Trading Spaces: Paige Davis Talks to Eclipse and Returns In Triumph!

Paige Davis Interview EclipseMagazine.com Television

Although you would never have guessed from the way Paige Davis handled her unceremonious firing from TLC’s number one show at the time, Davis was not a happy camper away from the show – even though she really enjoyed the last three shows she did before she left. As we all know, folowing Davis’ departure, Trading Spaces’ ratings soared in exactly the same way that bricks don’t [to borrow from Douglas Adams] and, following an administrative change at TLC – and a change in production companies for the series – Davis makes her triumphant return this Saturday [TLC, 10/9C]. I had the opportunity to do a phone interview with Davis, and it was instructive – she is totally irrepressible and a genuinely nice human being.

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It feels wonderful!

How many of the original designers will be involved this season?

Five of them are back.

Amazing. Good stuff.

We have Frank [Bialic], Doug [Wilson], Hilda [Santo-Tomas], Laurie [Hickson-Smith] and Edward [Walker] – and Faber [Dewar] is our returning carpenter, which is great.

I was reading an interview with you and you were talking about being let go. Did they give you and good reason, or was it kind of an arbitrary cost-cutting thing?

I don’t know if was a cost-cutting thing, because they had to pay out my contract, so that couldn’t have been why. No. There was no good reason given… I can state with some truth.

That had to hurt. But I have to give you props, though, because no one watching your show would have guessed that you were upset.

I didn’t tell anybody and actually, my last three shows were my most fun ever. I’ve always sort of looked at that either something I told the universe that I wanted, or a wonderful gift that came from above. I didn’t inform anyone on my crew that I had been told that I was in my last city… because I wanted my memories to just be fun. I didn’t want everybody on set to be all like “ooooh, woe…” I didn’t want to think about it and talk about it. I just really wanted to do spaces and have a good time. We were in Key West, of all places, so we were seriously having a good time! [Laughs]

So I just wanted to remember that and remember my friends. We were a very, very close-knit group – not just the on-camera personalities, but everyone behind the scenes as well. Our crew, our producers, were all very tight. I just wanted to have a great time with all of them and that is exactly what I did. It was great!

And then you went on to success on Broadway…

I returned to more success on Broadway, and that was great.

Paige Davis Interview EclipseMagazine.com Television

Besides the projects you had in the intervening time, what else did you do?

That’s actually what I did do. I thought I was going to have all this free time but I really didn’t.

I did a regional production of The Sound of Music in Pittsburgh – which I did because my parents live there and I just knew that if my mom had found out from someone there that I’d been offered it and didn’t take it, I’d be in trouble. [laughs] So, I took because if she ever found out I hadn’t taken it, she’d never speak to me again. So, I did that and it wound up being a wonderful experience.

I did the national touring company version of the recent Broadway revival of Sweet Charity and I wrote and premiered in my first one-woman cabaret show. All the while, I was in a development deal with King World and CBS, and was trying to get something to air. I wasn’t successful in that; I wasn’t granted that opportunity, as is usually the case. So few things ever get to air. But it was wonderful – I did discussions about a talk show; a sitcom script was written for me; a variety show was developed for me. It was certainly a lot of fun and I grew an awful lot. It was a great two-and-a-half years, actually.

So, not the down time you were expecting…

No! [laughs]

Did you have any down time at all?

Oh, yeah. I definitely did – more down time than when I was doing Trading Spaces.

I had a lot of time to be with my husband – and that was great!

How did Trading spaces come back to you? What exactly was the process?

They called me.

I think that trading Spaces came back to me before I was even informed. Mostly it came about because new people were in charge of the network. TLC is just now finishing up the process of going through a radical change. There’s a new president at TLC; there’s a new vice-president of programming at TLC; there are new heads in all of the other upper management positions. The entire network has been moved from Silver Spring, Maryland to Los Angeles. Of those people who were working for TLC in Maryland, a few were offered positions here in Los Angeles – some took those positions, some didn’t – but you know, two-thirds of the network is now literally changed!

It was obviously a very radical experience for the network and the decision to, sort of, revive Trading Spaces to its former glory – and to use Paige Davis to do that, to bring her back, too – that decision was made long before I ever heard about it.

I think they were banking on being able to flatter me enough to get back. [laughs]

Paige Davis Interview EclipseMagazine.com Television

I’m sure it didn’t take that much flattery.

It took a little bit because the show had been through so many changes – and taken so many left turns – that when they said they wanted to return the show to its format, I asked, “Which one?” I still had a lot of questions. Like “which direction are you trying to take the show?” “What do you think the show is – and is that what I think the show is?” “If you want me to be the face that represents it, then I’ve got to agree with it.”

So it definitely took a lot. Then there’s the bigger questions about “how many episodes are you going to be doing?” “Will I have the time to return to all the theatre projects I’ve been able to return to? To be able to return to a marriage that I’ve been able to return to?” All of these things were very big questions for me. Was it going to worth it for me to return, or would I be sacrificing too much? Was it going to be too much?

Then there were contractual things I had to understand – and other things I had to understand. So, it actually took a couple months for them to actually convince me to sign on the dotted line. I was actually moving in that direction the whole time but I made sure I didn’t commit until I was really ready.

How complete is the return – in terms of format and that sort of thing?

It’s really complete. I mean, the show will look a little different. There’s a wonderful new editing concept to it; we have two cameras in each house instead of just one. I think, in general, that the production values of the show will look better. There’s a goal that they have, that if you’re channel surfing and you land on Trading Spaces, it won’t look like you landed on a cable show.

I think that great. I think that’s really cool. I think that any way that we can freshen the show – without changing who we are, without changing our brand, our mission and what we represent in terms of time crunch and budget crunch and the secrecy element that’s a huge rule for our show, then I think that’s great.

I think that all of the other changes we’ve done in the past – in terms of not having a host and having bonus rooms where you get to use two thousand dollars instead of one thousand, that’s kind of not the point. Those things change what we stood for. They didn’t change what was good for the show; they changed what was good for them.

So now we’re back to just a thousand dollars per room – which, of course, is much harder now than it was eight years ago. When you think about it, it’s much harder.

Paige Davis Interview EclipseMagazine.com Television

Let’s talk inflation…

We have our theme music back, and we have all the other charming elements that went into our show. We have the overhead camera with the fast motion when you see a room coming together. They’re little things but they have an impact in way people watch the show.

The only difference is that now we’re not requiring the traders to be neighbors. We prefer it, but what we do require is that they have a great reason for trading. It’s got to be more than they just want a new room. They have to be more invested in the outcome of a trade. It heightens everything without changing who we are.

One of my favorite examples is… we had a trade between a costume designer and her assistant. The assistant wanted the trade because she wanted to have an opportunity to redo a room in her boss’ room to show she is worthy, and ready to move up and do more than just fetch her coffee – to show that she is actually creative and can work with texture and fabric and design. To show that she’s good to go.

When you’re watching that, you go wow! She’s taking a risk, because what if the designer shows up with a really lame design idea, or something that’s not exciting, or special enough, or she can’t convince the designer to change whatever it is – then her boos comes home and says, “Yeah. That’s I thought. Fetch my coffee!” There’s more at stake for the designer and there’s more at stake for everyone at home, watching. They care a little bit more!

Did you feel just the littlest bit vindicated when the rating plummeted after you left?

Of course! Yes, I did.

I have to say, though, it wasn’t a happy vindication. My friends were still out there working on the show – working really hard on the show – and nobody watching. Well, not nearly as many people were watching. That made me sad.

It made me really sad to know that they were still out there busting their humps and not having the same number of people watching is a little disheartening.

Paige Davis Interview EclipseMagazine.com Television

Did any of the old crew say they missed you while they were soldiering on in the trenches?

Yes, they did miss me. Very much.

I think that, after my departure, they thought they were making a good show. And I think that, after my initial departure they were making a good show. I think they handled it with aplomb. I think they did a really good job of transitioning into the new, hostless format. But then, I think, as happens in life and not just in television shows, things start to morph slowly before you even realize that they’ve gotten out of hand. I think it just got more and more tricky the further down the line they got. Every little change builds up, like dominoes.

I know that they were all soldiering on and I think they all really believed quite deeply, and appropriately so, that they could do the show without a host. They just had to figure out how. All the other familiar face were still on the show – Hildy and Frank and Laurie were all there.

But I feel kind of grateful that the fans took a stand and said, “I won’t watch if Paige isn’t on.” I think that probably died out after a few weeks. [laughs]

I don’t know about that. I was one of the people who sent in an e-mail.

Oh. Well, thank you very much!

During your enforced hiatus, I think I watched the show three times, just to see what was going on. Some of the designs were really great, but frankly, I think you were the element that made the chemistry perfect.

Awww, thank you.

Well, it looks like our time is up. I want to congratulate you on coming back – and I hope the show kicks much butt!

Thanks, Sheldon! [laughs] This was fun.

Thank you.Bye-bye.