If there is one thing that folks probably expect less from The Learning Channel than a series that creates buzz, it could only be a personality who generates heat. But both have been delivered in a big way by Trading Spaces, the undeniably addictive little reality program that showcases resident carpenter Ty Pennington's handsome mug and hacksaw-sharp wit.
Is the Atlanta, Ga., businessman ready to become the thinking couch potato's sex symbol? And how. "I'm going to be [TLC's] Schneider [the womanizing handyman of One Day at a Time]," he tells TV Guide Online with a laugh. "It's funny — I'm just being the same sarcastic idiot that I've always been, only now I get to share it with a lot more people.
"I've always been a ham and I've always made things with my hands," he adds, "so this is really a perfect gig for me."
TLC will say. Largely due to Pennington's popularity, Trading Spaces — in which neighbors team up with interior designers to redecorate one room of each other's homes within 48 hours on a budget of $1,000 — is building an increasingly large and loyal audience. Not only has the "half soap opera, half do-it-yourself show" (as its breakout star describes it) posted double-digit gains across almost all demos compared to last year's numbers, but, wonder of wonders, eggheads and tool-belt fetishists aren't necessarily its most devoted fans.
"I'm amazed at how many people come up to me and say, 'Hey, dig the show,'" Pennington admits. "I'm like, 'Wow, even they watch, from hip people to old people to young people.' Even more insane, kids are watching it — at the same time as TRL is on. We'll come out of a house, and there will be this whole crowd of people acting like I'm a Backstreet Boy. I'm like, 'Thank you very much, but I'm reeaally not that special.'"
On the contrary, so unique is the sometime model and actor's appeal that Trading Spaces may wind up doing as much for his showbiz career as he has done to boost the program's viewership. "I'm getting calls for acting jobs, and certain networks are calling, too," he reveals, "but I'm also getting calls from people who want me to build furniture for them."I don't know what's going to happen, but I love all the attention, that's all I can say. And I've got to live it while it's here, God knows, 'cause I'll be back to framing houses and Sheetrocking in no time."