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Post by Jennifer Kornegay from Alabama NewsCenter
To fans of HGTV’s popular TV show “Home Town,” it’s obvious: Stars Ben and Erin Napier have a sweet spot for small towns. While major metropolises like Los Angeles and New York City often garner the lion’s share of media attention, the Napiers know what most small-town residents do, that America’s hamlets and close-knit communities are the backbone of the country and contribute heavily to the United States’ glorious mix of cultures and character.
It’s why they’ve dedicated themselves to preserving and promoting their hometown of Laurel, Mississippi. Since 2016, “Home Town” has chronicled their home renovation, restoration and preservation efforts in that city. While they’re not blind to the challenges their own and other small towns face, they don’t believe the grim headlines of factory closings, boarded-up shop windows and population loss are the final word; they see more potential than problems.
HGTV has given the couple a major platform to share this vision and to show its practical applications in Laurel. Now, they’ve taken these principles, and the passion driving them, on the road to embark on a new and much bigger journey, a six-show “event series” of “Home Town” called “Home Town Takeover.” “Takeover” goes beyond renovating homes by giving a town, including commercial structures, houses and public spaces, a face-lift.
In January 2020, HGTV started searching for the next small town to highlight via “Home Town Takeover” and invited cities with fewer than 40,000 residents to tell them why their city should be the spot transformed in the show. They sifted through more than 500,000 videos representing 2,600 small towns and hit gold when they pressed “play” on Wetumpka, Alabama’s submission.
As they watched, they saw a community that shared the Napiers’ commitment and was proving it with resilience, unity and a lot of good work already done. This particular small town, sitting on the banks of a river and knee-deep in existing renovation and restoration efforts, was exactly what the network was looking for and, in July 2020, it was announced that Wetumpka would star in “Takeover’s” first season. The choice thrilled Wetumpka’s leaders and residents, and the pick came with a big bonus for Erin; large portions of her favorite movie, “Big Fish,” were filmed in and around the city.
“Home Town Takeover” premieres Sunday, May 2 at 7 p.m. Now that filming has wrapped, Alabama NewsCenter asked the Napiers to elaborate on their time in Wetumpka and share why they hope “Home Town Takeover” resonates with residents and viewers.
Alabama NewsCenter: What made Wetumpka stand out from the very crowded field of applicants?
Ben Napier: Honestly, HGTV chose the town, but we know factors like being bypassed by the interstate, loss of young people to bigger cities and struggling to revitalize after natural disaster made it the right choice for the kind of small-town revitalization we are familiar with.
ANC: What were y’all’s impressions of Wetumpka when filming?
Erin Napier: Wetumpka was an incredible town, and the people were so gracious to our circus of outsiders. There wasn’t much time for us to explore the town or area. We can’t wait to visit when we aren’t working!
ANC: What do you hope viewers take away from watching “Home Town Takeover”?
Erin: Viewers should get a sense of hope from the show. We want them to see that they, too, can make a difference in their small corner of the world.
ANC: What do you hope Wetumpka and its residents got out of the experience?
Ben: Hopefully, we were decent guests. Our goal was to come in and give the town a shot in the arm, so to speak. A timely boost they can use to keep going.
ANC: Erin, can you tell us about your love of the movie “Big Fish?”
Erin: I first saw the movie in college, three years after my grandfather passed away. I loved it for so many reasons, for the way Edward Bloom saw the magic in the Southern ordinary, but most of all: Albert Finney as Edward Bloom was the closest I’ve been to my grandfather since his passing. He looked exactly like him, told the same tall tales that people still recount 20 years after his death. It kind of took my breath away because I did not expect to get what felt like two more hours with him, in a movie theater. The end just wrecked me, still does every time, but in a good way.
ANC: Why are y’all so committed to preserving and revitalizing small towns?
Ben: Because small town America is where we live and work and raise our family. It’s the flavor of this country.
ANC: What is the most personally rewarding aspect of what y’all do through both “Home Town” and now, “Home Town Takeover”?
Erin: The look in someone’s eyes when they see something personal in their home that we just redesigned and renovated. For them to see a beautiful, TV-worthy home designed with their personal items makes them swell with pride in their own uniqueness.
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