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Nate Berkus' 'American Dream Builders' brings designer drama

From left, Erinn Valencich, Tarrick Love, Dann Foley

From left, Erinn Valencich, Tarrick Love, Dann Foley and Vanessa Deleon on "American Dream Builders" Episode 101, "Build Week." Credit: NBC / Tyler Golden

The amiable Nate Berkus returns to home improvement TV with NBC's "American Dream Builders" (Sunday at 8 p.m. on NBC/4).

This show sets an ambitious goal: Two teams renovate two houses of the same architectural style in the same neighborhood -- in a week. As executive producer, host and one of the judges, Berkus selected the 12 designers, who must work together.

"The decision was made that they would all be professionals and very established in their own communities and local markets," Berkus says. "They weren't fighting to become the next anything. They already have very successful businesses and clients, and some of them had worked 20 years to build that. And this show is not about discovering new talent. It is about bringing established talent into everyone's home. Every week, two homes are renovated from wall studs up and re-created and re-imagined. That will give lots of people ideas."

The homes in the pilot are crowded with too many people and too much stuff, a lack of storage space, dated kitchens and bathrooms, and neglected yards. Designers look critically at the houses. The families move out, and the teams descend. Some of these designers would never so much as voluntarily share an elevator, much less the spotlight. One designer goes around bragging that her taste is better than everyone else's and says she's doing it because obnoxious behavior is expected on unscripted shows.

"The 12 are used to being the bosses," Berkus says. "The way some of them can't communicate and the way some choose to communicate -- you can't make this up. You can't script it. It was fascinating to watch. And we just turn the cameras on."

Judges Eddie George, a former NFL running back and now a landscape architect, and Monica Pedersen, an interior designer, look for what everyone wants in a home: functionality, ease and style.

And as seems to be mandatory for shows when crummy houses are transformed into beauties, it ends in tears. Berkus, who has been doing home makeovers on TV for 15 years, has a theory as to why.

"Universally, no matter who you are or where you live, everybody wants to live better," he says. "We are taking what they own and what they have worked really hard to own and making it beautiful. They see their space redone, re-imagined and fully redesigned for the first time."

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