Two hosts jet across the country in direct competition to sell a home to a new couple each week. Each couple is given options ideal for urban or suburban living. Sarah Daniels is the suburban specialist. Her brother Phil DuMoulin is the urban guru. Their sibling interplay gives the hit HGTV show much of its spark.
When I catch up with the duo they’re shooting some interview segments on the dockside patio at the Granville Island hotel. Despite whatever delusions the clear skies and mid-20s temperature sprout inside a journalist’s head, I am quickly corrected when I suggest that this postcard of a day is typical of their working conditions.
“In Montreal, the humidity was absolutely horrifying,” says Daniels.
“When we’re shooting on location, we are always filming outside. We’re not filming anywhere inside with air conditioning, its all outside. Philip and I have a full face of make-up on…you end up feeling like pottery because the make-up turns into a glaze,” she says, emphasising the last word for comedic effect. Still, a bit of humidity is a small price to pay, right?
“Of all 26 episodes we’ve shot this season, this is probably the most relaxed we’ve been,” Daniels adds. “We travel a lot, so we are on a six day away schedule during our road trips.”
A typical road trip for the duo (and the crew, of course) could involve four shoots in six days in Toronto, followed by three days in Halifax with a subsequent midnight flight to Montreal for an early morning shot. As DuMoulin says, “we literally meet the family outside the first house and its like, ‘Hi guys, let’s get filming.'” Condensed travel itineraries and smokin’ hot filming conditions aside DuMoulin says that it’s worth it. “By the end of (filming) we’re having shits and giggles.”
A week on, six days off…travel…multiple wardrobe and location changes… the grind can add up. Not that brother or sister would dare show weakness to the other.
Thanks to their crew, which runs with the efficiency of a “military operation” according to Daniels, Urban Suburban comes off without a hitch, and the hosts never look like anything but All-Stars.
Daniels is likely a familiar face and voice to BC viewers, from her days on Global, CKNW and ROCK 101, and DuMoulin has a background in sports event promotions. Both have been licensed realtors since 2003. Their natural chemistry is not affected for television, as it’s plainly apparent while interviewing them.
From a journalist’s point of view, they make the job all too easy: just set recorder between them, hit record, and stand back! Ten minutes later, after one or two prompts from an unsuspecting scribe, the brother and sister have tag-teamed their way through an interview in land speed record time.
If only it was always so easy.
Urban Suburban is a rookie hit of HGTV’s lineup last year, (the Downton Abbey of HGTV programming). With a seemingly unquenchable market for shows about real estate, Urban Suburban offers something no other show on the slate has: A Western perspective on the loco housing market.
The concept of the show is simple. “It’s a conversation you can have over drinks,” says DuMoulin. Move to the heart of a city or move further away from the throngs of people?
For many homebuyers, cost is only a portion of the equation. Location, culture, the daily commute, access to schools and shopping, are the intangibles that will vary from couple to couple. This is the quandary that projects much of the intrigue on the production. DuMoulin again: “‘It’s the on-going struggle: ‘do you want to move way out there? Are you okay with a two hour commute everyday?'”
Just when it appeared every realtor in and around the greater Toronto area had his or her own show, BC got some overdue exposure with the debut of Urban Suburban. Sure, the dollar figures are insane, but it is nice to see Kits Beach, Stanley Park and other Pacific vestiges break up the near monopoly Oakville and the GTA had over televised real estate. This season will see an expansion of Urban Suburban horizons as Halifax and Montreal are among the non-Western ports of call.
But according to Phil, the true recipe for Urban Suburban’s success has less to do with geography and more to do with biology.
“Most people have a brother or sister, they’re not an only child. They love the bickering, ” he says. In person as on television, the Daniels/DuMoulin dynamic is classic sibling rivalry: both scrap to be heard over the other, each wanting the attention for themselves. They bicker in the way that only a brother and sister can, in an “I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I”-manner. Like two Vaudeville comics innately attuned to the other, Daniels and DuMoulin spar good-naturedly with one another, riffing and upping the ante, with their voices becoming one unified instrument.
But is there a lure beyond the brotherly/sisterly ribbing? DuMoulin sees Urban Suburban as catnip for the HGTV crowd.
“They are house junkies,” he says. “They want to go ‘Wow!’ they want to get their dose and go ‘they’re going to pick that house. It’s almost a contestant show,” he adds. With six houses in a typical twenty-two minute episode, Urban Suburban is realtor porn.
And yet, for all of the attention season one generated, the biggest problem facing the hosts? Convincing fans they are not actors playing realtors and siblings, but actual realtors and siblings. It leaves Daniels wondering, “Is nobody reading the credits?”
HGTV CANADA’S URBAN SUBURBAN SEASON 2 PREMIERES AUGUST 28 AT 8PM ET/5PM PT
Watch past episodes of Urban Suburban here