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Series / This Old House

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Rich Trethewey, Jenn Nawada, Kevin O'Connor, and Tom Silva
This Old House is an ongoing PBS television program that started airing in 1979 about the process of rehabilitating old houses and making them look more attractive. The show started out as a local program on WGBH in Boston before making the move to national television beginning in the fall of 1980. The original host was Bob Vila, who hosted the program for 10 seasons before being fired when his commercial commitments endangered funding for the series. Steve Thomas, his successor, would run things for 14 years before being replaced with Kevin O'Connor. Master carpenter Norm Abram is another major player in the series, having been there from the very first episode.

The series has two spinoffs, both of which qualify for Long Runner status themselves. The first was The New Yankee Workshop, starring Norm Abram, which ran from 1989-2009. It involved Norm building various woodworking projects, from tables to bookcases to desks. The second, starting in 2002 and still ongoing, is Ask This Old House, where the folks from This Old House answer viewer-submitted questions related to home repair and improvement.

Read recaps of each episode here.

This Old House is brought to you by the following tropes:

  • Ascended Extra: Several examples.
    • The current host, Kevin O'Connor, first appeared as a homeowner on an Ask This Old House segment. Prior to becoming the host, he was actually a banker.
    • Rich Trethewey, the show's plumbing and HVAC expert, was originally just seen in the background on the first season of the show. All the exposition about what was going on was done by his father. In recent years, Richard's son Ross has taken to showing up, usually talking about newer smart house or green technologies.
    • Tom Silva's nephew Charlie was originally just a guy in the background but, over time, has gained more screen time.
    • Nathan Gilbert originally appeared during season 39 as an apprentice for the Generation NEXT program. He reappeared the very next season, this time explaining the cabinetry he was installing. He is now the go-to carpentry and cabinetry expert for Ask This Old House.
    • Jenn Nawada was a secondary garden and landscape expert that appeared on Ask This Old House before she took over as full-time gardener and landscaper on both shows to substitute for Roger Cook who announced a battle with an undisclosed illness in 2019.
  • Call-Back: During the first season finale, Bob Vila shows real estate appraiser John Hewitt and the viewers a clip from the series premiere where they went through the unrestored kitchen. As with practically everything else about the house, the kitchen is unrecognizable between the start of the season and the end.
  • Captain Obvious: During one Dorchester episode, when Bob Vila shows a '30s photograph with a person to the side, he points out that the person is not him.
  • Competence Porn: A big part of the series' appeal is watching the professional craftsmen use their skills to rehabilitate a run-down house.
  • Creative Closing Credits: The first several seasons had the closing credits printed on a set of blueprints.
  • Early-Bird Cameo:
    • Before he started hosting the program, Kevin O'Connor appeared as a guest on Ask This Old House.
    • Tom Silva appears as a guest in a season 9 episode, showing Bob some cabinets similar to the ones being installed on the project house. He became a regular in season 10.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: On a show that's been on this long, this is bound to happen.
    • The first few seasons involved the show buying a house, fixing it up, and selling it. The negligible or nonexistent profit generated this way lead to a switch to working with homeowners, which the show has stayed with ever since.
    • Seasons 1 & 3 had 13 episodes. Season 2 had 27. After season 3 they switched to 26-episode seasons.
  • Home and Garden: The earliest episodes resemble DIY house renovations, but they quickly turn into something of a "showcase" program that presented high-end renovations of expensive properties using resources out of the reach of most homeowners.
  • I Was Quite a Fashion Victim: The 40th anniversary special includes review of the scene in season 1 where the orange formica countertop is installed in the kitchen. Norm lampshades this trope immediately.
  • It Will Never Catch On: In the season 42 episode "Return to Dorchester", Tom Silva and Kevin O'Connor drive by the house from season 1. Tom reveals that his company was approached to take part in the project, but they turned it down because of this trope.
  • Long-Runners: The show has been on the air for 40 years and counting.
  • Oh, Crap!: During the season 5 premier, Bob takes us on a tour of the show's previous projects, including season 2's Bigelow House (a.k.a. the Newton house) which still had not found a buyer two full years later. While the show wasn't technically on the hook for the real estate (the house had been bought by what amounts to a historic landmarks commission), Bob openly expresses his astonishment that all the work they did in rehabbing the place was essentially just sitting there going to waste.
  • Plumber's Crack: Averted. PBS likely has people who keep their eyes peeled for any accidental occurrences so they can be edited out or re-shot.
  • The Prankster: Tom Silva, according to Kevin O'Connor, though all the pranks occur off-screen. In the 40th Anniversary Special Kevin recounted how Tom screwed Kevin's tool belt to the floor when he took it off and left the room for some reason.
  • Signing Off Catchphrase: Each episode ends with every person currently on camera saying their name and then the host saying "For This Old House". An unexpectedly dirtied Tom Silva once ad-libbed, "And I'm Mr. Clean." This is a later development and probably a reaction to the first host's method. Bob Vila's standard close was simply, "I'm Bob Vila for This Old House," regardless of who else was on camera.
  • Spanner in the Works: The series isn't called This Old House for nothing: they almost never work on a house younger than the turn of the 20th century, with their current record being the Ipswich, MA gambrel whose oldest portion dated back to 1720. And the ages of the structures means something almost always screws up their initial plans, from asbestos to rot.
  • Syndication Title: Episodes aired for several years in The '90s on TLC as The Renovation Zone.
  • The Team: The show has customarily had a core group of contractors on every project, plus the current host. Over the years these have included:
    • The Host, variously Bob Vila (1979-1989), Steve Thomas (1985-2003), and Kevin O'Connor (2003-present).
    • Master Carpenter Norm Abram, who is still on the show's board but hasn't regularly appeared in person since the COVID-19 Pandemic interrupted production.
    • General contractor Tom Silva (1989-present)
    • Painter Mauro Henrique (2010-present)
    • Plumbing and HVAC expert Rich Trethewey (1979-present)
    • Landscapers Roger Cook (2000-2020) and Jenn Nawada (2010-present).
    • Mason Mark McCullough
  • Very Special Episode: The series has had a few mid-season projects that fell into this category.
    • The series spent a few episodes visiting New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and the Jersey Shore post Sandy.
    • Another three-part project focusing on building new homes in fire-ravaged Paradise, California.
    • There was also a three-episode project focused on the ground-up construction of new homes for U.S. war veterans.
    • By far the most special full-length season remembered by fans was in 1999, when general contractor Tom Silva and his family lost their home to a fire and the show helped them rebuild.
  • The Watson: The host of the show typically is not a builder (e.g. Kevin O'Connor was a real estate banker before joining the show), so their role in show segments is usually to be the guy to whom the various tradespeople in the cast explain things, and then being an extra pair of hands in the ensuing construction montage.