Crossing the pond with “Love It or List It”

Realscreen talks to Raise the Roof Productions' co-creative director Andrew Jackson about how the company tweaked Canadian format Love It or List It for the UK market with property experts Kirstie Allsopp (pictured, left) and Phil Spencer (right).
May 12, 2015

When Canadian property format Love It or List It crossed the pond to the UK last month, there was one important consideration to be made: would British audiences know what it meant to “list it”?

After all, most Brits aren’t privy to North American real estate parlance, and according to Andrew Jackson (pictured below) – co-creative director of Glasgow-headquartered Raise the Roof Productions, which is producing the British version for broadcaster Channel 4 – the phrase isn’t obviously property-related.

Love It or List It - which was originally commissioned by Canada’s W Network in 2008 and is produced by Toronto-based Big Coat Productions – sees interior designer Hilary Farr and real estate agent David Visentin convince homeowners to either “love” their home and renovate it, or “list” it for sale and purchase another. A spin-off series titled Love It or List It, Too was also sold to U.S. net HGTV, and the program is now one of the first Canadian lifestyle formats to travel overseas.

“I think it makes sense when you hear it and understand it, but to begin with, ‘list it’ doesn’t instantly mean ‘sell,’” Jackson tells realscreen. “We would say ‘do up’ or ‘sell up.’ That would be a more natural way of selling it.”

It’s for this reason the Channel 4 program is titled Kirstie and Phil’s Love It or List It, with a focus on UK property experts Kirstie Allsopp and Phil Spencer, who became household names in the territory for their long-running Channel 4 series Location Location Location, and in 2010, founded Raise the Roof Productions.

When the broadcaster optioned the format from Beyond Distribution last year, Raise the Roof pitched the idea of Allsopp and Spencer hosting the series and won the contract. As such, unlike the North American format, the inclusion of “Kirstie and Phil” in the UK title garners a brand recognition that helps British audiences understand the gist of the program.

According to Beyond International, the UK version premiered to more than 2.2 million viewers, up 56% for the 8 p.m. time slot.

andrew jackson

Andrew Jackson

One of the UK program’s biggest advocates is Big Coat Productions executive producer Maria Armstrong, who consulted with Raise the Roof on the making of the British version. The exec says the indie has followed the format “to a T,” and agrees it makes sense to highlight Allsopp and Spencer.

“They have an enormous following in England and to see them and their relationship is basically what we’ve built with Hillary and David, though theirs was already built,” she says, adding that negotiations are currently underway to take Love It or List It to a couple of other countries.

“It makes sense to make them the emphasis,” says Armstrong. “That’s why the show is successful: it’s a great format with a decision to be made, and featuring two hosts you want to see.”

On the six-episode series, which debuted in the UK on April 28, Allsopp oversees the redesigns of homes, while Spencer presents homeowners with new properties to choose from. But while having distinct roles for the presenters is very much in line with the Canadian format, a number of small but necessary changes also needed to be made.

Jackson says the Channel 4 show sees initial talks between presenters and homeowners take place at their homes instead of cafés or bars, such as in the North American series, and a production vehicle was also added to the mix.

“Because we’re travelling up and down the country, we’ve got a car,” says the exec, who joined Raise the Roof in 2012 from Channel 4, where he served as deputy head of features. “We’ve got our own production vehicle that we rig with Go Pros. We tend to rig the car up and they have a chat on the way and they kind of work out how things are going.

“But in terms of the format, we do the house tour with the realtor and designer, we do the chat with the contributors, we do the build, we do the house searches,” says Jackson. “And then we do the big ‘love it or list it’ question at the end.”

The exec says property shows in the UK have traditionally fared well, with most major networks having their own property series in the mid-2000s. However, an extended slump in the British housing market saw the popularity of such programming waning, and it wasn’t until a rise in the market over the past year that there has been renewed interest in the genre.

As for what Jackson finds most appealing about the series, he says it’s the straight-forward nature of the ultimate ‘love it or list  it’ question and the simplicity of the format that resonates.

“I just love the ending. I love that kind of question, and asking them quite dramatically if you’re going to love it or list it – it’s a killer question,” says Jackson. “So it’s the simplicity. Your house doesn’t work, and one wants to move, one wants to stay. It’s a proper dilemma and by the end of the show you’ve got a proper decision.”

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