Paige Davis, <EM>Trading Spaces</EM> Paige Davis, Trading Spaces
Paige Davis — perky as ever, but older, wiser and with darker, straighter hair — thought long and hard before agreeing to return to TLC's Trading Spaces, the genre-establishing home-makeover show that made her famous in 2001 and then abruptly fired her in 2005 because producers wanted the show to go in a different direction. Which it did — straight down the ratings tubes. Now Davis is back and the new season premieres tonight at 10 pm/ET.

When new management took over at TLC last year, one of their first priorities was revitalizing Trading Spaces, which at its peak drew as many as nine million viewers and was consistently Saturday night's top-rated cable show. Brant Pinvidic, TLC's new senior vice president of programming, decided the only way to save the franchise was to get Davis back in the fold. It wasn't easy. "We felt like the bad boyfriend who had dumped her at the prom," Pinvidic says, "and now we're asking for a second chance."

Davis, who has spent most of the intervening years doing musical theater (including a Broadway run of Chicago) after a development deal with CBS for possible talk shows and a sitcom didn't pan out, was interested — but with conditions. She wanted the old gang back together again: original designers Doug Wilson, Hildi Santo Tomas, Laurie Hickson-Smith and Frank Bielec. And she insisted the show return to its original low-budget premise — two rooms, two days, for $1,000 or less — a format that had been tinkered with to the point of unrecognizability as the show tried to keep up with the wave of more, shall we say, "extreme" makeover shows that had flourished in its wake.

"To watch something that I loved crash and burn was really sad," says Davis, covered in sawdust and debris on the set of a house in Palm Desert, California, visible evidence that the New Paige will be just as involved, if not more so, than she was before. She is everywhere on the set, asking questions, vacuuming, pitching in, even when the cameras aren't on. Trading Spaces, she says, is still about the fun of making over a room on a budget and an impossible deadline, and it's still about the homeowners and the designers. But it's also clear that, in many ways, the show is also about her.

"To not use a host was one of the more visible destructive mistakes they made in terms of the fans," she says. "I know what the fans love. And what they don't like. They wanted the old show back. They wanted the theme music and the fast-motion overhead camera and the goofy antics. And they wanted the family back."

Still, there have been tweaks, the most noticeable being that there will be more interesting backstories for the homeowners, who won't necessarily be neighbors but will have some connection. The Palm Desert episode involved a divorced couple, the ex-husband and wife making over each others' bedrooms. So yes, there are issues beyond whether to upholster the headboards.

"I was really nervous when they started talking about storylines and rivals and conflict; I was like, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa, we are not Jerry Springer here,'" she says. "But I'm satisfied that it doesn't overtake the show. I'm all for it, because I think it allows the audience to be more invested in whether the homeowners actually like the rooms.

"But it doesn't get in the way at all. We're still the same innocent, charming show we were. I kept saying that the show has to have bounce. It's got to be goofy and corny and bouncy."

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