MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s The World and Everything in It from member-supported WORLD Radio. Today is Friday, April 13th. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.
The cable television hit series Fixer Upper came to an end this month.
Why was it such a big success? WORLD Radio’s Megan Basham has a good idea why.
AUDIO: We’re Chip and Joanna Gaines. Today is demo day! Yay! We take the worst house in the best neighborhood and we turn it into our clients’ dream home. Are y’all ready to see your Fixer Upper?
MEGAN BASHAM, ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR: Last week the left-leaning, feminist website Jezebel published a piece about the end of the popular HGTV home improvement series, Fixer Upper. Ironically, the writer described the show as “full of open concept kitchens and heteronormative family values.”
For those not well-versed in progressive lingo, that means Fixer Upper featured primarily straight couples. Even more outrageous, it featured married, straight couples.
Only once did the stars, Chip and Joanna Gaines, renovate a home for an unmarried couple. And at the end of the episode, before the pair moved in, the man proposed.
AUDIO: I just love you so much. Oh. And I know we’ve been on a lot of great adventures and I think this marks the beginning of our greatest adventure. So, will you marry me? Yes. Yay! (clapping) Oh, shoot, Chip! (crying, laughing)
Buzzfeed rightly took a lot of heat in 2016 for publishing a story about the Gaineses’ pastor, Jimmy Seibert, preaching a message on biblical sexual morality. The author of that piece cited the sermon as evidence the Gaines family is anti-gay.
But, malicious motives notwithstanding, Buzzfeed did have a point. No other show on HGTV had run so long without featuring numerous LGBT couples, so their absence on Fixer Upper stood out. It’s hard to believe it was entirely coincidental.
In the aftermath, Chip Gaines released a statement affirming his love and respect for all individuals, but said nothing to distance his views from Seibert’s. In fact, he reinforced the connection tweeting simply, “In times of trouble, you’ll find the Gaines family at church.”
Thus, while the Jezebel writer clearly didn’t intend to paint the Gaineses in a flattering light, she nevertheless stumbled on a profound truth about what made their show so popular. It wasn’t, she said, just the appeal of Joanna Gaines’s industrial farmhouse aesthetic. It was the appeal of their traditional family.
AUDIO: Oh man. I don’t know why I’m so nervous about this one, babe. Mike and Holly. From Washington state to Waco, Texas. Awesome. I’ll tell you one thing: These two are cute and cool. Don’t scare ‘em off. Do you have any temporary tattoos I could borrow? No. Just be yourself, babe. You can do it. You know that’s not gonna work. It always works! Look at you!
And boy did it appeal. In only four short years since their show premiered in April 2014, Fixer Upper grew not only into HGTV’s highest-rated show ever, but the Gaineses became a cultural and industrial phenomenon in their own right.
AUDIO: Once it’s screened in, you’ve got that fan going. I like you. They’re going to like it. I like you. I like you! You look — you’re in a good mood today!
Along with a children’s clothing line, furniture line, and wallpaper line, they’ve produced best-selling business and cookbooks, as well as a lifestyle magazine. They’ve partnered with international brands like Kilz for paint and Target for home accessories.
And that’s not to mention their thriving local businesses that include vacation rentals, a shopping complex, and their recently opened restaurant and bakery. All of which have turned a sleepy Texas town that was once best known for a raid on a cult to the number two vacation spot on travel site Tripadvisor’s list of top destinations for 2018. Right after Kapaa, Hawaii.
And the Gainses are not the only ones trading on their popularity. Search “Joanna Gaines” on Etsy, then sit back and marvel at all the T-shirts and signs bearing slogans like, “You’re the Chip to my Joanna” and “Always be yourself. Unless you can be Joanna Gaines, then be her.”
To put it in perspective, Martha Stewart may have built an extraordinarily successful company, but nobody ever peddled a mug that said, “I’m busy pretending I’m on a coffee date with Martha Stewart.”
Much has been made in recent weeks about what the ratings of the sitcom Roseanne reflect about certain segments of our culture. Fixer Upper’s success has received considerably less analysis. That’s a shame. Because the Gaineses prove there’s an enormous audience starving for the authentic Christian ethic they exhibited when they let cameras into their home and business.
AUDIO: Write that note. What an honor to be part of this project. We hope — Our prayer is that this house becomes a beautiful part of the next chapter of your life. In your life. And then I just say welcome home. Mm. Everything about it looks great, babe. Patty’s going to really be blessed by this project. Ready? Let’s do it.
No doubt their new temporary series, Behind the Design—which follows Joanna’s decision-making process as she renovates the homes featured on Fixer Upper—will do well enough in the ratings. But, because it features far less interaction with Chip and far less family life on their farm, it isn’t likely to feed the same craving that made them stars.
AUDIO: Hey, Ella, where are your helmets, girls? A bird nest. A bird nest? There are bird’s nests in your helmets? Mmhmm. It’s over there. Hold on. I want to see this. Oh, look at the little eggs. There are four. She’s just like Mama. She’s got four babies!
Which just goes to show, it was never just about the design.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Megan Basham.
Follow Megan Basham (@megbasham) on Twitter.