Taylor brings dyke know-how to the masses
by Heather Cassell
Out lesbian Jackie Taylor, co-host of the Do It Yourself Network's Grounds for Improvement show, is flying high with a hit TV show, a book, and is about to launch her own broadband network. She's also appearing at this week's San Francisco Flower and Garden Show.
When Taylor, 44, bought a fixer-upper house in Sacramento for just under $100,000 nearly 10 years ago she didn't know anything about how to remodel a house. So she started watching HGTV (a sister network of the DIY Network that produces her show), read books about fixing up homes, made many trips to home improvement stores, and rolled up her sleeves and got to work.
"I started thinking back to my childhood," Taylor said about when she first started working with her tools. "Oh yeah, I remember my dad taught me how to do this and I remember we had this tool. Now, how did I use that tool? So through trial and error I figured out how to do a lot of it myself."
Nearly five years into remodeling her home Taylor was having so much fun that she decided to put her 20-plus years of television experience – working both behind the scenes as a broadcast engineer and in front of the camera for six years as the California Lotto girl – 10 years as a stand-up comedian, and her new passion together for a do-it-yourself show.
Her original idea had more to do with interior design than exterior design, but the DIY Network, which, according to its Web site, reaches 40 million viewers through its affiliations with HGTV, the Food Network, Fine Living, HGTV Pro, and Great American Country, had other plans.
Taylor laughed, recalling, "I don't know anything about the outside. I can do the inside. The outside, not so much."
DIY Network teamed Taylor up with landscape artist Dean Hill and created Grounds for Improvement, a show about creating outdoor spaces.
"I realized, 'Wow. Some of the application isn't that much different,'" said Taylor. "You always have to start with a plan and you need to have a budget in mind. The same philosophy worked with what was already on the inside as for what was happening on the outside. Then I realized later, it was really important that I know the style and the taste inside my home because I can mimic some of the same stuff on the outside of my home."
Since the show hit the airwaves in the fall of 2003 Taylor has increased the DIY Network audience by 4 million viewers. Taylor told the Bay Area Reporter that she believes that what people like the most about the show is the fact that she's having fun and she's helping people.
"I'm helping someone to make their dreams come true," said Taylor. "Very similar to the Big Spin and Super Lotto helping people make their dreams come true, except that it's landscaping."
Taylor is rapidly expanding the success of the show with a coffee table book that is available now entitled Grounds for Improvement (DIY): 40 Great Landscaping & Gardening Projects, and another book that is due this summer. Her own broadband network, Oodle Box TV, will launch May 1.
One opportunity leads to the next
Taylor's success is more than what she ever expected. While she declined to answer specific questions about her income, she did acknowledge she's well-off financially.
"A girl from Watts. Are you kidding? No way!Ó said Taylor, referring to her success. "A girl fighting to keep her lunch box? I never ever imagined in a million years."
Then she sheepishly said, "But you know what? When I was a kid I used to practice my autograph. So, you know, even though per se I didn't know what I was going to do, I think instinctively É sometimes as kids you do know what you are going to do and what you are going to be."
The first 12 years of her life she grew up in the tough Watts area in Los Angeles with her mother, before they moved to Sacramento. An only child until years later when her mother remarried, Taylor watched her mother struggle to ensure that she had every opportunity possible, including a high school trip to Paris, France.
Taylor learned the lesson about opportunities and remained open when she entered broadcasting. Taylor told the B.A.R . that she began behind the scenes as a production assistant in 1988. Then someone noticed that Taylor, a trained comedian, was funny. That person was in charge of warming up and cuing the audience to applaud, laugh, or otherwise respond to what was happening on stage. When he left, Taylor stepped into his position. That later led to Taylor being on camera for the California Lotto and Super Lotto from 1997 until 2003.
Remaining open has been an important theme for Taylor, especially now that she is gaining momentum with a regular column in Jane & Jane, a lesbian home and family magazine, starting the broadband network, and accepting speaking engagements.
Taylor is continuing to help people make their own dreams come true.
Her broadband project, Oodle Box TV, will show a series of YouTube-like how-to videos from a variety of do-it-yourselfers such as: Roger Hazard from HGTV's Sell this House; Bay Area florist Jill Slater; and tattooed lesbian biker Jackie Nunes's how-to videos for fixing up motorcycles.
With her own network, Taylor's family is investing their time and energy into her growing do-it-yourself empire. Her partner, out director Esther Ritter, 47, who directs Paul James's show Gardening by the Yard on HGTV and whose short film Love is Forever was in the 26th annual San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival; her two stepbrothers and sister in Texas; and her extended family are now starting to work for her.
Taylor wasn't always an out lesbian. She spent many years struggling with being out professionally, but that is now all behind her.
"I think I realized that people really didn't give a shit," said Taylor. "It just feels so much better. It's just so much more freeing to say that this is me and this is who I am. When I call [the] network and say I'm being interviewed by the B.A.R . and Jane & Jane and they are like, 'Cool, that's great!' I'm like, 'You don't mind?' 'No that's fine and awesome! We love you!'"
With the development of Oodle Box, Taylor hasn't forgotten that many LGBT people are a part of the entertainment industry, both behind the scenes and on camera. And she hasn't been shy about displaying the LGBT talent; many of her staff are from the community.
"It's about gratitude. It's about being so thankful," said Taylor. "That's what I try to do is be really thankful for the things that I have, the opportunities I have, and I really try to stay fluid in life."
"I really want to be an inspiration for [those] up and coming, especially for African American lesbians, because it's just not easy," said Taylor. "My whole life [people told her], 'You've got two strikes against ya: you're a woman and you're black, and now you've come up with three strikes against ya. Now ya a lesb'an.' and I go, 'That's lesbian.'"
She added, "When I look at people like Oprah, Alice Walker, and Maya Angelou, I see all these women in power and É what that says to me is there's an opportunity that's out there for me as well. So my hope is that someone É that may be struggling or they need some inspiration, I really hope [to] give them some type of inspiration and hope that says, 'Hey, if she can do it, I can do it, too.'"
What is most important to Taylor no matter what she is doing is that she has to have fun.
"If you are not going to have fun doing whatever it is that you're doing, stop," said Taylor. "Don't do it, because it means that's not what you're supposed to be doing. I don't care what it is you're doing É whether you are doing landscaping, interior design, you're a secretary or you work at Wal-Mart. If it's not fun, stop and do something else because life is too short."
Taylor will be appearing at the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show at the Cow Palace on Friday, March 23 and Saturday, March 24. On Friday, she will present "The Secrets Behind a DIY Network Show" at 11:15 a.m. in the Tamalpais Room. On Saturday, she will show people how to "Make the Most of Your Tools" at 10:30 a.m. at the DIY stage. For tickets or more information, visit http://www.gardenshow.com/sf/index/index.asp.