Canadian Contractor

Steve Payne   

What’s Bob Vila up to these days? Popular Mechanics has a terrific interview with the man who created renovation television

Canadian Contractor

David Letterman and Bob Vila, both 68, both off the tube now, actually have a lot of things in common. They both totally changed TV.

He’s 68, he’s off the tube these days, but his decades on TV changed how people entertain themselves with television. Now he’s got a raft of imitators, much younger, but not as original…

David Letterman, who went off the air last night? Yes to all of the above.

Bob Vila, who went off the air nine years ago. Yes to all of the above.

The two men, fast approaching the big seven-oh, obviously had a massive effect on what we see on TV these days.  Letterman changed the late-night variety show format, bringing in nastier humour, sarcasm, British-comedy-style nutbar antics.


Vila, arguably, went even further. Unlike Letterman, he didn’t change a TV format, he INVENTED one.

When the Vila-hosted “This Old House” went on the air in 1979, on WGBH in Boston, a tiny cable TV affiliate of PBS, the handful of TV executives who had even heard of it were convinced it would be a one-season thing: 13 episodes.

Vila got the gig because he’d won an award for rebuilding a heritage house in nearby Newton, Mass., the year prior. He was a curiosity: he could yap on TV (he was trained as a journalist) and build. Or at least show us other people doing it.

THIRTY-SIX years later, we can see that “This Old House” basically created home improvement television. There are well over one hundred shows on regular rotation on cable TV in North America.

But “This Old House” is the granddaddy of them all.

“This Old House” was pulling in renovation-fascinated viewer 15 years before HGTV (the USA-version) hit the air in 1994 (the Canadian version was born in 1997).

“This Old House” was getting those construction-hungry viewers almost a quarter-century – 23 years – before “Holmes on Homes” went on the air in 2001.

If you ever wondered what happened to Vila, check out this interview with him in this month’s Popular Mechanics.

Vila shies away from calling today’s home improvement TV shows, crap. But you’ve got to figure he thinks a lot of them are: “I don’t watch much of it,” he says.


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1 Comment » for What’s Bob Vila up to these days? Popular Mechanics has a terrific interview with the man who created renovation television
  1. James says:

    Loved Bob Vila, me and my mom watched him a lot. Yes now we both watch Mike Holmes shows and a few others.

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