TERRE HAUTE — By now, Brad Hauter can deal with the police. Angry homeowners are another matter.
It’s not hard to feel their pain. Imagine winning a home or backyard makeover by professional contractor, and then watching the work crew leave the project in a disastrous mess with no apologies and only a suggestion of someone to call to clean it all up.
That’s the premise of the syndicated TV show “Junk’d,” starring Hauter — a soccer coach with limited construction skills — and Bret Skipper — a real-life landscape contractor. They take on a dream kitchen or patio job, Hauter messes it up, and then they shrug and tell the duped homeowner it’s finished, and face his or her wrath. Finally, Hauter and Skipper let the homeowner in on the joke, and give the project a proper completion.
Most laugh. A few don’t.
Hauter tries to explain “as well as you can while yelling over your shoulder as you run, ‘It’s only a joke. It’s only a joke.’”
Since “Junk’d” debuted in 2003, Hauter has seen irate homeowners call the police “five or six times.” After three seasons, the “Junk’d” crew now calls the local law authorities before starting a makeover project in Terre Haute, Indianapolis, Anchorage, Biloxi or South Carolina.
Most often, though, “It’s a playful show,” said Hauter, the 41-year-old coach of the men’s and women’s soccer teams at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.
And Hauter is the center of that playfulness.
His pairing with the 47-year-old Skipper is an entertaining train wreck of personalities — the serious straight man (Skipper) colliding with his cut-up sidekick (Hauter). It’s also a reunion. Skipper runs Rose Brook Farms, a landscaping firm in Zionsville, with his wife. Years ago, Skipper actually hired Hauter, then a teenager in school at Park Tudor High and later DePauw University.
So when Hauter was presented in 2003 with the idea for a home and lawn makeover show, he and Skipper linked up again.
Not much had changed.
“I was shocked that, at age 40, he still treats me like the 16-year-old I was,” Hauter said, somewhat jokingly.
Skipper admits he’s “probably got a Type A personality, more than I care to admit. My kids’ll tell you I’m in a bad mood all the time.”
By contrast, the mischievous Hauter “sees the world as a perfect world,” Skipper said.
So, as Skipper sees it, when they take on a “Junk’d” makeover project, he’s the “all business” perfectionist and Hauter plays the carefree pretender who is usually “goofing around.” Skipper’s resulting frustration has plenty of time to intensify.
The “Junk’d” crew typically flies in to a town late on a Friday. Hauter, Skipper and local laborers work Saturday and Sunday in front of the cameras, then Brad flies back to Terre Haute on Sunday night. Bret stays back with the workers to keep the makeover project on schedule. Hauter doesn’t return until the next Friday for the big weekend, when the joke job transforms into the homeowner’s desired result.
“By that time, Bret’s fighting mad ’cause I’ve been gone all week,” Hauter explained.
Their friction was a surprise element to the original concept of “Junk’d.” It’s also not totally exaggerated.
“What you see is what you get,” Hauter said.
Skipper confessed that his co-star means well and is eager. “Brad’s always asking for more to do,” he said. “He presents himself as a problem solver, and he’s exactly the opposite. He’s a problem creator.”
That characterization is all in the context of construction work, though. In reality, Skipper calls Hauter “very intelligent and very creative on non-construction projects” and “is generally the funniest guy I’ve ever met. I mean, I love the guy.”
Of course, he then added, “but I know I wouldn’t let him work on my house.”
Terre Haute resident Fern Cawley let Hauter, Skipper and the “Junk’d” team work on her kitchen last fall. Cawley, the guidance director at Terre Haute South High School, answered a request on WTWO for interested viewers to submit a video and an essay on why their home needed a kitchen makeover.
Unaware of “Junk’d,” Cawley won the makeover.
So Hauter and the crew came into her Farrington Grove home and gave her kitchen a sleek makeover. There was, of course, a glitch. After having her sign a release to leave their work intact for three years, Hauter and Co. left gaudy company logos on the appliances and woodwork.
Surprisingly, Cawley’s reaction was mild. So “Junk’d” heightened the prank. Skipper showed up as a pest-control inspector and told Cawley her home needed $20,000 in repairs from termite damage.
“I’m standing there, thinking, ‘Oh, my God, Oh, my God,’” Cawley recalled.
After venting upstairs in front of her son, Patrick, she walked back into the kitchen, where the pranksters handed her a “Junk’d” hat and revealed the joke. “I just thought it was hilarious,” she said.
Cawley also learned that Hauter isn’t the goof-up he seems to be in the show.
“There’s all this other part to him,” she said.
That other side includes Hauter’s coaching at Rose-Hulman, where his Engineer men have a record of 43-31-3 in his six seasons, while his women’s teams are 67-36-6. Hauter also has written a book called “Counter Terrorism,” a soccer coaching manual “The Invisible Game” and several screenplays; founded the nonprofit organization “Off the Streets” to help Chicago’s homeless; played professional soccer; and drove a lawnmower from coast to coast in 1999 and 2003 to raise $200,000 for the Keep America Beautiful campaign.
Hauter said his adventurous spirit stems from his high school years. He discovered a quotation from Martin Luther King insisting that our society should not be limited by the evil in the world. “I read that and said, ‘Well, I hope I can make some noise for the good,’” Hauter recalled.
Those adventures aren’t simple for his family. Hauter and his wife Charlotte have 8-year-old twin sons. Hauter had them in mind when he wrote “Counter Terrorism,” which is actually the story of a squirrel that teaches a boy a better way to live. He actually wrote its passages by speaking into a tape recorder as he drove the lawnmower across America in 2003.
“I just wanted them to keep some perspective, that this world isn’t about money or things,” Hauter said. “It’s about family, friends and people you love.”
That 5,000-mile slow ride also led to the show “Junk’d.” The production company owned by “Saturday Night Live” producer Lorne Michaels heard about his venture — billed as the “Yard-Man Mow Across America II” — and asked him to star in a home makeover show, based in either Los Angeles or New York.
Hauter balked. He had a family, a coaching job and security in Indiana. So he asked if it could be based in the Hoosier state, and he was told that wasn’t feasible. So he passed on the deal.
Still, Hauter was intrigued, yet not convinced it couldn’t be done from an Indiana base of operations.
“I work at Rose-Hulman, the No. 1 engineering school in the United States. Our kids build this equipment. You can’t tell me there aren’t enough people in Indiana to produce it and run cameras,” Hauter reasoned.
They found plenty of talent, including many production professionals who formerly worked on the East and West coasts. WFYI — a Public Broadcasting station — was the first station to carry “Junk’d.” It is now syndicated on nearly 350 stations and reached 50 percent of U.S. households, said Cassie Yde of the Florida-based Television Syndication Co., which specializes in distributing independently produced shows.
The chemistry between Hauter and Skipper is a key to the popularity, Yde said. So is Hauter’s personality.
“He has this little-boyish charm,” she said. “It’s like he’s got this little devilish streak in him.”
As Skipper puts it, Hauter, on camera, is “kind of like the little brother who gets away with everything because your mom won’t let you hurt him.”
Together, Yde said, Hauter and Skipper are “a happy combination, and that’s what makes it unique.”
Mark Bennett can be reached at email@example.com or (812) 231-4377.
TERRE HAUTE — By now, Brad Hauter can deal with the police. Angry homeowners are another matter.
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