Bringing "Zillow Gone Wild" to HGTV proves the website has become addictive hit entertainment (2024)


The real estate website has been around since 2006, but social media and the pandemic made it the new must-see TV

By Melanie McFarland

Senior Critic

Published May 5, 2024 1:30PM (EDT)

Bringing "Zillow Gone Wild" to HGTV proves the website has become addictive hit entertainment (1)

Jack McBrayer, host of "Zillow Gone Wild"(HGTV)




What closed the “Zillow Gone Wild” sale for me was its X account’s 2022 listing of a four-bedroom, three-bathroom Onalaska, Wis., home. The cozy ranch greets you with a 1970s brown brick exterior and monochromatic Millennial grey décor, accessorized with homey mall-acquired comforts.

A throw pillow that reads “Our Nest” rests on a side table.Hanging on the kitchen wall isa decorative cutting board commanding us to “EAT” in block letters.

The pièce de résistance that made the feature go viral, however, is the framed sign above the main bedroom’s headboard that reads, “Welcome to Poundtown.”

“Zillow Gone Wild” creator SamirMezrahi gamely characterizes the home’s staging as “a good example of what happens when your Michael’s obsession goes one sign too far,” a line that punches up a standard slideshow to a visual gag worthy of "Curb Your Enthusiasm." (Can you even imagine?)

Had it been offered up two years later, “Poundtown” might not have made the cut. The pop culture value of “Zillow Gone Wild,” like most closely watched Zestimates, has skyrocketed – and not only because HGTV adapted it into a series hosted by “30 Rock” star Jack McBrayer.

“Zillow Gone Wild” and Zillow, broadly, are examples ofthe waysan Internet-based service designed for a commercial purposeends up doublingas entertainment.Zillow doesn’t lack competition in the online real estate promotion business, but 18 years after it launched, it is a mood, a show, a soothing time waster, p*rn without the NSFW bits.


That sexy "SNL" Zillow commercial reflects how many of us are dealing with our sad housing reality

Also around 2006, HGTVwas ascendenton basic cable; in2007its hit “Design Star” drew a larger audience than “Top Chef.” In 2024, with Zillow being the internet’s version of “House Hunters,” the network is responding to be more like Zillow.

On the TV edition of “Zillow GoneWild” eccentric design is not in itself enough to sustain the premise; the network already has several programming gewgaws celebrating opulent tackiness in home decor and overhauling interior design disasters.

The pop culture value of “Zillow Gone Wild” like has skyrocketed – and not only because HGTV adapted it into a series.

Besides, as anybody who has wasted precious time on either the Instagram account or its X counterpart knows, reading the comments is most of the fun. . . along with the scrolling, of course.

The TV show approximates that experience by imitating a March-madness bracket, pitting each week’s “wild” home against the others, and challenging viewers to correctly guess which one ultimately wins the honor of “Wildest House.”

Bringing "Zillow Gone Wild" to HGTV proves the website has become addictive hit entertainment (2)Zillow Gone Wild (HGTV)The Retta-hosted “Ugliest House in America” has run on a nearly identical formula for five seasons, althoughthe ultimate prize sounds nicer on “Zillow Gone Wild,” offering a $25,000 pot to one viewer who correctly guesses the winning house. Still, "Ugliest House" also owes a debt to Zillow for the way it accelerated the gamification of online real estate shopping.

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With homeownership increasingly out of reach for the average middle-class worker, Zillow is as much of an aspirational diversion as it is a real estate sales tool. It's popular among homeowners, people ready to move and permanent window shoppers, enjoying 217 million average monthly unique users and 2.3 billion total visits over the first quarter of 2024, it revealed in its recent earnings report.

Surelyentertainmentanalysts would take issue with efforts to compare its performance to cable and streaming content. They are different industriesofcourse . . . unless one factors in the crossovers, and we’re not just referring to the many Barbiecore contenders on “Zillow Gone Wild.”

In some ways, Zillow is better than TV. It doesn't require special equipment or a subscription. All you need is a phone.

The fictional “Glass Onion” compound featured in the “Knives Out” sequel enjoyed a listing for a time. More recentlyinthe wake of Disney+ “Bluey” breaking our hearts with its 30-minute episode “The Sign,” Zillow hired Ryan Reynolds’ agency Maximum Effort to produce “A Moving Commercial,” using actual blue heelers to soothe parents into the idea that selling a home doesn’t need to traumatic.

But Zillow has been aware of its pull on Millennials and Gen Z for some time, proven by the Pop-Tarts listing of a 35-square-foot house in November 2022. Backthenteens and 20-somethings hadn’t yet made Zillow surfing video reactions its own TikTok fad. That’s a thing now, especiallylate at night.

We get it. In some ways, Zillow is better than TV. It doesn't require special equipment or a subscription. All you need is a phone. Where shows thrive or fizzle based on whether we enthusiastically welcome their characters into our living rooms, Zillow does the opposite, allowing us access to the lives and physical spaces of other people. The very online can not only tour the inside of their neighbors’ houses without their awareness or permission, but they can see how much they paid and view tax data. They can also covet or be judgy.

They can also dream, lust (the joke driving that 2021 “Saturday Night Live” skit with Dan Levy)andmaybe set goals. Living in a big city is expensive and cramped, but if you’re willing tocommute,and possibly live in a missile silo, a person might finetune their career blueprints to make that happen.

Bringing "Zillow Gone Wild" to HGTV proves the website has become addictive hit entertainment (3)Zillow Gone Wild (HGTV)“Zillow Gone Wild” boasts 1.9 million Instagram followers today and 619,000 followers on X, an audience thatgrew rapidlyowing to the account’s launch in December 2020 during the first and darkest winter of the COVID pandemic. Its opening act captured the angst of lockdown cabin fever witha famous Vermont listing that rolls out a series of very average-looking interiors before revealing the domicile’s quirkiest feature: rusty jail cells with rotting commodes.

Many such jail houses have turned up on Zillow and its social feeds since, although morerecently“Zillow Gone Wild” Instagram selections havetended to featurethe uncommon and thebaroque, the ridiculously expensive and the sublimely affordable.

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Whether a home comes with acreage or is tiny but somehow unique, it’s both a real estate agent’s tool and a showcase of over-the-top creativity, like the colorfully painted but unassumingLas Vegas homethat hides a pirate ship-themed interior that extensively commits to the mood.

The pirate house made its Instagram debut last July as part of Mezrahi’s “You Never Know What’s Going On Inside a Home” theme on theaccount,and turns up on the show in an early episode. It’s one of an array of homes with some “wackadoo” feature or another as part of their owners committing to a bit, with the difference being the human element.

Bringing "Zillow Gone Wild" to HGTV proves the website has become addictive hit entertainment (4)Zillow Gone Wild (HGTV)

McBrayer exuberantly roams these places with their owners or a listing agent expressing wonder as he turns every corner, never making fun of the decor regardless of howgarishor nonsensical they may be.

He reminds us that these “wild” places sprung from the imaginations of creative individuals – real people attached to spaces they loved as opposed to unseen entities removed from the room. The space is the star regardless of how one prefers to tour “Zillow Gone Wild”; most will likely favor the host-free voyeuristic route Instagram and X afford.

But if you prefer the personal touch by way of a guided tour, McBrayer has your invitation.

Read more

about this topic

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  • "The Curse," HGTV and the curb appeal of gentrification
  • A tiny gingerbread house got listed on Zillow for 31 days, and the price felt all too real

By Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's award-winning senior culture critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

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Bringing "Zillow Gone Wild" to HGTV proves the website has become addictive hit entertainment (2024)


Who is behind Zillow Gone Wild? ›

Zillow Gone Wild has gone from a social media account sharing unique real estate listings to a brand-new show on HGTV debuting on May 3.

Why did Zillow lose money? ›

According to the Wall Street Journal, the otherwise profitable home-listing and real estate advertising company ended up losing nearly $530 million overall, with the bulk of the losses coming from its since shut-down Zillow Offers, which was responsible for the majority of Zillow's income — $6 billion of ithe $8.1 ...

When did Zillow start buying houses? ›

SEATTLE and LOS ANGELES, Dec. 9, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- Homeowners throughout Southern California can now sell their home to the most trusted name in real estate. Zillow Offers, launched today, lets sellers skip the hassle of listing their home by selling directly to Zillow. Zillow Offers markets as of December 9, 2019.

Who really owns Zillow? ›

Zillow Group, Inc., or simply Zillow, is an American tech real-estate marketplace company that was founded in 2006 by Rich Barton, Zillow's current CEO, and Lloyd Frink, former Microsoft executives and founders of Microsoft spin-off Expedia; Spencer Rascoff, a co-founder of; David Beitel, Zillow's current ...

How does Zillow Gone Wild make money? ›

Aside from the HGTV executive producer credit, most of Zillow Gone Wild's revenue comes from ads. He did one for “The Bachelor,” posting what looked like a typical listing but for the show's famed house.

Did Zillow get in trouble? ›

Key points: Two suits were originally filed in 2017 after Zillow disclosed that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was investigating the company for RESPA violations. Zillow's initial failure to acknowledge the CFPB investigation led to inflated stock prices, the suit claimed.

How much debt does Zillow have? ›

How Much Debt Does Zillow Group Carry? As you can see below, Zillow Group had US$1.76b of debt, at September 2023, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. However, its balance sheet shows it holds US$3.27b in cash, so it actually has US$1.51b net cash.

Why is BlackRock buying houses? ›

The truth is that Blackrock has not bought one house. They do not buy houses but there is a similar fund that does buy houses by the name of Blackstone. These are not the same funds nor are they controlled by the same people.

How does Zillow make money? ›

Zillow makes money primarily by selling advertising and enhanced profiles to real estate professionals. The company also generates revenue through mortgage interest, commissions from agent partners, and various services like Zillow Closing Services and Zillow 360 Bundled Services.

How is Zillow doing financially? ›

Q1 revenue was $529 million, up 13% year over year and above the midpoint of the company's outlook range by $26 million. Residential revenue was up 9% year over year in Q1 to $393 million, outperforming both the residential real estate industry total transaction value1 growth of 4% and the company's outlook.

Who owns the most shares of Zillow? ›

Largest shareholders include Caledonia (Private) Investments Pty Ltd, Vanguard Group Inc, BlackRock Inc., VGSIX - Vanguard Real Estate Index Fund Investor Shares, Independent Franchise Partners LLP, NAESX - Vanguard Small-Cap Index Fund Investor Shares, VTSMX - Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund Investor Shares, ...

Who owns the photos on Zillow? ›

The original photographer retains their copyright ownership of photos on Zillow. Zillow does not have the ability to extend permission to you to use the photo. Sorry, but you'll just need to go there and take your own photo.

Who did Zillow merge with? ›

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Who is the head of Zillow? ›

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