Tuned In

Flipping Out: Home Is Where the Cash Is

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Lewis (left) works at home. Bravo Photo: Isabella Vosmikova

We had CNNFN, we have CNBC, coming up this fall we’ll have the Fox Business Channel or the Ha Ha I Own Dow Jones Channel or whatever it ends up being called. But I increasingly have the feeling that Bravo has become America’s dominant business channel without anybody knowing about it.

It’s just that, where CNBC et al. focus on the making of American fortunes, Bravo focuses on the spending of them. Its reality shows reveal to its upscale demographic what goes on behind the scenes in the making of their favorite consumer indulgences: high-end fashion, haute cuisine, fancy gyms, home renovations, five-star hotels. (The new Welcome to the Parker combines an upstairs-downstairs look at a boutique hotel with visits from Top Design’s Jonathan Adler, for a virtual orgasm of upscale consumerdom.)

Now Bravo is turning to another obsession of its demographic: making money in real estate. Following its series Million-Dollar Listing comes Flipping Out, debuting tonight, which trails uptight L.A. real estate flipper Jeff Lewis as he buys up properties, renovates them and tries to sell at a hefty markup. (Like many good upscale brands, Bravo has multiple product lines. Its “Top” line–Chef, Design, etc.–are service-industry competitions; its “Out” line–Blow Out, Work Out and now this–lionize the neurotic entrepreneurs in said industry.)

Lewis is a needy, demanding boss with specific, often unsatisfiable demands for everything from fixtures to his choice of beverage (in the first episode, he sends an assistant out with a request for a custom blend of sodas broken down by the percentage of each fizzy component). As in Blow Out and Work Out, Flipping Out maintains that a touch of battiness makes for a good business manager–or, at least, a good one on TV. And the philosophy of you-don’t-have-to-be-crazy-to-work-here-oh-yes-you-actually-do applies as well to his associates, including a flighty assistant / voiceover artist and a psychic.

The real drama in Flipping Out comes from Lewis’ risky business model, though, which involves stretching his budget, leveraging, and needing to sell properties fast enough to keep from running out of cash. This is a more challenging task, of course, as the real-estate market has become shaky, but as I’ve said before, the bursting of the real-estate bubble has only made it more of a seller’s market for the makers of real-estate TV. From Survivor to Deadliest Catch, reality TV is largely about vicariously living out danger. And while the time may not be great for Lewis’ main business, for Flipping Out as entertainment it probably couldn’t be better. Right now, real estate is where the fear factor is.