Trading Spaces set a high standard for reality TV that has not been matched since

There are any number of reasons Trading Spaces didn’t stand the test of time. There were so many imitators, and as successful as the program was, it never had the numbers of comparable network reality shows of the era. But ultimately, what doomed Trading Spaces was that it was the only reality show to blend that happy, roll-up-your sleeves enthusiasm with the crushing disappointment and passive-aggressive sniping of a rapidly shrinking middle class. Viewers weren’t guaranteed a happy ending any more than the participants were, and the series contained moments—Hildi decides to glue straw to the wall—so awkward that it was all the audience could do not to look away. And yet the moments of enthusiasm were so palpable that most episodes served as a spontaneous lark the audience could be privy to.

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