Brady Connell and George Verschoor, exec producers of ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, talk to realscreen about the upcoming ninth season opener, which features First Lady Michelle Obama, and explain how they are marking the show’s 200th episode with an ambitious seven-houses-in-seven-days project.
The ninth season premiere episode, airing this Sunday (September 25), kicks off with a bang as America’s First Lady partakes in a build for a Navy veteran who is dedicated to helping fellow female veterans who have found themselves homeless.
Host Ty Pennington, Obama, builders and members of the community help rebuild Steps-N-Stages Jubilee House, a shelter and support house for homeless female veterans built by Barbara Marshall. The two-part episode also includes a tour of the White House and a one-on-one interview between Pennington and the First Lady.
The idea came about after Obama and the organization Joining Forces, which aims to support veterans, reached out to the producers to ask if they were helping a veteran or had a military episode in the works.
“She was completely open to working with us,” says Verschoor, who was the lead exec producer on the episode. “All the doors opened. We asked if they mind if we go to the White House and they said, ‘Sure! Do you want to be on the South Lawn or the North Lawn?’”
He adds that seeing the First Lady stepping off the bus to surprise Marshall was a great moment, and says her involvement in Extreme Makeover is a testament to the show. “Michelle Obama said many times it is her favorite show and one she watches with her family every week, and feels like it inspires her for the week.”
“Everyone should know that our First Lady is a hugger,” Connell added. “We had a big meeting to make sure we followed the proper protocol, to call her ‘Mrs. Obama’ and make sure we were on our best behavior, and when she got there she was like, ‘Hey guys!’ and gave everyone a big hug.”
In addition to having the White House stamp of approval on the show, Extreme Makeover is also reaching a milestone of 200 episodes, the 200th of which will see the team rebuilding seven homes in seven days in tornado-devastated Joplin, Missouri.
Connell explains that the Joplin episode coinciding with the 200th episode was purely coincidentally. “We didn’t even plan it that way, it sort of happened,” he said. “We’d been talking about Joplin for the five months after the tornadoes hit. Doing seven homes [will] easily be my most challenging shoot in my 25 years in non-fiction television. We’re going to have 10,000 volunteers and we’re using 16 different builders.” The episode will air on October 19.
Reflecting on the nine seasons of the Endemol USA-made show, Connell – who has been with the series since season five – says: “The fact that we are hitting our 200th episode in the season, it makes our whole staff so proud.”
Another important element of the show has been its host, he adds. “Ty is the heart and soul of the show,” Connell says. “He’s the most versatile and talented host I’ve ever worked with. He can connect with anyone on the most emotional level, whether it’s a single mom or ill child. He really has the ability to understand what hardship a family has faced and within 30 seconds, he’s got you laughing.”
In all, he promises a ninth season that is as entertaining, emotional and inspiring as it has ever been. Verschoor, meanwhile, adds that the show’s appeal over the years can be chalked up to the fact that Extreme Makeover “pulls off the impossible,” week after week.
Most importantly, both executive producers hope that the show continues to have a platform on ABC because of the good they are able to do with it. “The success of the show relates directly to being able to help future families,” said Connell.