Ty and his crew invade a small Minnesota town for the feel-good hit's 100th episode (Sunday, Nov. 25, 7 pm/ET on ABC).
Practically everyone in Minnetonka, Minnesota — everyone, that is, except the Swenson-Lee family — knew what was going to happen on the morning of Aug. 22. They'd all been warned, discreetly, that every street within a half-mile radius of the Swenson-Lee home, at the corner of Park Lane and Oberlin Road, was about to be blocked off, that barricades would be manned by the local police and no one would be allowed to enter the "impact zone" without a special authorized pass.
Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, ABC's feel-good Sunday-night hit guaranteed to tug at your heart, bring a tear to your eye and remind you, frequently, that Kenmore appliances and Craftsman tools are available at Sears, was coming to town to shoot its 100th episode (a two-hour special airing Nov. 25 and featuring return appearances by some of the show's most memorable families). Adjustments would have to be made.
A Manhattan-worthy traffic jam of sightseers and construction vehicles would inch along the perimeter of the normally tranquil, wooded suburb west of Minneapolis for the next seven days. It was an endless rumbling convoy of heavy machinery and flatbed trucks loaded with all manner of equipment and supplies, everything from lumber and cement to port-a-potties and Vitamin Water. Hundreds of carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and contractors and thousands of local volunteers would descend upon Minnetonka like an occupying army, hard-hat battalions wearing the show's signature blue T-shirts, without which no one was allowed on the property. ("It's 'Extreme Takeover,'" jokes Paige Hemmis, one of the show's designers.)
"We are a circus, but we are a circus that actually brings a very small number of performers with us," explains exec producer Denise Cramsey. "The real circus is all the other people from the community who show up to help."
Even those who didn't know the Swenson-Lees personally had seen heartrending media reports about their story. In September 2006, Erik and Vicki Swenson, popular coaches at nearby schools and the parents of three kids of their own, including infant twin daughters, had taken in the four children of Vicki's murdered sister, Teri Lee.
The Lee children — Taylor, 13, Tyler, 11, Trevor, 9, and Tara, 7 — were home when their mother and her boyfriend were both shot by Teri's estranged ex-boyfriend, against whom she already had a restraining order. Because their father had died in a 2001 auto accident, the kids had nowhere to go.
So Erik and Vicki made a place for them in their family and the suddenly crowded home on Park Lane. Vicki, who has become a prominent advocate for increased enforcement of restraining orders and domestic violence laws, was also pregnant with her fourth child. They clearly needed more living space but didn't have the resources to afford it.
Which is why the students at Hopkins High, especially the volleyball players coached by Vicki, decided to contact Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. The family knew they were finalists and that they'd hear whether they'd made the show before the morning was done. But until the moment the bus pulled up and Ty Pennington jumped out, they didn't know they'd been selected. They didn't hear Pennington's greeting the first time around, because they were too busy in the living room singing "The Wheels on the Bus" so loudly that they didn't realize what was happening outside their front door.
But everything after that — from the demolition of the old house on Day 2 to the revelation of the new one on Day 7 — went off without a hitch. In 100 episodes over four years, with houses built in every imaginable climate and locale, the show has never failed to finish a project on time. The Swenson-Lees' dazzling new 5,600- square-foot house — complete with seven bedrooms, five bathrooms and an elaborately landscaped yard — was actually constructed and ready to be furnished in only 96 hours.
"This has made all of us so happy," Vicki said after the week was over and more than 5,000 well-wishers, turning the adjacent lawns into an impromptu amphitheater, cheered the family's return. "And we could all use some happy for a change."
"Other people have tried to do shows like this," Pennington says, plopping down in his trailer. "But for this to work, people have to trust what you're doing. One of the builders said to me last night, 'You guys are the real deal.' And that's what keeps us going. I don't know if we can do a hundred more. But we'll certainly give it a shot."
Check out Extremely heartfelt moments in our Online Video Guide.
The special double issue of TV Guide now on newsstands features our exclusive in-depth guide to Dancing with the Stars' remaining contenders. Try four risk-free issues of TV Guide now!
Send your comments on this feature to email@example.com.