BOB GARFIELD: You've seen those home makeover shows -- a crew shows up, and some lucky stiff gets to see his house re-done by pro's. But what if the home isn't in Tarzana or Pottstown or West Des Moines but in Baghdad? There is such a TV program, an Iraqi reality series called Labor and Materials. Each episode the show visits a neighborhood to refurbish a home destroyed by the war. Journalist Annia Ciezadlo reported on the show for the Christian Science Monitor, and she joins me from Baghdad. Annia, welcome to On the Media.
ANNIA CIEZADLO: Thanks for having me.
BOB GARFIELD: Producing a home makeover show in a country still being rocked by rocket attacks and suicide bombs can't be very simple. I mean there are still battles going on in some of these neighborhoods.
ANNIA CIEZADLO: Yes, and in fact, the day that I went with the crew, they had gone to a neighborhood called Adamiya, which is very much a neighborhood in conflict, still. The night before we went, there had been a pretty major battle in the neighborhood. In fact, one of the new houses' new windows had been blown out in this battle. And as we were leaving, a bomb went off in a public square, very close to the house, so it was kind of a graphic illustration of the fact that, for most of the people in this city, you can fix things, but they might break the next day.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, it must make for some pretty good TV. Whose brain child is this?
ANNIA CIEZADLO: The TV station is called Sharqiya, which means "the eastern one," and it is run by a media tycoon named Saad Bazzaz, and most of the employees are former employees of the old information ministry under Saddam Hussein. So there are a lot of people who were out of jobs for maybe a year, maybe a year and a half, since the war, but who -you know -know their job pretty well. A lot of them are Baathists, but a lot of them didn't necessarily subscribe to the politics of the Baath Party. They just happened to be journalists and, you know, worked under this regime. So it's very interesting to see them now becoming part of this independent Iraqi station.
BOB GARFIELD: And this station is, unlike the other satellite channels available to Iraqis, the Arab language satellite channels, is relatively apolitical -- mainly an entertainment channel.
ANNIA CIEZADLO: Pretty much. And it's the first channel in the area that has, you know, sort of Iraqi entertainment shows. This is the first Iraqi reality TV show -- but the sad thing is so far they've only done two houses, because it's very expensive, so they're starting to look into advertising deals.
BOB GARFIELD: Is the show popular, and what becomes of the people who are fortunate enough to have the crews show up?
ANNIA CIEZADLO: They are celebrities, in fact. If you say Um Hussein, which is the mother of the first family, everyone knows that she was the woman whose house was destroyed and got rebuilt on TV. What the show tries to do is to show not just repairing the house but they try to show the family evolving as their house is repaired. It's their belief that, by repairing the house, they'll also help repair some of the wounds of the war.
BOB GARFIELD: Unlike its American counterparts, Labor and Materials ultimately is a show about suffering and loss. Is there any chance that a show like this, which every episode puts really a tiny bandaid on a gaping wound, might prove frustrating for Iraqis who are confronted with the reality of violence whenever they step outside? Isn't there something somehow exploitive and awful about turning the horrors of war into re-decoration porn?
ANNIA CIEZADLO: I don't think so. I mean I, I hear what you're saying, because I think it's really, really sad to think of the probably close to millions of people who are homeless at this point, but I, on the other hand, the show is incredibly popular. Every single Iraqi I've ever spoken to about the show loves it, because it does show something good, and it does show the possibility that somewhere, somebody's house is getting repaired. When I went on this shoot, as we were leaving the house, the father of the house said something that I thought was really just very charming and kind of ironic. They were all standing outside, and there was a big plaque outside the house that says "This house has been rebuilt by Sharqiya TV, after being destroyed in the war." And he said you know, if they destroy my house tonight, again, you're going to have to come and rebuild it, and it's going to have to say "This house was destroyed by the Americans during the war and then rebuilt by Sharqiya. And then destroyed again; and then rebuilt again." And it, it seems funny until about 3 minutes later when a bomb tore through the neighborhood, and it just really brought home that, you know, the problems aren't over yet.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay. Well, Annia thank you very much.
ANNIA CIEZADLO: Thanks for having me.
BOB GARFIELD: Annia Ciezadlo is a freelance journalist. She joined us by phone from Baghdad.