Sara Rue hasn't even exchanged keys with ''Less Than Perfect'' costar Andy Dick and she's already upset by what ''Trading Spaces'' did to her home.
Somebody left the door open and her dog has disappeared.
''Biscuit!'' Rue yells frantically, before jumping in her black SUV to comb the trendy L.A. neighborhood just south of the La Brea Tar Pits. ''This is a new one,'' mumbles executive producer Denise Cramsey, who reluctantly joins her crew in the foot search. Fortunately, an all-points bulletin for the Pomeranian-Chihuahua mix isn't necessary: ''Trading Spaces'' designer Genevieve Gorder -- who is about to build a new home office for Rue -- discovers Biscuit moments later in a neighbor's backyard.
''I was like, 'Oh, my God, is this a sign of how the weekend was going to go?''' Rue says. ''And then I thought, 'Well, Genevieve found my dog, so maybe this is a sign of good things.'''
For ''Trading Spaces,'' it will be. For Rue, not so much (more on that in a moment). Unless you've been living under a rock, or in a poorly designed den, you've heard of TLC's three-year-old hit that gives neighbors two days (and $1,000) to redesign rooms in each other's abodes with the help of overbearing designers and a hottie carpenter. (No peeking!) And the latest tweak on the ''Spaces'' format -- celebrity editions -- has paid off big time. The first, featuring Dixie Chick Natalie Maines in April 2002, nabbed record ratings. Not that ''Trading Spaces'' needs gimmicks; the Saturday-night premiere averages 6.4 million viewers a week, which means it pulls a larger audience than such broadcast faves as ''Gilmore Girls.''
''The celebrity edition takes our challenge of trading rooms and kicks it up a notch,'' says Cramsey, who jumped at the chance to feature the ABC stars for an April 13 episode. (It'll run with another celebrity edition featuring ''7th Heaven'''s Jessica Biel and Beverley Mitchell). ''These are people who have the money to decorate themselves. For them to let us in the door is really something.''
But even TV stars can be obsessive fans, as Rue was of ''Spaces'': ''I had my manager call and see if they ever did celebrity episodes,'' she says. Dick, however, had to be persuaded to give over a room in his nearby Spanish-style duplex to a show he'd never watched. ''My first reaction was I didn't want them to touch my house,'' says Dick. ''But Sara loves the show, and more importantly, the president of ABC loves the show. So I guess that means I ought to do it, huh?''
He became more convinced that Rue could use ''Spaces''' help when he took a gander at her home office -- a small room with white walls and blue curtains covering the windows. ''It was just a potpourri of crap,'' says Dick. Rue was equally disdainful of Dick's tiny kitchen. ''It was really dirty,'' she says. ''Our kitchen hasn't been redone either, but it's not like there are things growing in it.''
Not that Rue actually did a ton of scrubbing. One of the dirty secrets about the celeb editions (''Spaces'' idealists may want to skip ahead to the next paragraph) is that the stars don't do the home improvement work. Designer Vern Yip laid the fancy terra-cotta-style tiles on Dick's kitchen floor, while a bleach-blond man who likes to wear sack dresses sewed the curtains, pillows, and slipcovers.