This Old Host

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hey, bob

Alan J. Heavens, perhaps the only person who cares about This Old House as much as I do, had a column in Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer about one-time TOH host Bob Vila. In between remarkable articles on home ownership, home repair and tools, Heavens will sometimes slip in a piece about the state of home repair shows. Earlier this year he had an article about the 25th season of TOH. He has been just as disappointed in what TOH has become as I have, but he saw promise in this season’s house and was willing to give them another chance. I have tuned in a bit, but I still hate the fact that they are building yet another 5000-square-foot mansion.

After his ten years with TOH, Vila created (along with his sponsor Sears) Home Again, which he has hosted for the fifteen years since he left TOH. Home Again is done in the style of the old TOH that I enjoyed long ago, though with less-knowledgeable Bob Riley filling in at carpenter for Godlike Super-Genius (and I say that with absolutely no sarcasm – just ask the missus) Norm Abram.

The only other downside to Home Again is Vila’s enormous ego. While TOH often allows host Kevin O’Connor’s sidekicks to handle a scene by themselves, Bob is always on the screen during Home Again. But where O’Connor was a VP at Fleet Bank before joining TOH, Vila’s been doing this his whole life and obviously knows his stuff. Vila’s ego, along with his insistence on being allowed to shill for Sears on his own time, seems to have been the cause of the split between him and PBS. Nonetheless, the projects that Vila now works on are interesting and informative enough to allow looking past his personality flaws. TOH has better personalities, but their projects are geared towards those in the market for million dollar homes.

Rather than use his column to critique Home Again, the Inky’s Heavens lets Vila give his opinion of TOH and the other home improvement shows that litter the airwaves. Though the erstwhile TOH host claims that he doesn’t like to criticize his old show, it’s obvious that he does not like what it has become. He says that after he left, “the show became scripted, like a sitcom.” I totally agree with him here, especially with the TOH spin-off, Ask This Old House. Ask TOH deals with the kind of projects that Vila has always done, but the scripted banter between O’Connor and his co-hosts is cringe-worthy to the point of being unwatchable.

Vila saves most of his venom for the newer “home improvement” (if you can call it that) shows that he sees as more entertainment than information; those with carpenters who are celebrities first and craftsmen second, or shows that are just updates of Queen for a Day (ironically, Extreme Makeover Home Edition host/carpenter Ty Pennington is also a Sears spokesman). Like me, Vila wonders how sturdy the results are when the workers rush through them to meet some arbitrary deadline. (I've always wondered how these shows get their permits so fast).

Obviously this is a subject near and dear to my heart and I wish I could catch Vila’s Home Again more often, but it airs at 4 a.m. here in Philly. I’ve been stuck watching it whenever I happen to catch a rerun on cable, but I think I will start taping it so I can watch it once the weather turns frigid and I start running on the treadmill again.

Just like I use to do with This Old House.


At 1:37 AM, Blogger Surftiger said...

Don't know if you will read this, but was doing a search as to what Bob Riley was doing these days.
You are right on the money about TOH. I am glad that here in the L.A. area channel 2 (cbs affiliate) has decided to air Home Again at 7am Sundays. Used to be at 4am or earlier. Bob Vila single handedly created the home project craze. Not many can say they created a genre. If it wasn't for Norm Abrams, TOH would fall flat. What I hate most is the many many side trips the show takes to show us travelogue fluff.
Bob Vila is the man. Period. And PBS blew it when they cancelled him. I watch PBS and it has become full of commercials. Perhaps if Bob Vila was starting today, he would fit in better.


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