Do not confuse Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (ABC) with the other Extreme Makeover show. The "home edition" does not feature plastic surgery performed at home on the kitchen table, though that idea may already have been pitched to the networks. Extreme Makeover: Home Edition makes over a home. It is up for an Emmy, and the Parents Television Council rated it one of the top 10 shows for families.
The reality TV fad has produced a number of programs-most of them on cable networks like Discovery-that are actually about the real world. That is, the world of work, the realm of craftsmanship, labor, and manual skill. Fixing cars, customizing motorcycles, and remodeling houses turns out to be surprisingly good TV.
What makes this show different from other remodeling shows like This Old House and Trading Spaces is that it adds a dimension of doing good for others. A family in need (eight children who have just lost their parents, a man consigned to a wheelchair who needs to have his home made accessible, a family that is about to have triplets) applies for a home makeover.
To the rescue comes a team of young, hip construction workers. They have a week to plan their work, fix up the house, and furnish it to fit the family's needs and tastes.
At the end of the show, the work is unveiled to the family, which is amazed at the wonderful new home with its ingenious features (for the family with triplets, a diaper chute to the garbage; surveillance monitors; a baby-proof fireplace with flames that are only a hologram). More than that, they are joyously grateful. The team is deeply moved. Tears are shed by all. Viewers get a taste of vicarious altruism. They might even come away from the program wanting to emulate both the work and the kindness.