New reality show has heart while staying true to the genre

Reality television seems to have hit every aspect of our lives. Shows feature everything from the search for the perfect partner to becoming a model or even a boxer. A recent wave of reality programs focus on home improvement. With shows like “Trading Spaces” and “While You Were Out,” The Learning Channel (TLC), has been doing this for years. Not to lose out to new shows like ABC’s “Extreme Makeover Home Edition,” however, TLC has opted for bigger and better in their newest hit, “Town Haul.”

As the name of the show may suggest, the purpose of TLC’s newest venture is to haul a town into shape. Instead of fixing a bedroom or a backyard, TLC is going around the country trying to bring the spark back into its forgotten towns. Geneveive Gorder, who made a name for herself as one of the designers featured on “Trading Spaces,” appears as the show’s host and leader of the projects.

According to a statement on TLC’s “Town Haul” Web site, Gorder loves the idea of bringing people together to make a change.

“For me, the most interesting part of design is the people,” she said. “TLC has given me the chance to actually move into towns across the country and work with them to re-create their identity. From the baseball team to the church basement to Main Street, this new series is going to demonstrate the power of what design can really do in a very big way.”

Jeffersonville, N.Y. was the first place “Town Haul” visited. A rural town, just 10 miles from the location of the Woodstock Music Festival, Jeffersonville has a small population of 500. Although once a hot spot in industries such as timber and soda bottling, the town came into a decline over the past years.

Gorder, along with her team of contractors, architects and carpenters, chose Jeffersonville with the hope of bringing back to life some of its most recognizable areas. Town residents volunteered in all the projects, from renovating Main Street to building an apartment for lovable resident Cowboy Bob.

The “Town Haul” crew resided in Jeffersonville during the weeks of its renovation, allowing them to bond with the townspeople. This sense of friendship was evident in the show’s footage. Along with the scenes of the actual improvement work, “Town Haul” showed “confessional” footage by both residents and crew members, where they shared their feelings about the projects and each other.

Now in its second location, the “Town Haul” team is in Laurens, S.C. Although listed in the National Register of Historic Places, Laurens was in need of some major help. Halfway through the six episodes about Laurens’ renewal, some of the major projects have included the renovation of a popular barber shop and the creation of a park for the area children.

“This is an amazing day,” Laurens’ mayor said the day the new park was revealed. “It’s like a miracle. We could never have afforded this.”

The show’s latest project is the renovation of the Franklin Building, the home of a man who everyone calls “Sarge.” After the death of his wife four years ago, Sarge let both himself and his home go. Gorder, along with her crew and team of volunteers, hopes that reviving the Franklin Building will also revive Sarge.

The feeling of small town America in every episode of “Town Haul” makes the show a standout. The people who appear on the show are as real as they come, fighting for what they want, saying that although the camera crews will be gone in a few weeks, the changes made are lasting ones. Although the show’s crew may come in with their own ideas, the relationships they build with the town residents always show they want nothing more than to leave the town happy.

Amid shows where people who already have enough clothes are given a new wardrobe or already pretty rooms are made prettier, it’s refreshing to see help going to places that really need it.