on. Heh.

  27. Hope

    Ha, I always wondered how they keep up their houses.

    I always get a kick out of that show because sometimes in the beginning they show the designers sketching ideas for the house on a napkin with a crayon and then suddenly they’re building the house! Working in architecture I realize it takes months and months of drafting, zoning, codes, inspections to build any building, and they act like the whole thing is done in a week.

  28. treespotter

    is that for real? the run of (un) luck after the show?? maad…

  29. Neil

    Miss Go London — I’ve seen that show on BBC America. What ever happened to American creativity? Every American reality show is a rip-off of a British show nowadays, and you guys do it 100 times better.

  30. Nelumbo

    Good post, Neil. If there was a show like this, about the reality of reality TV, I would watch it.

  31. Im Chele In [dot] LA

    Look for the union label..
    yes they got paid…

    How ironic..

  32. Neil

    Disclaimer: Now that two readers have told me that the workers did indeed get paid, and I know what happens to those who diss the union (cement blocks in the Pacific Ocean) — I would like to say, yes, the workers did get paid (and yes, they did cry at the end) and buy American!

  33. ACG

    I would LOVE to be Ty Pennington’s love slave.
    He’s dreamy *swoon*

  34. better safe than sorry

    i actually saw this show (well not this show, but that show) for the first time on the weekend and they were all crying. all of them. the home was way overdone for the family, they would have been happy to have hot water. i’ll never watch it again. too much drama, not believable at all.

  35. Esther

    wellll, I actually enjoy watching this show, the one time I saw it. Now wouldn’t it be fun if they did follow-ups on all the houses they’ve built.

  36. Nance

    My husband is a project manager in construction and hates this show. It makes his job a nightmare. People watch it and think that their jobs should happen practically overnight. i.e.:”On Extreme Makeover they build a whole freakin’ house in a week and you can’t remodel my kitchen in a month? What’s wrong with you people?!” I think he wants to kill Ty Pennington.

  37. sarah

    i could never understand why my sisters were so into this show – and they ALWAYS cry at the end. ALWAYS. ok, sometimes i sniffle, too. fark, and i guess i just admitted that i have actually watched this show. more than once. sheesh.

    by the way, ty pennington could be hot. if he weren’t on speed, that is.

  38. Mel

    He’s not on speed, he’s a spokes person for one of the ADD associations. And I have a cheap fantasy of licking the sweat off his chest. But that’s just me…

  39. Postmodern Sass

    I *was* Ty Pennington’s love slave, back before he was Ty Pennington, when he was still Tod Penofsky. Oh, sure, the sex was great, and he built me all these fantastic customized closet organizers for all my shoes, but just try getting a turn in the bathroom in the morning! It got so bad, I took to just leaving the house in the morning, sweaty and disheveled, and going to the gym to shower and put on makeup. So, you see, there’s a hidden ugliness behind every seemingly glamourous story.

  40. michelle

    Ty is really an Oompa Loompa!

    I avoid watching this show.

    love the post!

  41. Mike

    Extreme Home Makeover appeals to the part of our soul that tears up during the final scene in Field of Dreams where Kevin Costner plays catch with his dad, bawls when the whale from Free Willy jumps over the rocks, and completely breaks down into a mushy pile of goo throughout the entire running time of The Notebook.

    Deep down inside – though we may hate to admit it – we’re all secretly suckers for those schmaltzy, cheesy, life-affirming tales that bring a little light into what is – for all intents and purposes – a fairly messed up world.

    This post brought to you by Hallmark.

  42. darlin nikki

    Awww. that made me feel warm all over. Oh, wait, that’s the joys of living in a non-shack house with center heat ’cause I bust ass all day. But I’m still waiting for ol’ Ed McMahon outside my door…

  43. Jacynth

    Ty is dreamy….you know it.

  44. michelle

    a dreamy Oompa Loompa…

  45. Tongue in Cheek

    know what you wish for

  46. Heather B.

    I’m totally convinced that Ty needs to put down the crack pipe.

  47. Neil

    Important message from Neil’s mother: She didn’t like this one at all, especially leaving the children up on the second floor.

    She said, “Go back to writing nice things.”

  48. pia

    Usually I like Neil’s mother, but in this case

    You wrote the post so many of us wish we had written. Love it!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Just really came to look at your blogroll, because somebody blogrolled me from it, and can’t seem to get to her blog, but had to comment

  49. Tanya

    I cry at the horror of an entire home furnished by the “softer side.”

  50. sarah

    okay, i can’t believe i actually spent time doing this (it’s what happens when your blogger software is down for service – lol!)

    but i have changed my mind and do think ty pennington is hot, even if he is on speed. the guy is over 40, and he looks like this?!?


  51. Rabbit

    I’m noticing that I miss an awful lot since I don’t ever watch television.

    (I can appreciate the humor of the post all the same.)

  52. cruisin-mom

    Sarah…works for me.

  53. LisaBinDaCity

    You are EVIL! Bwahahahaha!

    Probably part of it is true.

  54. Jaclyn

    Ty is over 40!?! Damn.

  55. Lin

    I’m thinking there’s room on some network for a six months later ‘progress’ report on some of these makeover shows. Hell, if it was as you’ve parodied, even I’d watch the damn thing. I’d much prefer a parody show to a real show. It’s all too “Queen for a Day(ie)” for me.

    Is Ty the one who lost his boyfriend in the Tsunami?

  56. mr_g

    That’s one of the funnier things I’ve read in a while! Nice job!

  57. Michele

    Excellent post. I’d be blogging, but my blog has disappeared into nothingness for the time being. I miss you, Neil! How can we ever stand this time apart?

  58. Leah

    Okay that was pretty much fantastic. I laughed. I wept. I sat on the edge of my seat in anticipation for the dramatic ending. That, my friend, was grrreat television.

  59. erin

    that was so wrong on so many levels. 🙂

  60. Dagny

    Thanks for the laugh. I must admit that I often find myself sucked in by the show. What I have always wondered is what happens to these folks months later when there aren’t cameras around.

  61. mysterygirl!

    This was so awesome. I always wonder how those families can afford to maintain (or even simply to heat) their new million-dollar homes. I mean, I still cry by the end of any given episode, having been effectively emotionally exploited– seriously, though, how do they find these people?

  62. Doug

    I think we’re supposed to feel GUILTY if we don’t love that show. But I hate it. Forgive me, God, but I hate that show probably more than anything else on TV.
    It’s been difficult to put it into words, why I hate Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Well, first of all I hate the title, so I guess it begins with that.
    I have come to hate Ty Pennington, the host. Thought he was somewhat funny on TLC’s Trading Spaces: the goofy handyguy. Ah yes, I do admit to having watched that show. As silly as it was, it was still fairly normal people spending a fairly normal amount of money and doing something fun with their neighbors, and it was interesting to see what they could come up with, given $1,000 and a weekend.
    For Extreme Makeover, somebody took that idea and supersized it a gadzillion times, like a Whopper weighing 3,000 pounds. Yes, it’s spectacular, but I can’t eat it.
    So the show is designed basically around a sob story (the one on tonight I think is about a camp for families dealing with AIDS). How can I resist having my heartstrings pulled like that? Have I no feelings? I guess I don’t. You’ve had a tough life, bad things happened, so now we’ll bulldoze your house and build you a 7,000-square-foot mansion with state-of-the-art everything, we’ll all shed tears and feel better about ourselves. Meanwhile all the other people out there who have had tough breaks can…. well, they can watch the show.
    There are so many things about this TV monstrosity (outsized, self-aggrandizement, maudlin emotions, lottery-winning mentality, gaudy tastelessness, to name just a tiny few) that embody all the worst elements of America.

  63. Eric

    Personally it’s the constant advertising that bothers me. Sears obviously, but also AOL and tons of others. Also, they always say our friends at [insert company] has given the [insert name] family all the [insert product] they’ll ever need. Let’s be honest, you begged them for it in exchange for you saying the product and company name on TV…Oh and btw is it just me or do the two hour specials stop being special when they come every second episode?

  64. Cecil

    Can you spell EXPLOITATION? This show (and others like it) are what’s wrong with this country now. If they REALLY wanted to help people they would take the money they spend on these families and spread it out among hundreds or thousands of truly needy folks – but without the cameras and publicity. As long as we support this crap by watching it, it will continue. As for me, I saw it once and vowed NEVER AGAIN. If I even see a promo for it I change the channel. Please, STOP THE INSANITY!!

  65. Hotdog 2000

    I used to like this show, too. I thought it was kind of edgy and funny. But I’ve come to hate the obnoxious product placement (we’re building you a Horton Hears a Who! room! “Thank you, ABC for my Horton Hears a Who! room!!”), crocodile tears (cue Ty/the contractors/the family/the dog wiping their eyes… ), over-the-top everything (a kitchen done entirely in PLATINUM! Plasma tvs in the closet! Diamonds for the 7-year-old!), “theme” rooms (how fun will that jungle room be when the kid turns 11?), and placement of a mega-mansion in a crappy neighborhood. But the most obnoxious thing about this show is how it encourages the illusion that if you REALLY f*** up your life, fairies will swoop down and save/reward you by building you your own personal hotel. I’m in my 30s, with an advanced degree, and I’ve lived a good, responsible life. Yet, I’m in debt up to my eyeballs, working 5 days a week, every week, and renting a crappy house that’s basically falling down. When’s Ty coming to give me my plasma tvs? Oooh, maybe if I had a kid with a terrible disease? Blech.

  66. javier

    I Hate that show so much! I know lots of people who really and I mean REALLY need a house im talking rat/mold/asbestos/yucky brown stuff. These people live in luxury compared to the people that really need to be on the show the impoverished and ignored

  67. Ted

    I very much despise this show, hate it with a passion.

  68. Karen

    I have always wondered about this show from the get-go. It wasn’t really bad when they just fixed up a house. But they went way beyond any reasonableness when they started building mansions, handing out scholarships and money. If they truly wanted to help mankind, why don’t they build homeless shelters and hire chefs to cook for them? Maybe they could set up something to help these people regain their lives??? That would go a long way toward some real help. So all of that leads me to wonder what the true objective of the show is….One more thing, if Sears can afford to “donate” all of these appliances, I guess they don’t really need my busines. I WILL NOT SHOP SEARS.

  69. simon

    i would like to be intouch with the people who are building house for people who cannot help them self,to find out more information about how to help such people and how can someone can go about it and what is needed

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