There's a Great Scattering, if you will, going on in America right now -- and HGTV's Home Town, with hosts Ben and Erin Napier, was ahead of the curve.
In the wake of the pandemic and its effect on work (especially the growth of remote work), many folks are abandoning the coastal hubs of New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco for smaller cities and towns all over the country.
They're seeking more affordable housing, better business climates, more room for children, and often, to return to being near family (or at least a place that makes them feel that way).
In some cases, this means leaving the big city to return to a hometown.
Five seasons ago, a producer with HGTV noticed the social-media posts of the Napiers -- Methodist youth-minister/woodworker Ben and graphic designer Erin -- about the renovation of their 1925 Craftsman cottage, and their love for their hometown of Laurel, Mississippi.
The result was Home Town, one of HGTV's most popular shows, in which the Napiers help current or new residents of Laurel find, renovate and decorate a house.
The success of Home Town, which launched season five on Sunday, Jan. 3, has led to two spin-off shows: Home Town: Ben's Workshop, which began streaming in January on Discovery+; and Home Town Takeover, which premiered Sunday, May 2, on HGTV.
In the newest show, the Napiers and a host of other HGTV stars descend on the town of Wetumpka, Alabama (winner of a network contest), to renovate businesses and other important buildings.
Anyone looking for wholeome, family-friendly entertainment need look no further than Home Town and its spin-offs. The Napiers, who met while attending Ole Miss (the University of Mississippi), seem genuine in their love of their town, their neighbors and each other (in every episode, Ben has his arm around Erin, who fits neatly just under it). The tone is positive and uplifting, while still taking note of the real issues of home-buying and renovation.
(Although, some L.A., N.Y. and S.F. residents may cry on seeing what the cost of a studio condo in their cities will buy you in Laurel, Mississippi.)
While they don't discuss it much on the show, the Napiers -- parents of 3-year-old Helen and another baby due any day now -- are people of strong Christian faith, and it informs everything they do.
In an interview with Guideposts magazine, they said:
Ben Napier: Yeah, we're the hosts of HGTV's Home Town, which is shot right here in Laurel, Mississippi.
For us, none of this would have happened without our faith. I'm sure a lot of people would say that, but for us, it was literally not something that we were seeking out. TV was never even an idea for us.
Erin: And for that matter, leaving our jobs was never something we would do of our own accord. It took a lot of prayer, a lot of prayer and a lot of faith to step out and trust that God had a plan for us that we did not write for ourselves.
Ben: It was kind of like we were stepping into something totally unknown simply by saying, "Yes, OK, God, we're going to let You take this and if it works, great, and if it don't, we know You'll take care of us." For me and for Erin, too, we both rely on our parents a lot for advice. And when you are from South Mississippi and you start talking about having a national TV show on HGTV, that doesn't really happen.
Erin: Our parents don't have any advice for that.
UPDATE: On May 28, Ben and Erin welcomed their second daughter. From PEOPLE:
"While we are excited to have another daughter to love, we are more excited to see the bond she and Helen will have. They're already so in love with each other!" the couple tells PEOPLE.
Mae, who is named after Erin's beloved Aunt Mae, arrived at 8:23 AM on Friday, coming in at 7 lbs. 1 oz., and 19.5 inches.
Beginning with PBS' This Old House in the late 1970s, home-renovation shows have become a TV staple, and it's not hard to understand why. Even if you're not swinging a hammer or lifting a paintbrush, the process of transformation -- of the building but also of the people working on it -- is endlessly fascinating.
These shows are ostensibly about construction, but ultimately they're about hopes and dreams. They're about what home means. And, after a year or so of spending a lot more time in our homes than we planned to, that's something on a lot of people's minds.
As Erin said during a 2019 address at Liberty University:
“The real joy and honor in what we do is the fact that we get to show an example to the world,” Erin said. “We take a broken thing, a house that’s soggy and rotten, that’s a little like us … and we see examples of restoration and redemption in the end.”
Both Home Town and Home Town Takeover are also available to stream at Discovery+.
Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.