When Fox this week bows its new eight-part unscripted series "Home Free," it will mark the first time the network will have aired a show in the shelter category since the short-lived "Renovate My Family" came and went back in 2004. And while a midweek summer strip may not exactly move the needle on traditional ad sales, the new show is attracting a horde of endemic brands looking to capitalize on integration opportunities.
According to executive producer and Relativity Television CEO Tom Forman, "Home Free" has struck integration deals with nearly 20 home-centric brands, including Select Comfort's Sleep Number mattresses, Kwikset Locks, 3M, Kohler and Armstrong Flooring. Many of the brands are new to Fox; the fees paid to Relativity for the various product placements defray the costs of producing the show, while some of the larger brands can be expected to buy traditional airtime as well.
While the Sleep Number integrations are perhaps the most noticeable -- bulky things that lay claim to nearly one-third of our lives, mattresses naturally take up more mental space than deadbolts and deck screws -- Mr. Forman said the featured brands were selected to reflect both necessity and verisimilitude. "We're renovating nine homes and each has two, three, four bedrooms. That's a lot of mattresses," he said. "We wanted to make sure that the integrations aren't just seamless, but sometimes very necessary. I'm allergic to bad integration that just feels like an advertisement within the body of the narrative."
There's a brand attached to nearly every conceivable aspect of a home renovation, from the exterior (siding, windows, gutters) to lighting and landscaping. The deals were hashed out at a breakneck pace, reflecting what Mr. Forman said was "the quickest development cycle" he'd ever faced. "They green-lit the show in April to air in July. This all happened at a million miles an hour, and the brands leapt before they looked."
Along with the upcoming Ryan Seacrest vehicle "Knock Knock Live," "Home Free" is among the first Fox unscripted shows commissioned by Corie Henson, the network's newish exec VP of alternative programming. The two shows are worlds apart from the curiosities once churned up by long-time alternative tsar Mike Darnell, who for 18 years cranked out gonzo, often mean-spirited fare like "The Swan," "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé" and "The Littlest Groom."
Hosted by HGTV fixture Mike Holmes, "Home Free" challenges nine couples to renovate houses for people in need, with an eye toward earning their own dream homes at the end of the competition. The twist, which is revealed in the opening minutes of the pilot, is that there are no losers -- their unselfish efforts are rewarded in kind.
The contestants will be plenty surprised, said Mr. Forman, who spoke to Ad Age shortly before heading down to Atlanta for the final day of shooting "Home Free." "We've kept these folks sequestered. No TVs in their rooms, no phones," he said. "There will be plenty of drama in store for them."
It's a big, altruistic step for a network that once aired "Temptation Island," but Mr. Forman is the right man for the job. "Remember, I was also the creator of 'Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,' so this is not my first feel-good rodeo," he said. "I like shows I can watch with my kids, things that are pro-social without being preachy. So, if I can combine my skill set with a little bit of Fox money to make some inspiring TV, that's a big win for everyone."
"Home Free" premieres Wednesday at 9 p.m., where it will lead out of Fox's top-rated summer series "MasterChef." It replaces the freshman game show "Bullseye," which closed out its first season with an average draw of 2.92 million live-plus-same-day viewers and a 1.0 rating among adults 18 through 49.