For 199 episodes, Ty Pennington and his design team have led a television phenomenon that has helped deserving families in all 50 states. This Friday, January 13, at 8/7c, the 200th episode and series finale of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition airs on ABC. To all who have ever cried or laughed watching an episode of this series over the last 9 years, I hope you will set aside the two hours to watch what I believe is the most impressive feat of non-fiction television in a long while. From my experience, no factual television series has attempted to accomplish so much, by so many, for such a good cause, in one single episode.
The day after a massive F5 tornado hit the heart of Joplin, Missouri on May 22, 2011, George Verschoor and I asked the EM:HE team to commit to helping the people of Joplin however we could, as much as we could, as soon as we could. After all, Extreme Makeover was known for rebuilding lives, and here was a town in the heartland of America that was terrorized by one of the most devastating tornados on record. 8,000 residential dwellings were destroyed leaving 9,200 people to be displaced. 162 lives were lost.
We knew we couldn’t help just one family. So along with Sam Clifton, a builder who had helped us before from Springfield, MO, we challenged ourselves with something we had never done: 7 HOMES FOR 7 FAMILIES IN 7 DAYS. The logistics and casting began immediately. Of the seven families chosen (all of whom lost their homes completely), 2 lost children… literally ripped from the mothers’ arms while they tried to protect their families in their bathtubs. We knew the effort would be an emotional challenge as well as a physical challenge.
During the clean up of Joplin (prior to the build), 90,000+ volunteers came from all over the country to clear 3 million cubic yards of debris, to help families get into temporary housing, and to help over a thousand pets reunite with their original owners or find new homes. We were afraid that the people and businesses of Joplin might not be ready for another massive volunteer effort… would they come out to help seven of their neighbors when so many were still grieving, pulling their lives back together?
During the 7 days in October when we built the new homes, an astonishing 13,000 volunteers arrived to make the impossible happen. It was the greatest volunteer effort I have ever witnessed, and it was not only a testament to the spirit of the people of Joplin and the surrounding towns, it was a reaffirming tribute to the nature of Americans… when we get knocked down, we do what it takes to get up and come back stronger than ever. Neighbors helping neighbors is truly what America is all about, and it was displayed with infinite solidarity and humility that week in Joplin, MO.
The coordination was massive… the skilled workers, the materials, the transportation, the media, the food. Thanks to the generosity of the people of Missouri, to numerous non-profits and church organizations, to our steadfast partners Sears and CVS Pharmacy, and thanks to the stellar builders and volunteers who stepped up in incomprehensible ways, not only was the build successful and on time, but many additional inspiring deeds occurred that week: over 2,000 emergency kits were distributed to Joplin residents; each high school senior residing in the city of Joplin received a $1,000 scholarship to college; a stunning volunteer memorial was created; a new basketball court and play structure were constructed at the city park; a mobile art studio was created to help children deal with the trauma of the tornado through innovate art programs; each of the families was given a dependable storm shelter to provide solace and security; and $1,000,000 -- that’s one million dollars, a cash amount that drives entire seasons of hit shows -- was pledged to help additional Joplin families affected by the storm.
After a terrific trip to Walt Disney World (thank you for 9 faithful years WDW!), the seven families came back to Joplin and stood behind 7 different buses. When the buses moved, not only did the families see seven new, distinctive, affordable homes, they saw a new beautiful neighborhood with pristine sidewalks and aesthetic landscaping. These families, although humble, are pioneers -- all of them desired to return to the center of Joplin to spearhead the rebuilding efforts that still lie ahead. Despite what they have been through, they all look forward to helping others rebuild lives, and helping Joplin restore its glow as one of the great small towns in America.
From ABC, Endemol, Ty and the design team, and the entire 200+ staff and crew of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, a public THANK YOU to the city and people of Joplin, to the thousands of volunteers who came from as far away as Alaska and Australia, to the local universities and organizations, to the amazing build teams, and most of all to the families who allowed us to tell their stories so that millions will be inspired by their strength, character, and gratitude.
In the landscape of non-fiction television -- indeed, in the entire world of media -- it is rare that a group of professionals are able to experience such an epic demonstration of volunteerism and community love. We appreciate that opportunity from the bottom of our hearts. Let the rebuilding of Joplin continue, and now with Extreme Makeover: Home Edition coming to an end, let’s all work to create equally compelling content that has the ability to improve lives.
I could not be more honored to have spent these years with the finest staff and crew in television, on a show that families could actually watch together. Deepest thanks to George Verschoor, the Executive Producer with whom I had the pleasure of sharing show running responsibilities, who continued to raise the bar on an already difficult show to produce – his commitment to quality is unsurpassed. Hats off to Tom Forman, Denise Cramsey, and Anthony Dominici for their passionate leadership during their impactful seasons of the series, and to the hundreds of staff and crew members who worked tirelessly on the show during its nine year run. Thank you to the celebrities who graciously lent their talents to help our families, and to raise awareness about issues such as bullying, texting while driving, cancer, heart and lung disease, mental health, wounded warriors, HIV/AIDS, and organ and tissue donation. Thanks to the executives at ABC and Endemol, who sustained their commitment to bring goodness into the living rooms of America, and who supported the show with passion, excellence, and often tears.
A massive thank you to the viewers of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Without you watching week after week, the show would not have been able to transform the lives of over 200 families and communities. We of course hope that ABC will find a time in the future to bring the show back so that more families who have faced hardship will get a helping hand. In the meantime, remember good work doesn’t have to be initiated by a television show, or even a non-profit. It can be initiated on your block, at your school, and in your own backyard. As Teddy Roosevelt said, “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” I’m proud to report that in my estimation, every EM:HE crew and staff member, and every volunteer to have donned a blue shirt has officially received the best prize that life has to offer.
Lastly, to Ty, Michael, Paulie, Paige, Tracy, Johnny, Ed, Eduardo, Jillian, Tanya, Xzibit, Didi, Leigh Anne, Rib, Jeff, Sabrina (and in the early years Preston, Daniel, Dawson, Constance, Alle)…. I feel like a family member feels when they are unable to express their gratitude about their house... Thank you for your vision, your all nighters, your vulnerability, your tears, your leadership, and your hugs. (Crying right now…moving on!)
…So this Friday night, the designers, the executives, the storytellers, the technicians, the builders, the artists, the volunteers, and the fans of EM:HE invite you to watch a two hour finale that will ultimately be viewed in 180 countries, and will show millions of viewers the resilient spirit of the people from the Heart of America. And let’s hope that television, indeed all media, in its day-to-day use of the public airwaves and Internet, will strive, at least periodically, to reach a comparable level of decency and goodwill.
Los Angeles, CA
January 12, 2012
As a reminder to all crew, staff, and designers… especially those who spent all nine years on the show, here is a remarkable list of which you should be very proud:
Extreme Makeover: Home Edition Awards and Nominations 2003-2011
2011 Critics Choice Television Awards nominee
2011 VH1 Do Something! Awards nominee
2011 NAACP Image Awards nominee
2010 United Nations NGO Most Positive Show in the World Award
2010 National Marrow Donor Award
2010 Equip for Equality Media Award
2010 Congressional Coalition on Adoption “Angels in Adoption” Award
2010 NAACP Image Award (WON)
2010 Genesis Award from the Humane Society (HONORABLE MENTION)
2010 NAPTE Innovator Award (National Assoc. of Programming Television Executives)
2009 Television Academy Honors - Recognizing “Television with a Conscience”
2009 AFTRA Media and Entertainment Excellence Award (The AMEES)
2008 Emmy Award nominee -- Outstanding Reality Show
2007 Emmy Award nominee -- Outstanding Reality Show
2007 American Legion National Commander’s Public Relations Award - assisting and increasing awareness for American veterans and those in uniform (WON)
2007 Hammer of Hope Award – Habitat for Humanity's Builder’s Ball (WON)
2007 People’s Choice Award nominee
2006 Emmy Awards -- Outstanding Reality Show (WON)
2006 People’s Choice Awards (WON)
2006 Family Television Award for Ty Pennington as Reality Host (WON)
2006 Media Access Award (WON)
2006 PGA Award nominee (Producers Guild of America)
2006 Parents Television Council Seal of Approval
2006 Genesis Award from the Humane Society (WON)
2006 National Multiple Sclerosis Society Award
2006 Starkey Hearing Foundation Children Award for Humanitarian Efforts towards hearing impaired children
2005 Emmy Awards -- Outstanding Reality Show (WON)
2005 BMI TV Music Award (WON)
2005 Image Award nominee for Best Primetime Series
2005 American Heart Association Learn and Live Award
2005 PGA Award nominee (Producers Guild of America)
2005 Pancreatic Cancer Action Network Honor (PanCAN)
2005 American Lung Association Media Innovation Award
2005 Vision Award
2005 People’s Choice Awards (WON)
2005 US Health and Human Services Award
2005 TV Cares Ribbon of Hope Award -- Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and its TV CARES committee - HIV/AIDS awareness (WON)
2004 Parents Television Council Seal of Approval
2004 Teen Choice Award nominee - Reality/Variety TV Star -Ty Pennington
2004 Emmy Award nominee -- Outstanding Reality Show