As far as ABC's Emmy-nominated Extreme Makeover: Home Edition is concerned, there is no such thing as a "sophomore jinx."

Extreme Makeover: Home Edition drew stronger-than-expected ratings in its mideseason debut last year, perhaps due to the presence of former Trading Spaces star carpenter Ty Pennington. In its second year, unlike many other reality shows, it has improved on that start to become one of ABC's stunning Nielsen success stories (along with the show that follows it on Sunday nights, Desperate Housewives, and Lost).

The show now draws about 15 million total viewers and has spent the first month of the new season residing in the Nielsen Top 20 -- the least-hyped of the three reality shows to do so (the other two are Mark Burnett productions that air on Thursday nights: Survivor for CBS and The Apprentice for NBC). In addition, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition has landed in the Top 10 shows among viewers between ages 18-49, the most desirable demographic for advertisers.

In light of the show's success, according to the Detroit News, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition is about to pick up a new sponsor and a new reward for the "makeover" families. Ford Motor Company has joined the show as a principal sponsor beginning with the episode to air on October 17, and company spokesman Jon Harmon said that Ford's vehicles would not only be featured on the show, but that each of the show's participating families will receive a brand-new Ford along with their home renovations.

The families will be given one of Ford's redesigned "marquee vehicles" for the 2005 model year: the 500 sedan, the Mustang sports coupe, the F-series Super Duty pickup, the Escape hybrid SUV or the Freestyle crossover vehicle. As with the renovations, Ford will "match" the car chosen to the family. "We're actually looking at the family's situation," Richard Stoddart, a Ford marketing manager, told the Detroit News. "What are their unique needs? We will customize the vehicles we give them to their unique situation."

Although Extreme Makeover: Home Edition advocates the use of dubious tax return positions to reduce contestants' taxes on the home improvements, there is no escaping the taxman with regard to the income value of the free car (though Ford does pick up the state sales taxes and licensing fees on the cars). But contestants don't seem to care. Said Stoddart, "The people's reaction to the vehicles is just unbelievable," perhaps because they had no foreknowledge about the auto gift.

Given the recent ratings performances of other home makeover shows, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition's increasing popularity is somewhat surprising. Since Ty Pennington's departure from Trading Spaces, the show has suffered in the ratings, even despite host Paige Davis' skin-baring antics. Additionally, potential Fox challenger The Complex: Malibu bombed in the ratings during its just- completed seven-episode run. Perhaps the "Ty Pennington factor" has been undervalued ... but no longer.