ABC's "Extreme" Exploitation

Makeover show loves sick kids, cancer patients, hate crime victims

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ABC's "Extreme" Exploitation

MARCH 27--Not content with humdrum stories of poverty, heartache, and distress, the producers of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" have compiled a creepy wish list of woe for the next season of the hit ABC television series, The Smoking Gun has learned.

In an e-mail forwarded earlier this month by an ABC employee to network affiliates, the program's casting agent details the exact kind of tragedies and rare illnesses being sought by the Top 20 show. Families featured on the program have their often ramshackle homes renovated for free by a platoon headed by handyman/heartthrob Ty Pennington. The show is maudlin, tug-on-your-heartstrings television, "Queen for a Day" with finish carpentry.

Based on the ABC e-mail, it appears that victims of hate crimes and violent home invasions and families coping with the loss of a child killed by a drunk driver make for good television. And the show would also absolutely love to feature those battling skin cancer, Lou Gehrig's disease, and muscular dystrophy.

Oh, and families with multiple children with Down Syndrome would be ideal, whether the kids are "either adopted or biological," the e-mail notes. And, shooting the moon, the program's "family casting director," Charisse Simonian, would love to locate a kid suffering from Progeria, the rare condition that causes rapid aging in a child (for those unaware of Progeria, the ABC e-mail helpfully describes it as "aka 'little old man disease.'")

As if that terrible affliction weren't enough, Simonian is also on the hunt for a child with congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis. "This is where kids cannot feel any physical pain," she notes. But the hunt for a young victim--who will likely die before 30--will not be easy. "There are 17 known cases in US," she writes, before chirpily adding, "let me know if one is in your town!"

Such spirit in the face of tragedy.

The March 10 correspondence was written by Phinel Petit-Frere, a network representative based in New York, who passed along the makeover show's wish list to network affiliates in the Southeast. The affiliates were requested to help in locating prospective families for the series, which finished eighth in last week's Nielsen ratings. When contacted by TSG, Petit-Frere said he only forwarded the memo on Simonian's behalf and directed other questions her way. (1 page)