This Old House is the highest-rated home improvement series in television history. It also happens to be a favorite of mine dating back many years. As I start this new series focusing on career paths in the entertainment industry I will be interviewing folks from all corners of the biz to share with you. So when I had the chance to speak with host Kevin O’Connor I jumped at the opportunity.
Kevin is starting his seventh season as the host of the legendary PBS television series. You would think he came to this gig with a construction education, artisan experience, acting history or some combination thereof. As it turns out he used to be a banker, which is only one of the things I found intriguing about our discussion on career paths:
PB: You came from a traditional finance and banking background. MBA in finance, big bank experience, then boom you’re the new host of This Old House. How did that happen?
KO: My wife and I bought a fixer-upper north of Boston and at one point we hit a dead-end on one of the many projects in the house. So we sent an email to the This Old House web site and the producer contacted us. They were doing 6 minute min-segments for their new show ‘Ask this Old House’ and thought our issue and our house would be a good profile. So they showed up at my house and we started working on the project. During breaks I would grab Tom Silva, the show’s general contractor, and barrage him with questions about different issues I faced in fixing my house. I knew that when they walked out, I’d never get that level of consultation ever again.
As it turned out, the producer is there watching all this go down. The segment turned out to be what they wanted and there was a good vibe during the production. A few weeks later they reached-out to me with an offer to become the third host of This Old House. How could I say no?
PB: Have you ever thought about where you would be if you didn’t get that offer?
KO: Probably not doing so well in the banking industry right now.
PB: When you think about it, This Old House was one of the original reality television shows. How do you compare it to what is out there now, like Extreme Makeover and the like?
KO: We don’t do product placement in the segments which is the exact opposite of others that are out there. We are PBS, and that has its own culture. Plus, unlike so many reality shows based loosely on houses, ours is about the house, first and always.
PB: Do you guys shoot just a ton of video and work things out in the editing room?
KO: Not at all, this is another difference with that comparison. I’ve done other shows where they have four cameras rolling all day long and you really don’t know what will come out of the editing bay as the final show. On This Old House, we don’t operate from a script. The guys on the crew have been working on the show for 30 years, and came to it with a ton of experience, so my job is to break-down what is obvious to them and translate it to the viewers. We try to shoot complete paragraphs, explaining things that a layman would understand. Sometimes we will shoot a segment and look at it come out of post and realize we never stopped rolling.
PB: Looking back at the last six years what one quality can you say was the most important thing you brought with you to this new phase of your career?
KO: Curiosity. I am naturally curious about how things are built, how they come together and how guys like this crew overcome things. As it turns out that’s the quality the producer knew was important in the host role and its how I ended-up getting cast.
PB: Would you say you’ve achieved Rock Star status out there in viewer land?
KO: I don’t think the PBS audience is the target demographic to make something like that happen. My ‘Q’ factor does go up when I go to places where that demo hangs out, like museums and what not. Then I am catcalled as “Hey, Old House” or “Old House Guy”. It is humbling.
PB: What’s next for Kevin?
KO: I am working on doing a few new things that work in with my schedule here. Prior to this I never viewed the media world as a career and I guess I still don’t. I would love to stay and become an old timer on the show...it’s that unique of a situation for me.