clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

‘Fixer Upper’ Is Dead. Long Live ‘Fixer Upper.’

After five seasons, Waco design darlings Chip and Joanna Gaines are bidding HGTV farewell. But are they really going anywhere?

HGTV

Joanna Gaines was discovered on an obscure design blog. Back then, in 2012, she was merely Jo, a Texas mom of four with a penchant for white. Her dangling earrings and bootcut jeans were not yet a sensation, and her days were spent flipping houses with her husband in relative anonymity. The couple had not yet become best-selling authors, or transformed into the monolith of Chip-and-Jo, or been nominated for an Emmy, or built houses with Robert Griffin III or Tim Tebow, or gone tree shopping with Laura Bush, or purchased a warehouse complex in central Waco that would soon draw more annual visitors than the Alamo. But her post on that design blog, under the headline “Living With Kids: Joanna Gaines,” happened to catch the eye of a talent scout at the production company High Noon Entertainment. Suddenly there was a sizzle reel, and a deal with HGTV, and that warehouse, and a whole nation of shiplap aficionados cooing in unison at the televisions in their own cluttered living rooms: “Are you ready to see your fixer upper?”

And now those aficionados have found themselves asking another question: What if we never see shiplap again?

After five seasons on HGTV, the Gaineses’ star vehicle Fixer Upper has come to an end, signing off Tuesday night with one last renovation. The finale hit all the classic notes: a smiley client couple with young children circling back to Texas roots; a modest-enough budget—$300,000—that in Waco still warranted consideration of a five-bedroom home; a promise of an all-new master bathroom in an all-new master suite; some minor but easily overcome construction mishaps; Chip and Jo wheeling back a blown-up picture of the pre-renovation estate as their clients gush at the repainted, retrimmed, and relandscaped version behind it; “It’s so pretty!” and “This is perfect!” and “I’ve never had anything so nice.” Frequent series collaborators turned up: Jimmy Don, a local metalworker brought in to solder one last heartfelt monument to an Emotionally Significant Phrase; and Clint Harp, the woodworker who just so happened to have the necessary antique pine flooring on hand—and who will launch his own spinoff, Wood Work, on HGTV’s sister network DIY later this year. The Gaines children scurried about, gamely deployed to assist with minor renovation tasks between shots of lush Texas blooms and signs marking the Waco city limit. Chip and Jo beamed.

The announcement last fall that Fixer Upper wouldn’t return was the sort of thing you could imagine giving an HGTV executive a heart attack. The show has been an unmitigated ratings smash for the network; Fixer Upper’s Season 4 finale was among the highest-rated telecasts on TV in 2017. As this week’s series finale drew closer, HGTV seemed reticent to publicize it as anything other than the conclusion of a given season—which suggests a bit of hope that this isn’t really the end. (It isn’t quite, at least for this spring: A Joanna Gaines–helmed spinoff series, Fixer Upper: Behind the Design, will air its first episode next week.) But HGTV is palpably fishing for its next breakout stars: Ben and Erin Napier, another young, home-renovating couple from a town in the South, have lately received prominent billing with their two-year-old show, Home Town, while the network tries to push other duos (Karen Laine and Mina Starsiak of Good Bones, Aubrey and Bristol Marunde of Flip or Flop Vegas, Leanne and Steve Ford of Restored by the Fords) further into a spotlight that Property Brothers stars Jonathan and Drew Scott can’t hold on their own forever.

As pleasing as Jo’s open floor plans, whitewashed hardwoods, and inviting farmhouse tables might be, Fixer Upper’s aesthetic might as well be HGTV house style by now. That might, in time, become a problem: The network’s ever-expanding roster of cheerful twosomes hammering carbon copies of that look into Nashville and Indianapolis and Pittsburgh series by series has more than a hint of homogeneity—or, worse, its ruder cousin: monotony. But Chip and Jo, with their TV-perfect charisma and wholesome Texas charm, stood out from the start, and for now at least, there’s still no one quite like the Gaineses.

The pair explained their departure as a problem of overleveraging: Between everything else they’re working on—the memoirs and the sprawling Waco retail empire and the Target deal and the Pier 1 line and the real estate business and the just-about-to-be-released cookbook and the vacation rentals and the magazine—they found they just didn’t have enough time. They are also expecting their fifth child later this year and, well, you could understand if they were interested in, if not exactly a vacation, at least a step back from the boom mics.

Except that it’s Fixer Upper that made all of the other things happen, that turned the Gaineses twofold into a household name and a brand. And it was on Fixer Upper that so many of the other projects were launched: Recent seasons have occasionally diverged from the renovation-for-a-young-couple formula to show Chip and Jo expanding their Waco footprint in real time: buying and renovating the Magnolia Silos, a bakery, and a breakfast joint.

You might find yourself wondering why they would dream of walking away from such a thing. Are they simply holding out for a better network offer? Did they already secure all the lifestyle branding that a hit TV show could provide? Or are they simply just what they say they are—tired? Tired of renovations, tired of framing and reframing their picture-perfect Waco lives, tired of open-concept kitchens and giant clocks and shiplap, tired of us?

On Tuesday’s finale, Jo led the new homeowners through their lavishly reappointed house, pointing out all the gleaming bells, whistles, and—of course—the mudroom-slash-laundry space. She stopped at a countertop, gazed admiringly at it, and said, “I just love concrete.” She proclaimed it with such warmth, such sincerity, such complete heartfeltness for the gray slab in front of her that you couldn’t help but believe her.