Design Star: Your Show Is (or Should Be) Cancelled

Maybe it’s just that competitive reality shows have hit the tipping point. Maybe it’s that being a “star” on HGTV is sort of like being the quickest runner at fat camp. Maybe it’s that fast design isn’t usually good design. Whatever the reason, HGTV’s reality show Design Star needs to fall, and soon.

HGTV has built a programming niche all its own over the years, even though Discovery and DYI and other cable nets have tried with varying levels of success to capitalize on it. And most of the shows are decent junk-food programming both for home design-fans and the design-challenged. It further helps those of us in Colorado that HGTV produces a lot of its stuff locally, through High Noon productions—which means that Denver gets far more than its fair share of local nods on shows like My First Place, Dream House, What You Get for the Money and the like.

But Design Star is the “one of these things is not like the other” in this group. It’s a cheesy reality show without island nudity or Donald Trump’s hair. And really, no one wants to see that.

The show’s central conceit is that it’s choosing the next HGTV host, of course -- that the winner gets their own show. This is a premise with a built-in threshold of exhaustion; even a network almost exclusively comprised of shows hosted by designers can’t keep giving away shows to newbies and still maintain control over its talent. Already, the world has been subjected to David Bromstad and Kim Myles (seasons one and two, respectively). These are very nice people, the both of them. They work very hard. They have nice hair and smiles. And as designers, they have very nice hair and smiles. Did I mention they work hard? And nice. So nice. They’re the design-show host equivalents of a blind date that your friend mentions is “really sweet” and then goes on to remind you of that time he backed you up when you lied to your Mom so you could go to Cabo for the holidays.

But it makes sense that those contestants who tend toward competent instead of inspired design would rise to the top of a show like this. Design Star is all about designing well enough under high-pressure circumstances. It’s not real design; it’s X-Games design. And this makes no sense; time pressure -- like this, anyway -- isn’t part of a design job. For similar food-related shows like Iron Chef, the time element makes more sense. Chefs need to be able to create beautiful, delicious and sometimes inspired meals very quickly. That’s the gig.

Not so with room design. So with the artificial environment in play, real design -- risky design—gets pushed to the side. It becomes a contest to see which designer can kiss the most judge butt. Or maybe the whole thing is decided by the producers, and the judges are just window dressing. You know, like Paula Abdul.

Genial host Clive Pearse (above, right), who fortunately for him has a steady gig on Designed to Sell, dismisses losing contestants with a tepid “your show has been cancelled.” Which sort of bugs, since technically, they never had a show to begin with, but whatever. The irony, of course, is that he needs to turn and say the same thing to the panel of judges. And then to himself. Sort of a televised ritual programming seppuku. Not a great career move, maybe—but oh, what a way to go: with style. -- Teague Bohlen

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