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Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - Page updated at 12:31 AM

Laura Bush to appear on "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition"

Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON — Facing criticism that he appeared disengaged from the disaster wrought by Hurricane Katrina, President Bush has been looking for opportunities to show his concern. But the White House will take the effort a step further Tuesday, venturing into untested waters by putting the nation's first lady on reality television.

Laura Bush will travel to storm-damaged Biloxi, Miss., to film a spot on the feel-good, wish-granting hit "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." Mrs. Bush sought to be on the program because she shares the "same principles" that the producers hold, her press secretary said.

In its standard format, the popular ABC series finds hard-pressed but deserving families, sends them away for short vacations and then, in a whirlwind of carpentry and appliance-shopping, gives them new homes. This time, though, the show will broadcast from an underserved shelter near Biloxi, where a convoy of trucks stocked with everything from mattresses to pants will arrive, courtesy of Sears, one of the show's sponsors.

It's not clear exactly what Mrs. Bush will do, but Tom Forman, executive producer and creator, said he is hoping that she'll just pitch in and help unload.

"I think we say, 'Mrs. Bush, the stuff is over here, the people are over there, could you grab the other end of that mattress?' " Forman said. Press secretary Susan Whitson envisioned something closer to handing out clothing and thanking volunteers.

Forman said the episode will air in November.

"This is why it is so great the first lady is coming along, just to talk and hear stories and share tears and give hugs and remind everyone we are there for a long time and we are going to keep coming back and nobody has forgotten about them, including their government," Forman said.

The show has been likened to a modern-day "Queen for a Day." But it could be difficult to discern whose fortunes will be lifted higher -- the displaced victims of two hurricanes or the White House, which was widely perceived as slow to understand their pain.

Which is probably why the Bush team contacted the show for a booking instead of the other way around. The series was ranked among the top 15 shows last season with an average 15.8 million viewers. Airing Sunday nights, it is considered one of the strongest family hours on television.

"We got a call from the White House saying, 'What are you doing and if you need help, just let us know,' " Forman said. "We said here's what we're doing and if the first lady would like to join us, we'd love to have her."

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