There's a sense of controlled chaos in the living room of pro golfer Chad Campbell's Colleyville home. It's late morning, and Donna Moss is trying to complete a room makeover by 1 p.m. during a taping of her new HGTV show, Donna Decorates Dallas.
But furniture she has ordered has yet to arrive, and work still needs to be done on the carpet. At one point, Campbell's dogs get out of the back yard and there is a frantic rush to find them, although they are quickly recovered. And all this occurs smack in the middle of the summer heat wave, but the air conditioning has been turned off because the noise interferes with the sound during taping.
Unscripted TV series, including such recent North Texas entries as CMT's Texas Women and Bravo's Most Eligible Dallas, often strain to heighten melodrama, coming off as contrived and unnatural. But judging from this episode of Donna Decorates Dallas, which kicks off the show's regular season Saturday night on HGTV, this is a series that is trying to avoid phony melodrama.
Except for the late-arriving furniture, you would never know from what is on the air that Moss, a longtime designer who runs That's Haute boutique in Bedford, is really feeling genuine stress from trying to get things done in time for Campbell and his wife, Amy, who is trying to surprise her husband with the living-room makeover. The episode runs briskly through its half-hour time slot, and almost seems to be over before it has begun. But Moss says everything you see is real.
"I've got deadlines just like would normally happen," she says. "But they're more stressful because the camera's on."
Designing a series
This isn't Moss' first on-camera experience. Five years ago, she placed fifth out of 10 contestants on the first season of Design Star, HGTV's interior-design competition. She had been in the design industry since the early '80s, but the Design Star experience still taught her a lot about thinking unconventionally and working under pressure. The show inspired her to open her boutique.
Moss' appearance on Design Star had nothing to do with her landing another HGTV show. One production company even told her that HGTV wasn't interested in shows featuring Design Star also-rans.
But Moss had met Melanie Wester, a Texas-based producer whose shows include CMT's Gator 911, while working on a project for children with cancer. Moss was trying to convince Wester to film another project, Holiday House, a sort of mini Extreme Makeover: Home Edition sponsored by the Retired Football Players Association, when Moss had a brainstorm.
"I said, 'Melanie, you really should come out and see my life,'" Moss says. "I have this boutique, I have my daughters both working for me, I have this crazy life. You should think about filming something.'"
Wester did, and she quickly put together a pilot.
"I think [HGTV] got it on a Friday, and on Monday, they picked up the show," Moss says. "We had about 30 days to start filming. So I just called all my clients that I was working with, and said, 'Are you ready to start working on this project?'"
Most of the first season of Donna Decorates Dallas will feature homes in Colleyville and Southlake (the Donna Decorates Dallas title just scans better -- not to mention that it calls to mind an infamous movie title). The show will be staying in the Northeast Tarrant cities for practical reasons.
"The whole series has been condensed," she says. "We were told that we were going to start in October, but [the sneak preview aired] in August. I work best under stress, so that's OK. I've got two jobs tomorrow, where we're doing two different homes ... where the furniture comes in, the lighting gets put up. Two different locations where it's like this. It's just insane. But it's all good."
Family, by design
Moss' daughters Ashley, who handles day-to-day operations at That's Haute, and Tiffany, who helps Moss with the makeovers, will also be a big part of the show. But don't expect the familial rivalries that you encounter on other family-centric reality series.
"Working with family's always great," Tiffany Moss says. "I know a lot of families aren't as tight as we are. It's fun. We have our ups and downs at times, like every family does. And filming? It's great. I can't imagine anything better than working with my mom and my sister on this show."
Tiffany Moss used to work with her father, a local builder and developer, but it was mostly office work, and she wanted to get out of the office. Now in her early 30s, she began tagging along on her mom's design jobs and helping out in her early teens. When Donna launched the boutique, Tiffany began helping her in the field full time.
"The beautiful part of the job is to see all these nice houses, how they're decorated and how we help 'em," Tiffany says. The downside? The Texas weather, at least during filming. "The worst part is being in and out of the truck [during jobs]. You're sweating all day long.... In the houses, trucks and everything, you have to turn the air conditioner off."
But then, the whole schedule leaves Donna and her daughters a little exhausted. For the show, they're taking as little as two weeks to do jobs that would ordinarily take them six weeks. When Donna gives commentary into the camera, she's often so tired she has trouble completing a sentence. But she also knows that she signed on for this.
"We don't get much sleep," she says. "At 4 o'clock in the morning the night before last, we put a design presentation together for a client. Because after filming, I still have to work. I figure sleep will come eventually. Hopefully, in this life."
Robert Philpot, 817-390-7872