David and Jason Benham of Charlotte, N.C., have receded from the national spotlight since losing their HGTV reality show over their religious views. But their brief fame while caught in the middle of the debate over same-sex marriage continues to affect their lives and businesses. Before they gained and then lost their own reality show, they were just twin brothers with a successful real estate business in the South. Standing up for their faith has cost them more than just a television show, but they insist it’s all worth it.
If I could rewind the clock just a little bit, how did you get here? How did two nice guys like you end up at a place like this? I know you have been entrepreneurs for a while here in Charlotte, but how did you end up coming onto the radar screen of HGTV in the first place?
David Benham: My brother and I started our own real estate company back in 2003, and it built and grew, and in 2007 we franchised. We grew to 100 locations nationwide. In December 2012, a production company found us online. They read an article that was written on my brother and me. They thought that we were very intriguing, entrepreneurial twins who were extremely successful in real estate. So they did what is called a sizzle clip, a short three-minute video. They took it to networks, and five networks wanted us. It came down to two major networks. [HGTV] actually won the bid for us. We basically saw that as from the Lord. That, God, obviously, we did not go out looking for this; you brought it to us. HGTV was very attracted to our real estate expertise and the fact that we were twins and entrepreneurs.
You got on HGTV’s radar screen, and you all started doing some preproduction.
DB: We started filming. It was a 10-week shoot, and we were five weeks in filming six episodes. We were three filming days away from making the first episode, but we were doing all six simultaneously. We were set to air October 2014, which was our premier. They had already announced us at the upfronts in New York City. They started running commercials, and friends of ours were taking pictures of their television screen and shooting it to us on Facebook. It got cutoff pretty quick.
I don’t want to get too much into the personal stuff here, but just so the listeners can know what’s at stake, were you guys getting paid?
DB: We were getting paid. And we know that for HGTV, it costs a lot of money for these networks to put these reality shows on.
Can you say how much?
Jason Benham: Well over $2 million dollars. Of course, not to David and I—we were paid a talent fee considerably less than that—but there was over $2 million dollars invested in the project. That’s why we came out and said, hey, HGTV made a decision that cost them a lot of money, and we feel bad for them for that.
You have been gracious toward HGTV. You’ve not been blaming them. You’ve been saying that they are, in fact, victims like you guys are to a certain extent. Is that a fair thing to say David?
DB: Yes, … and here’s why. HGTV had already seen a couple of comments I made at a prayer service and all the media surrounding that in 2012, which was the night before the Democratic National Convention. My comments were in context of the church and calling the nation to repent, starting with the church. HGTV met us face to face over theses comments, and they saw my brother and I and they realized, look, these are not fly-by-night guys. These are not bigot-extremists. I don’t even label people that, what we get labeled. They saw very quickly that these guys are worth it. When the comments resurfaced after the upfronts, HGTV reached out to us—this was about a week before we got fired—and said, listen, some of your comments are resurfacing. We already knew this was coming but we’ve kind of given some kickback and that was originally from GLAAD. They said, we told GLAAD we are sticking with you guys, and I believe that is when the bubble popped.
GLAAD stands for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance for Anti-Defamation. Jason, do you want to add something to that?
JB: We don’t know exactly how much money the whole production cost, but a guess-timation of doing a little research on this when we were going through it. These networks spend a ton of money on reality shows.
So, a lot of money was spent. HGTV knew about you guys. In other words, you were this ugly when they married you, so to speak. They decided to get married anyway. You blame GLAAD and some of their allied groups for all the controversy that has been generated. Ultimately it did prove too much and HGTV cut you off, and then your bank cut you off, as well. Can you say a little about what happened there?
JB: When we say our bank, we don’t bank with SunTrust, but we do sell foreclosed properties on behalf of banks all across the nation, SunTrust being one of them. When they fired us and any franchisee that had our name, we felt that was suspect. We reached out to them directly to get a response and to see if they would change their mind. We even offered to sell these properties for free with no commission. Our performance has always been stellar. … They responded, we have the right to hire and fire who we want, and that was it. So, when the conversation went public, the decision was [overturned], and we received actually a very nice email from their president saying that there was an internal communication error and they would get to the bottom of what happened. In the meantime, they would return all the properties, and we would have a long-lasting relationship.
So, all’s well that ends well, at least with SunTrust. Is that right David?
DB: Yeah, at least with Sun Trust. The problem is … men and women of faith can no longer speak their beliefs in the public sector without losing their livelihood. At some point, it is not going to be allowed in government, and then at some point it won’t be allowed in the Church. We are at a very dangerous position in our country right now.
How much money is this costing you? Has it hurt your business? Have the distraction and the time away from your business hurt it? Have you actually seen potential franchisees go away, current franchisees go away, or business go away?
JB: What we tell most entrepreneurs is, if you can’t get your business to a point when it can run apart from you, then you haven’t systematized it or streamlined it properly. Fortunately for David and I, our business was running on its own. Of course, we are still involved in it, but we don’t have to be. It has cost us money of several hundred thousand dollars so far. I don’t know the extent of it yet, but I have had at least one or two franchisees reach out and say, hey, wait a second, staying with you guys. Is this going to hurt my business? We have had to keep them on board with us. You’ve got the SunTrust issue, which—word on the street—are there are other clients that are looking closely at David and me? It’s definitely going to cost us money, but following Jesus should cost you something.
David do you want to add?
DB: I was going to say, we had already verbally agreed to a pretty large book deal. We’ve got several books inside of us that we feel that the Lord wanted us to write. Several months ago, we had come to an agreement with a nice size publisher on a book deal that has now been nixed, but that’s OK. Hey, we are not victims, but it’s definitely costing us something to follow the Lord.
Listen to Warren Cole Smith’s full interview with the Benham brothers and entrepreneur Bill Walton on WORLD News Group’s Listening In: