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‘Extreme' often helps pay families' expenses

MARK WASHBURN
Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn writes television and radio commentary for The Charlotte Observer.

So, one morning Ty Pennington and crew show up on your lawn and tell you they're building you a new house.

Lost in the excitement is this: How are you going to pay for it after the cameras are packed away?

Coincidental with the arrival of ABC's “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” in Charlotte this week was the news from Atlanta that a house featured in a 2005 episode was facing foreclosure.

To finance a construction company, the family used the home for collateral on a $450,000 loan. Their company ultimately failed.

Curtis and Alisha King lived in a mold-infested home on Sudbury Road when “Extreme Makeover” showed up this week. They will return Monday to find a two-story beauty with a deck and plenty of room for their home day care.

And when a tax valuation is placed on their new digs, it will almost certainly swell from the former valuation of $112,000. Better house, higher taxes.

What is not generally known is that producers often set aside money to ensure families can afford their gift homes. Community fundraisers, such as this week's concert at SouthPark, help underwrite the accounts.

“Most family mortgages are paid off,” says Didiayer Snyder, one of the designers on the Charlotte build. Also, money is put in escrow for things such as power bills and other expenses, including scholarships.

In the case of the Kings, they are planning to finish degrees at UNC Charlotte and the show might make that part of the package, but it probably won't be known until the show airs in October.

“We do not build McMansions,” says Diane Korman, senior producer with Lock and Key Productions in Hollywood, which creates the shows for ABC. “Houses need to be affordable for the residents.”

In the suburban Atlanta case, the house built by Beazer Homes USA had four bedrooms, rock walls and a three-car garage. Inside were four fireplaces, a music room and a home office. Beazer had set up a fund to cover property taxes.

Korman said this week that the Charlotte project has been designed to fit in with the Windsor Park neighborhood, which is mostly one- and two-story brick homes. Lavish palaces are not the goal of the program, she said.

“Extreme Makeover” has done about 120 homes to date. Families are from a broad range of socio-economic levels and are chosen for their compelling story lines (it is, after all, a TV show first and a charity project second).

This season's theme is community heroes. Charlotte's King family was picked because they operate a home day care, sometimes taking care of children for free so parents can work jobs at odd hours. It is barely a break-even proposition; the family has been through tight times, including a 2003 bankruptcy.

“Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” debuted as an ABC special Dec. 3, 2003, riding the upsurge in the volunteerism movement in the wake of the terrorist attacks and military actions overseas.

But it got its biggest boost from another bit of good timing: It followed Part Two of a “Bachelorette” special about Ryan and Trista's wedding, ABC's highest-rated show that week. Most of the wedding's 13 million viewers stuck around for the home makeover.

It was a spin-off of an ABC show called “Extreme Makeover,” in which two people would get beauty makeovers, including liposuction or plastic surgery, to improve their lives.

While the beauty show faded away, the building show took off.

Media Movers

Joining the WCNC (Channel 36) news staff is Rad Berky, a native of Washington, D.C., who comes from Miami's ABC affiliate, where he has been for nearly 20 years. … Brad Panovich moves up to chief meteorologist at WCNC, getting the title left by Terri Bennett in September when her contract was not renewed … It's a boy for WCCB (Fox Charlotte, Channel 18) meteorologist and WKQC FM morning host Derek James and wife Kristen. Tyler Joseph was born Wednesday. He's their first child. …

Doug Stacker joins CPCC Television on Aug. 20 as videographer. He has worked at WCNC since 1988. … Among the winners of the prestigious Green Eyeshade “Excellence in Journalism” awards is WFAE FM (90.7) reporter Simone Orendain. She won for “Philippine Postcard,” a story about space issues from Manila, the most densely populated city in the world. Colleague Lisa Miller won a second place for a story about the violent 1929 Loray Mill strike in Gastonia. …

Bilenda Madison of Charlotte is one of four finalists in “I Survived a Japanese Game Show.” Final episode airs at 9 p.m. Tuesday on ABC (Channel 9).

Mark Washburn: 704-358-5007; mwashburn@charlotteobserver.com

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