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Contractor Mike Holmes (Jaime Hogge/Jaime Hogge)

Contractor Mike Holmes

(Jaime Hogge/Jaime Hogge)

The making of Mike Holmes Add to ...

It wasn't long before Holmes, who'd been running construction companies since he was 19, offered up some opinions.

"You guys have it all wrong," he told Quast. What followed was a spirited half-hour rant about all the houses Holmes had needed to fix because amateurs thought they could do the jobs of electricians and plumbers, and how the network should instead be documenting the nightmares caused by horrendous workmanship. After Holmes apologized for his "diarrhea of the mouth," Quast urged him to write down the concept. "I said, 'You'd have to host it. With the passion I see there, I can't see anyone else doing it.' "

Holmes's rage played great on TV. From each episode's "holy shit" moments when he revealed to homeowners the extent of their problems, to the "shock and awe tour" when they saw the demolition performed by his crew and listened to Holmes, veins popping in his neck, inveigh against the shoddy labour, to the redemptive ending of a family back in its nest, Holmes was more than the host-he was the show. "I used to say, 'Mike, your sweat is gold,' " recalls Quast. " 'The more you sweat, the happier I am.' "

It's always been one of the challenges, that you're building the brand on the shoulders of a man who needs to sleep and eat. Michael Quast

By the fall of 2004, Holmes on Homes was a big hit, drawing 250,000 viewers. The timing was perfect: Amid a long boom in the housing market, home renovation had become a pop-cultural phenomenon. "When you'd buy a house, there was an expectation that you'd do something to it," says Mark Healy, a Toronto marketing strategist. "Holmes tapped into that sentiment in an accessible way. Consumers generally feel disenfranchised and skeptical, so there's a tremendously untapped appetite for that." The show had no scripts; Holmes spoke plain English; he had authority; he got mad-a Don Cherry of construction.

Nevertheless, television does require some touch-ups. In 2003, the network demanded Holmes take media training after his language got a bit too salty. Lynda Reeves, who gave Holmes his first TV exposure on her House & Home HGTV show, remembers him as a quiet carpenter. The biceps weren't on display. "Someone told him that his physique is important, but that didn't strike me as the main thing," she says. "Clearly, they've encouraged him to be blunt."

Despite his success, by 2005 Holmes was thinking of quitting. His partnership with his producer, Scott Clark McNeil, had soured. No one at the Holmes Group will discuss what went wrong, but the fact that McNeil pushed for a single sponsor for the show-what Sears is to Extreme Makeover: Home Edition in the U.S.-and publicly likened Holmes to an action figure suggests his approach may have been too commercial for the idealistic Holmes. "They divorced, and the kids went with dad," is how Quast describes the fallout.

Which is when Quast and Kettlewell got the call. Though they'd both worked with Holmes, they didn't know each other, yet immediately agreed on the potential. There was no grand plan for a brand empire, says Quast. Holmes's goal was simple: educate homeowners, build better houses and improve the state of skilled trades. To do that, he needed broader reach, a bigger pulpit. "You can't build a sustainable business just on television," says Quast. "But we were motivated by the desire to make sure the core integrity of this stayed true and didn't fall apart into mush." Right there in Holmes's garage, the trio decided to form a company and picked their titles-Quast took vice-president of business development, focusing on building the Holmes brand, while Kettlewell, as VP of production, would oversee the show.

Quast, a soft-spoken, middle-aged guy who dresses in polo shirts and slacks but who has the most corporate-looking office at the Holmes Group, displays none of the marketing maven's bravado: The company has grown by trial and error, he says, and it was really "through serendipity" that things started to gel. As season 5 launched, the Holmes Group put out DVDs of past shows and went looking for a book publisher. Every potential venture or partnership was vetted by three criteria: Is it on message? Is it something Mike would use? Is it the right thing to do? "That sounds falsely noble, but it's genuine," says Quast.

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