Wednesday, June 21, 2006


A Wednesday Bottom One: Avoid the Open House

As I mentioned yesterday, it's summertime, and that means that TV viewing tends to be slow going around Casa del Wieland (with the exceptions of my weekly HOUSE two-fer and the returned ENTOURAGE). So when that happens, Our Woman in LA looks for alternative viewing - and that usually means either the Food Network or HGTV.

Our Man in LA usually avoids these channels like the plague. If I'm going to learn from TV, it better be about war or something on the History Channel. Otherwise, entertain me . . . and no, that doesn't usually include me watching you go to restaurants or fix up some ugly house. Not my scene. It can be yours. No judgments. I'll sit this one out.

But I have watched one of these programs a couple of times now, and it aggravates me. Aggravates me from on high, folks. Rubs me so much the wrong way, that it can only count as this week's WEDNESDAY BOTTOM ONE!

The show is called NATIONAL OPEN HOUSE, and it's new. Here's the premise. Our hosts go to three cities in this great land of ours and see how far your housing dollar goes at four price points, starting at $150K and going up to a million bucks.

As a concept, not bad. Interesting even.

In execution? Bad. Super, duper bad.

Why? Mostly because it's aimed at making people in bigger, costlier cities feel like fools. Depressed fools who will probably be living in a $500K cardboard box before too long. And who feels better? People in smaller, less expensive cities.

Yeah, I know, I know. I've gotten my fair share of criticism from the middle American contingent this week, but let's get real here. The expense and experience of living in one of our country's metropolises is not the same as living in cool college town, USA; or even suburban homogeneity, USA.

But NATIONAL OPEN HOUSE doesn't feel like comparing apples and apples. No, no, no. It's apples and beets, apples and chicken . . . but let me be more specific.

First episode I saw compared housing in three cities. The first two were Ann Arbor, Michigan and Austin, Texas. Pretty similar places, right? Cool college towns, good economies, lots to do. Great. You're probably thinking that the third city is Boulder, Colorado. Or maybe Athens, Georgia or Madison, Wisconsin. Another cool college town with a lot going on.

(If I missed your college town, nothing personal).

Anyway, that would have made sense, right? But no. City #3 was Our Man in LA's hometown of Los Angeles.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, guess where your housing dollar goes the shortest distance. Yeah, maybe in the second biggest city in the country, the one in Southern California. Wow. News flash.

And I'm not just sour grapes here. Seriously. I know what it must seem like. Nobody likes to hear that they need a gazillion dollars to buy a basement apartment south of the I-10 freeway. So I took another look.

The next week? Cities #1 and #2 were Boston and Chicago. All right, that makes some sense. Two major cities, anchors of their respective regions. Both with a rep for both tough blue collar folk and highly educated professionals. Big sports and arts cities on the water. Excellent. I'm in. What's City #3? I'm thinking Seattle, maybe? Or San Francisco?

Nope. Savannah, Georgia.

So as you might guess, by half hour's end, the people in Savannah looked like geniuses. Geniuses! For $750K, they got a house the size of the Pentagon in the coolest neighborhood in town. The folks in Boston got a three-bedroom starter home, and the folks in Chicago got a three-bedroom townhouse in Lincoln Park.

The only way, of course, to convince yourself that the Savannah people weren't geniuses was to, well, remember that at the end of the program they still had to live in Savannah.

I can't deal. You think you're getting good information at first on this show, but then really, you're just getting a half-hour pitch for the smallest town on the program. Imagine you're actually considering moving from wherever you're living right now. You just want to go, you don't have a huge preference where, and you don't have a job pulling you there.

Are you really saying, "You know, it's going to be Ann Arbor, Austin, or LA"??? You are? Really?

Or "Yeah, totally, Chicago, Boston, or Savannah. Right on!"

Because honestly, if so, why not broaden your horizons a little bit, huh? Go with some real diversity. Let this show do some real work. Let's see how far your housing dollar goes in:

* West Palm Beach, Salt Lake City, and Kabul; or
* Dublin, Omaha, and Mogadishu; or
* Mexico City, Moose Jaw, and Northbrook, Illinois.

Hell, for that matter, since we're already in some sort of fantasy world, why don't they compare the home prices in these fair cities:

* Gotham City;
* Mos Eisley; and
* the 21st Century Los Angeles from BLADE RUNNER.


You would think your housing dollar would go a long way in a desert city like Mos Eisley. But for $500K, you get a wretched hive of scum. You can't break into the villainy for less than $800K - $1M.
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