America’s HGTV Obsession: A Reading List

Let’s get this out of the way: I can binge-watch House Hunters for hours. In the past, I’ve devoured episodes of House Hunters International and Tiny House Hunters as well, but the original House Hunters gives me the most satisfying fix: its predictable formula has never felt stale, even after many seasons.

America’s most popular home renovation and real estate network, HGTV—the home of House Hunters, its spinoffs, and a growing network of lifestyle porn—succeeds because of its consistent programming in useful escapism. In a single episode, I might learn how to refresh the color palette of my bathroom or see how much space $800K will buy me in the vacation rental market in Maui. In a half-hour dose, I can experience that strangely pleasurable thing called House Hunters rage: I’m inspired, enlightened, and incensed in equal measure, my voyeuristic side piqued by the entitled and pointless arguments over whether the kitchen countertop is the right shade of granite or whether an older house has enough “character.”

Regardless of what you think of its shows, HGTV knows the formula for successful programming. Here are six reads that touch on why this network can dish out exactly what its audience wants, hour after hour.

1. “Why Do So Many People Watch HGTV?” (Phillip Maciak, Pacific Standard, September 2014)

“HGTV, as we might expect, is so watchable because it features attainably realistic ritual re-enactments of the American Dream every half-hour.” Maciak explores the self-contained episodes of shows like Flip or Flop.

2. “Are You Ready to Meet Your Fixer Uppers?” (Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Texas Monthly, October 2016)

“But a funny thing happened along the way to success. Chip and Joanna Gaines and their idyllic show about living an idyllic life in an idyllic place became the unwitting symbol of the redemption of a storied Texas city that had had mostly negative national attention…” The personable husband-and-wife team of HGTV’s Fixer Upper are renovating the reputation of Waco, Texas—one home at a time.

3. “How ‘House Hunters’ Explains America.” (Jen Doll, Pacific Standard, February 2014)

“But perhaps the most American thing of all about House Hunters, in the end, is its underlying theme of unbridled domestic aspiration paired with the reality of compromise, the appearance versus the actuality of what we want and what we can have.” In her many years of watching House Hunters, Doll has experienced far more than just a glimpse into other people’s searches for a home.

4. “Who Benefits From the Tiny House Revolution?” (Doree Shafrir, BuzzFeed, July 2016)

Curiosity over tiny houses has grown, increased by shows like Tiny House Nation and Tiny House, Big Living, which explore the desire to live a downsized, debt-free life. But who really benefits from the tiny house movement? “Even tiny houses come with their own set of privilege and class assumptions that end up dictating who gets to live in them and where they get to put them,” says Shafrir.

5. “An Open Letter to Tiny House Hunters.” (Chuck Wendig, Terrible Minds, May 2016)

“I worry that after a year living in one of those tiny houses, you’ll need to buy another tiny house, and then another, and another, until you’re just stacking tiny house atop tiny house in a teetering Jenga tower of hobbit homes and shipping containers and then one day it falls and crushes your whole hipster family.” Author Chuck Wendig addresses tiny house seekers in a hilarious letter on his blog.

6. “Hey, Here’s an Idea for a Show.” (Steven Kurutz, The New York Times, August 2014)

This older profile of Jonathan and Drew Scott, also known as the “Property Brothers,” sheds light on the lives of these identical twins, which HGTV executive Kathleen Finch referred to as the “cable equivalent of box-office movie stars.”