Exclusive: Paige Davis talks about her return to TLC's 'Trading Spaces'
By Christopher Rocchio, 01/24/2008
If you would have told Paige Davis she'd ever return to Trading Spaces after TLC decided to go with a "host-less" format three years ago, she wouldn't have believed you.
But that will be the case when Trading Spaces' eighth season -- featuring a new revamped Paige-hosted show format -- premieres Saturday, January 26 at 10PM ET/PT on TLC.
On Wednesday, Paige talked to Reality TV World about the "harsh" nature in which she was fired from the show in January 2005; what ultimately led to her decision to come back; why she's not a big fan of the new promos TLC has been running; and how Trading Spaces' core concept will remain intact but have viewers more "invested" in the outcome.
Paige: I thought it was a joke. I really did. I really, really did. Because I would not think TLC would have ever asked me back. The departing was relatively unattractive... and harsh. It was something that never, ever in a million years occurred to me.
But then I realized and was told it wasn't the same people who decided to let me go that were asking me back. So then it made a lot more sense, and I started to kind of pay attention and hear what they had in mind and what they were thinking. They were sort of in-tune with all the things that I had thought and felt in the years previous. They wanted to return the show to it's original format, and it's original fun and bounce. We established the rules of the game (laughing), so I listened -- and I liked what I heard -- so I considered it.
Reality TV World: About how long did that whole process take, from when you were contacted until you decided to come back?
Paige: A couple of months.
Reality TV World: Could you elaborate a little bit more about some of the Trading Spaces format changes before you left that you didn't like?
Paige: Well, we started... It's just all different things. They started adding "bonus rooms" -- where you could spend more than $1,000, which I didn't think... All of these changes were made as answer to compete with all the [other home makeover] shows that we had sort of generated. I guess what I felt was all the different changes that we were making in order to compete with those other shows weren't the right answer. Adding a potential $1,000 to a room is not an answer to have to compete with those other shows. What it does is it changes who we are -- it changes our mission and it changes our brand.
Our brand was all about time-crunch, budget-crunch -- not about getting more money sometimes and sometimes not. It just made it muddy. It sort of confused our whole mission, is what I felt and thought. We lost our theme music and a lot of the charming elements of the show that people loved so much, like the overhead camera that would do all the fast motion. We started to lose some of our more familiar faces, and then the decision to not use a host -- and to not use me -- obviously I disagreed with that. But not just on a personal level. I didn't think it was the right way for the show to go either.
So there was just a lot of things, and all of those things were done as a way of just trying every possible thing they could think of two keep the show fresh and keep the show new in an age where there were so many other shows we were competing against.
Reality TV World: You just mentioned the "host-less" format. How did you find out about TLC's decision to drop you? It wasn't anything that had previously discussed with you, right?
Paige: It was something they just dropped on me. But I think the new regime -- so to speak -- at TLC, I think they really hit upon the way to make the show fresh without changing who we are and without changing what the show is. So now, we'll be returning to our old format and all the old charming elements that went into the show, including our theme music and the overhead cameras and also a return to the original rules, a return to using a host -- and that host is me, which is a very familiar face.
But the only difference... Well there will be some production quality differences, which is great. Like we get to use two cameras in each house now instead of just one, which helps production tremendously. Just different things like that, the production value has gone up on the show, with more money being spent on the production -- not necessarily in the room.
The other main difference that allows us to stay true to who we are but keep the show fresh, is we are looking for homeowners to trade that have much more of a story. There's much more invested in the reason they want to trade. We're not just settling for four homeowners who have great personalities and want to do a new room for each other. There's got to be something else in their story, whether it's something really funny, or something interesting, or potentially something moving. There's got to be something at stake, there's got to more at stake than just whether or not they like the rooms.
One of the best examples is we had a costume designer boss and her assistant, and it was the assistant's idea to trade spaces because she wanted to do a new room in her boss' home to prove that she had design taste, design style, design ability and that she was ready to move up, to move on. She was ready for more than just fetching her [boss'] coffee. (laughing)
It's still all the same rules -- the same format -- but when you're watching, obviously she has a tremendous amount invested in the room, whether her boss likes the room. Therefore, the design teams have more invested in the outcome of the rooms, which translates to the viewer being more invested in the outcome of each room.
Paige: I definitely loved that one [example I just mentioned]. When it works, it really just works like a charm. Another one of my favorite trades, we sort of capitalized on the 80-year long rivalry between the branches of the military. We had a couple of neighbors -- it wasn't base housing, they're obviously different branches of the military -- we had one home that was Air Force, Air Force, Air Force and the other home was Navy, Navy, Navy. That rivalry between the two of them, in and of itself, would have been a really fun... Just a fun thing to go through to prove who's best.
But there was actually even more to their story. The husband is actively on duty in the Air Force over in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is very often not home at all. When he's been away, the wife has been really leaning on the neighbors next door. They have become... As neighbors, they have become dear, dear friends and they've been there to support her, they've cried on each other's shoulders, she and her children are over at the neighbor's house all the time having dinner and they've become a real extension of the family.
She wanted to trade spaces and give her neighbors a new family room as a thank you for everything they've done for her, to be there for her. And the neighbor's wanted to redo the other couple's master bedroom so that in the times that he is home, they can make the most of it and have a really romantic retreat that they can return to.
Obviously, it would totally suck if either set came home and didn't like their room. The audience is entirely invested in this really beautiful thing they're doing for each other. And at the same time, we also had the overlying "I'm going to sink your battleship! You suck" [rivalry going on]. In the master bedroom, they put a sailor hat on the bedpost (laughing), in the Air Force bedroom. It's just so funny, all of that stuff. But there was a lot at stake. You really care. You really care whether these people are going to like their rooms.
Reality TV World: You just mentioned those two couples are neighbors, but one of the big changes from your first tour of duty on the show is that the two teams aren't always neighbors anymore.
Paige: They often are neighbors. What we found is that we can find neighbors. But we are no longer making it a requirement.
Reality TV World: Okay, so how's that change worked logistically? Are you doing a lot of flying back and forth or are the teams still pretty close to each other?
Paige: Yeah. It's a lot more difficult on production. Obviously they have to be in the same city, I do have to be able to get between both places. But I've often had to travel well over an hour, even if [only] because of traffic.
Reality TV World: When your return was announced, TLC said you were still working to finalize which of the other designers and carpenters would be coming back. What familiar faces will viewers see this season?
Paige: Well we've got [Doug Wilson], and [Hildi Santo-Thomas], and [Frank Bielec], and [Laurie Hickson-Smith], and [Edward Walker].
Reality TV World: What's it been like to work with them again?
Paige: It's been awesome. That's been awesome. We've been shooting the reunions for web content, so people will eventually be able to go online and see when I was first reunited with Laurie or Hildi or Doug or whatever.
Reality TV World: How many swaps have you done so far for the new season?
Paige: So far we've done 10. We'll do 13, and then they'll be a break, and then we'll most likely come back and shoot 13 more.
Reality TV World: In making the announcement of your return, TLC's current president -- Angela Shapiro-Mathes -- called you "the heart of the series," which was pretty much the exact opposite of the "host-less" announcement that almost seemed to blame you for taking some of the spotlight off the homeowners and designers. Was it a little vindicating to hear that acknowledgement?
Paige: Absolutely. Absolutely...
Reality TV World: It sounds kind of ridiculous given TLC airs shows like LA Ink now, but during your last year on the show, you were involved in a couple of minor tabloid stories that supposedly upset the folks that were running TLC at the time. Do you think that played a role in their decision to let you go?
Paige: I really have no idea what went into their mind for that. I really don't know... I know none of it ever upset the fans. I think the fans understood what was rumor and what wasn't and stood by me entirely.
Reality TV World: Given the way things ended, do you think you still would have been interested in coming back if the old TLC management was around?
Reality TV World: Some longtime Trading Spaces viewers have expressed concern that a production company that is best known for edgier shows like Hell's Kitchen, Paradise Hotel and The Swan is taking over the show. What would you say to those folks?
Paige: Well, I have to trust that won't happen. I do know that we are delving into our homeowners' feelings and we are asking them to express on camera all of their thoughts and feelings as to why they want to trade spaces. We have found really good stories. They do have really good reasons for trading spaces, and I think the reasons are very interesting. The final edit of the show is something I'm not in control over, so I [also] think about that. I hope the fans will speak out if they don't like it, and I hope they'll speak out if they love it.
Reality TV World: The promos TLC has been running have gushed about "who can possibly manage this type of emotional makeover" and you've already touched upon some of the emotions involved. Do you find yourself doing more refereeing and counseling this time around?
Paige: Sometimes I have found myself in that position. I actually don't like those ads (laughing) that call me a "therapist" and a "marriage counselor." In fact, it puts a major knot in my stomach when I see them. But what I try most to do when I'm actually in production and I'm actually on set with these homeowners, we just try to remember that above all else I'm the leader in their experience and I'm their friend. Whatever it is they're going through or thinking, I don't have a degree, I don't have any real knowledge on how to get anybody through something. But I do have life experience and I am a friend. That's one thing that I know how to do and how to be. Mostly, I just sort of put myself in the position of if this was my friend, what would I say? Or if this was my sister or my brother, what would I say?
Reality TV World: You spent your time away from the show performing on stage in a few different shows. How was that experience and what else did you end up doing during your time away?
Paige: I thought I was going to have this huge break when I got let go from Trading Spaces, but I suddenly got busier than ever. I signed a development deal with King World [Productions] and CBS, and worked on trying to get some shows on the air in that two-and-a-half year period. That was just -- while I wasn't successful getting anything on the air -- but it was a tremendously creative and fulfilling experience to be able to work on a bunch of different shows.
Then I did a ton of theater. I was able to do regional theater in my parent's hometown of Pittsburgh, which my mom was super-ecstatic. She was able to tell all of her friends to come (laughing). One of the more sort of exciting things I did was the national tour of Sweet Charity -- the Broadway show Sweet Charity. I had wanted to play that title role since I was 12-years-old. That was a real personal triumph for me. It was just great, some of the best work I've done. I was just really pleased and personally very, very happy.
I also wrote and premiered my first ever one-woman cabaret, which was just crazy (laughing)! I did that in Austin at the Austin Cabaret Theater.
Reality TV World: It does sound like you were able to keep busy during your time away from Trading Spaces. Did you get to spend time with your husband Patrick?
Paige: I was very busy creatively. I think that the whole two-and-a-half years was a real journey for me creatively. I was doing a lot of things that sort of took me out of my comfort zone and just really expanded my knowledge and ability. And, yes! I did get to spend a lot of time with my husband.
Reality TV World: You mentioned the development deal with King World Productions and how nothing ever came out of it. What happened?
Paige: Some efforts were made for a day-time syndicated talk... would probably have been a talk format. A script was written for me for a sitcom. I worked with the production company to develop a variety show. Those were the three main projects I worked on.
As is the case, Trading Spaces is such an unusual situation. I really sort of struck gold. I hit the jackpot my first time out. I had never done television before, so I had quite the romanticized experience to have my first show be this major cable success.
Reality TV World: What is it about the show that you think resonates with viewers? During its heyday, Trading Spaces was the No. 1 cable show on Saturday nights.
Paige: I think people were really concentrating on their homes a lot. I think a lot of it had to do with timing. There's been a lot of people who have said that [September 11] had a big impact on them, and I think there's probably a lot of truth to that. People really started staying at home, really started cherishing their families, really started wanting to be with their families in their homes.
Trading Spaces was all about home, and very much a family program. It was a program that was instant and pure and fun enough that parents would allow their kids to watch it and wanted to watch it with their kids. But it was also hip and fun enough that kids weren't embarrassed to watch it with their parents or say they watched it with their parents. The whole family could enjoy it together, and everybody could be cool and hip... I think that had a lot to do with it too.
We were sort of the first home improvement show that made that stuff just fun. We were never a how-to show. Many people got a lot of great ideas on Trading Spaces and would try to replicate them in their home, and every once in a while you would pick up tips of how to do things, but that was never our mission or our goal, to be a how-to show. It was always about the homeowners going through that experience, and that's something that everyone can relate to. And everyone can relate to a before and an after.
Reality TV World: Given it shoots in homes all around the country, Trading Spaces obviously requires a lot of travel. About how many weeks out of the year are you on the road for the show?
Paige: That's one of the reasons that I agreed to come back. One of the first questions I asked was how many episodes were we going to be doing. Because when I had finished before, we were doing 75 episodes a season -- and because of the format changes -- those episodes were not just two days in length. We were ambushing people and surprising them, we were covering all the shopping that was going on. So it was four days per episode. That was a real toll on me, being away from home and being away from my husband Patrick.
So when I found out it would only be 26 episodes a season, and we would go back to the original format -- where it was only three days of shooting, one prep day and then two days of work -- that was obviously very instrumental in my decision to return.
Reality TV World: Everyone jokes about how you'd have been "Paige Page" if you'd taken Patrick's name, but your Paige is actually your middle name, right?
Paige: Yes, Paige is my middle name.
Reality TV World: So is there a story behind why you didn't initially use "Mindy Davis" as your stage name?
Paige: Oh there's a HUGE story. A long story. I had always wanted to go by Paige, especially when I got to college. I thought Mindy was just a little too (in a high-pitched, squeaky voice), "Mindy!" And I always wanted to go by Paige, but I never did because that would mean standing in line somewhere (laughing). You know I had to go down to the DMV and I didn't want to do that.
But my parents and my family teased me quite a lot that I wanted to go by Paige, and they started saying, "Oh. She's Mindy Paige now. Mindy Paige..." And I was like, "Oh! I kind of like that. Mindy Paige, like one name." So I started using all three names -- Mindy Paige Davis -- and that became my full name. I put it on all my credit cards, I always signed "Mindy Paige Davis," of course my head shots and my stage name was Mindy Paige Davis.
Then when I was engaged trying to figure out if I want to take my husband's last name, I'd have to drop my Paige (laughing), because I'm not going to be "Mindy Paige Page." So what will I go by? Am I going to be Mindy Page? Mindy Davis-Page? Mindy Paige Davis? So I didn't know what to do.
Then I got the job on Trading Spaces and they said to me in a conference call, "Hey! Is Mindy short for anything?" And I was like, "Nope! That's my name!" [They said] "Oh, well we were wondering if you might go by Paige because we think it has more authority, if you're going in yelling at everybody about time and budget it might be hard to take someone seriously if their name is (in a high-pitched, squeaky voice) Mindy."
So I was like, "Oh my God! I can't believe you're asking this! I always wanted to go by Paige!" I said, "But first, let me find out if there's a Paige Davis in any of the unions, because I'm not going to get known as Paige Davis and then not be able to be Paige Davis in everything. Also, let me just run it by my fiance and tell him I'm not taking his last name because his last name is Page." (laughing)
Reality TV World: So he gave you the go ahead?
Paige: Oh he didn't care (laughing)... He was like, "Get out! No way!" I still haven't changed it legally, because like I said, that would mean standing in a line somewhere (laughing). So it really is actually just my stage name is Paige Davis, but basically everyone knows me as Paige Davis. But when I fly, I still have to fly as Mindy Paige Davis (laughing)... It's on my passport, drivers license, credit cards, bank account.