Smash. Crash. Home-Improvement TV Comes to Louisville

By STEVE KAUFMAN
Contributing Writer

They called it “an ambush.”

Early on the morning of Oct. 17, some cars drove surreptitiously up to the St. Matthews home of Ashley and Brad Mercer. People got out and snuck up to the back door. Some of them carried sledgehammers.

Though they knew the homeowners were home, they barged in anyway. It was about 7 a.m.

Brad was a little too stunned to react. Ashley was in tears.

The Mercers.

The Mercers.

Tears of joy.

They were just learning that they were going to be the subjects of “Fix It and Finish It,” a new daytime home-makeover television show on WAVE-3.

A work crew led by the show’s host – actor Antonio Sabato Jr. – was going to demolish the kitchen, then give the Mercers an entirely new, professionally designed and remodeled, room.

The show, produced by Raycom Media (which owns WAVE in Louisville), selects one family each day to provide one new room for. It chooses the family by picking through submissions and choosing what it feels is a worthwhile story.

The Mercers’ story involves their 17-month-old daughter, Hadley, who was diagnosed at six months with leukemia. She has gone through chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants in her young life. Now home, cancer-free and “doing great,” according to her mother, Hadley still has a very susceptible immune system.

“They needed a new kitchen for sanitary reasons,” Nicki Huggins said. Huggins is a Los Angeles-based designer who has donated her time and services to the building projects since the show began airing in September. “The counters were old and grouted. Grout can be a collector of germs, no matter how hard you scrub.”

“It’s pretty much impossible to keep grout clean and sanitary. That’s my biggest concern, preparing food for Hadley. I have to be so extremely careful,” Ashley Mercer said.

So Sabato and his crew spent this entire October day demolishing the old and installing the new. They were supported by a roster of local suppliers who also provided their products and services for free: Brecher’s Lighting, ProMaster Construction, Cardinal Kitchens, White House Painting Contractors, Haas Cabinets, HH Gregg and Hikes Point Paint.

Sabato is a veteran movie and television actor who most currently will be familiar to fans of “Dancing With the Stars.” It’s been a rigorous routine for Sabato, who must work his daily dance rehearsals into the show’s renovation-a-day schedule. And he must fly back to California each weekend from wherever the show is shooting.

Since they began in April, they’ve been to Tucson, New Orleans, Montgomery, Birmingham, Jackson, Miss., Memphis and were in Louisville for 10 days in mid-October. Then they moved on to Cleveland, Richmond, Savannah, Ga., and Charleston, S.C. – all the markets in which Raycom has local stations.

Eleven cities, 150 episodes. The Mercers featured in the 67th episode in the series – the 10th episode shot in Louisville. Huggins said they don’t know when the show will air, but it usually takes about six weeks after shooting. It airs here every afternoon at 2:30 p.m.

Ashley said the family was notified that the crew would arrive some time around 7:30 or 8 a.m. on that Friday morning – or not!

Before.

Before.

“They know they’ve been selected as a finalist and they know when we’re supposed to show up,” said Scott Sternberg, the creator and producer of the show, “but they don’t know if we’ll show.”

He looked at his watch. It was about 9 a.m. now. “All the other Louisville finalists from today now know they haven’t made the cut.”

The Mercers were chosen because theirs is a good example of what Sternberg called an “American story.” “Their story really touched our hearts,” he said. “It was a case where we could do someone some real good.”

As Sabato said, “One day in my life is the best day in that family’s lives. You can’t beat that!”

The show’s daytime demographic likes heartwarming stories with happy endings, Sternberg said. But it has also become fixated on the subjects of home renovation and do-it-yourselfing.

“Viewers get a lot of takeaway from these shows,” Sternberg said. “They say, ‘Oh, that’s how they do it,” or ‘I can do that’ or ‘What a great idea!’ But ours is the only daytime show. And we complete the entire project in one day. Nobody else does that.”

Sabato is more than the host. He’s also the lead demolition guy. That’s a big part of the personality of this crash-and-smash show.

He says he likes demolishing – anything. “I’ll smash it with any means available: drive a tractor through it, blow it up then put it all back together,” he says. “I love it!”

“I have no idea what to expect,” Ashley Mercer said that morning in mid-October. “We’re going to leave all day, then we’ll come back at night and see it all finished.”

If you have to be ambushed, it’s nice to emerge with a brand new kitchen.