Posted on Sun, Oct. 03, 2004
On the House | 'TOH' may need work, but it still looks good
By Al Heavens
Don't interpret this as a sign of weakness or advanced age, but I've
decided to reach an accommodation with the folks at This Old House.
This decision doesn't come out of the blue. I made it as I watched the
rough version of the first episode of the show's 25th season, which
premieres on most public-television stations at 8 p.m. Thursday. It
reminded me why I started watching in the first place: I wanted to
learn something from smart people in a short period without having to
acknowledge publicly how little I knew.
That was 1979, as I approached homeownership for the first time; the
project was in Dorchester, Mass. I couldn't believe anyone would buy a
house in such rough shape. And week after week, I was in awe of how
well things could turn out, if you knew what you were doing or hired
someone who did.
I finished watching this season's first episode with that same
feeling. Although I know a lot more than I did when I was 29
(including not to buy fixer-uppers again), I concluded that there was
still plenty to learn from these guys, or at least much that I've
learned that I need to remember.
As anyone who has time to waste knows, This Old House is one of at
least a hundred TV home shows. Some are dreadful, employing
out-of-work actors between soap-opera gigs instead of experts. Most
In general, they reinforce what has become an all-too-common belief
among my countrymen and women: that if you whine and complain long
enough, you will get what you want. Patience is a vice. And if you get
what you whine about for free, you cry crocodile tears of joy in front
of the camera and the actor-host asks you the magic question: "How do
I want to throw up. How do you feel?
A lot of viewers seem to thrive on this treacle - the modern
bread-and-circus offering known as the "reality show." Instead of
swords and nets, our gladiators are armed with 20-pound sledgehammers
and reciprocating saws.
Let's not forget the rule that everyone has to be pretty. I'd prefer
the face-lifts be limited to the house, thank you. And since when is
the ability of a designer measured in the number of lighted candles
set up around a bathtub?
Also, though I realize medium-density fiberboard is a versatile
material, if you think that the armoire Trading Spaces carpenter Ty
Pennington has thrown together with MDF will be around to pass down to
your grandchildren, you need to visit an antiques store for a reality
But back to This Old House. I've never gotten a reasonable explanation
why Steve Thomas left the show after 14 years. I don't think it's fair
that Bob Vila, who was the show's first host and is, too, celebrating
25 years on TV this year, wasn't mentioned in passing on the first
episode - even acknowledging the 17-year-old feud between Vila and
creative director/founder Russ Morash.
And it is way past the time that a woman, designer Alexa Hampton,
became part of the TOH team. When you consider the number of women
viewers this show still has, 21/2 decades of male domination doesn't
send any message I'm interested in hearing.
I do think they also need to engage in more lower-end, everyday
But those are small points. The ill will between Vila and Morash isn't
the viewers' problem. I liked Thomas, but he was more of a ringmaster
than a host. The new guy is OK. And with shows designed to provide
information, the messenger isn't as important as the message.
And the message, as articulated by master carpenter Norm Abram, is,
"we fix up old houses."
This season's project, like its first, is a house the show is buying
to renovate and sell. This one is in Carlisle, Mass., a town of 5,300
northwest of Boston.
There is a lot of work to do on this 1849 Greek Revival farmhouse, its
barn, and its various appendages.
With wavy floors, space that barely accommodates a 21st-century
lifestyle and little up to code (and they haven't even looked behind
the walls yet), the $679,000 purchase price may be the smallest
As contractor Tom Silva put it, "Drama is expensive."
The first house only cost $18,000. Drama was a lot cheaper in 1979.
"People funny. Life a funny thing." Sonny Liston
Thomas J.Watson - Cabinetmaker (ret.)
tjwatson1ATcomcastDOTnet (real email)