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Friday, October 1, 2010

Where are the T.V woodworking shows?

I’ll come right out and say it: I like a lot of what is on television. It seems a lot of us do. More people are involved in their favorite shows than ever before.
So why are so many folks are ashamed to admit that? While in casual conversation about T.V., an obligatory response is often, “Oh, I really don’t watch much T.V.” It’s almost a defensive remark. Sometimes I hear, “There’s really nothing worth watching”, or “I’m just too busy to watch T.V.” Some people try to rise above it all with the pseudo-intellectual, “Well, I sometimes watch PBS.” What’s going on here?

Some of television’s best programming has occurred in the past ten years. Shows such as The Sopranos, Rome, Firefly, and Battlestar Gallactica have all broken new ground and are among the best shows ever produced. In my estimation we are in the golden age of television right now.

With the vast array of choices available today, there are top-notch, entertaining programs to fit into every interest and niche.

Dirty Jobs is a fascinating and amusing look into areas of employment that most of us have never witnessed. One of the keys to its success is Mike Rowe, its host, who understands that first and foremost, television must be entertaining.

Another personality-driven, lively show is Mythbusters. It’s pretty hard not to get absorbed into each new episode. Jamie and Adam always keep it funny and we get to see cool things happen.

I adore watching every episode of Man Vs. Wild. Sure, Bear Grylls is pompous, but I get transported to places I’ll never visit and watch Bear perform feats I’ll never attempt. Plus we get to watch him eat bugs.

I get caught up in many of the competition-based reality shows. American Idol continues to showcase some incredibly talented voices. So You Think You Can Dance hooks me every week. I have learned more about dance from that show than I have ever known. Amazing athletes, those kids. America’s Got Talent is the best variety show ever on T.V. When I first watched and listened to ten-year-old Jackie Evancho sing opera, it left me with feelings of elation and awe I will never forget.

I like to cook so I watch lots of food shows. There are many good ones on the Food Network of course, but Gordon Ramsay’s shows are the most entertaining, even if he does spell his last name wrong.

I am totally hooked on Glee, one of the silliest, most outrageous shows ever. With such lightheartedness, catchy music, and charm, you can’t help but enjoy it.

I haven’t even mentioned some of the great programs on the History Channel. (Modern Marvels, anyone?) The key to finding good T.V. is the DVR, which has revolutionized the way I watch. In general, I have no idea what time my shows “air”: they simply show up in my recordings so I can watch them at my convenience and without commercials.

So where are the woodworking shows?

With this cornucopia of television choices, and with all its specialization and niche-marketing, why is there virtually nothing for woodworkers? In this age of technology, more and more people are turning to the hands-on simplicity of woodworking as a hobby and to even make a few extra bucks. Are T.V. producers even aware of this market? Sure there are a couple of woodworking shows on Public Television, but since New Yankee Workshop is no longer on, I watch none of them. Mainly because PBS can’t produce an entertaining show to save its government-funded life.

Problems with woodworking on T.V. 

There has never been a truly entertaining woodworking show. Norm Abram was an exception, but his appeal lay mainly with “serious” woodworkers. Strangely, it worked due to his likeable personality. To be objective, New Yankee was not the most exciting show ever aired and would not survive on commercial T.V., but for sake of this article I will leave Norm aside; he’s a legend and in a category of his own. (What I'd like to see Norm do is broadcast his own low-budget web show.)

Most attempts at woodworking shows get bogged down in instruction. Sure, we want to learn a thing or two, but a half-hour T.V. show is not really a format that suits this kind of education. As a result, the shows are sleep-inducing.

The best shows on television are personality-driven and understand that the primary purpose of T.V. is to entertain. Woodworking hosts may know a lot about their craft, but they come across as tedious and dreadfully boring. If I want woodworking instruction, I’ll turn to the internet or even a book.

Most woodworking shows have been geared toward higher end woodworkers and lead the viewer to believe that the craft can only be accomplished with expensive tools. The finished products are super-fine examples of workmanship, but I wonder how many potential woodworkers have actually been turned away from trying them because they are intimidated by these guys rather than inspired.

Show hosts make projects that most people will never attempt and are expensive. Any of you planning on making a mahogany armoire any time soon? Wouldn’t it be nice to see a show that features projects that are actually approachable?

In part two of this article, I'll pitch Hollywood some suggestions. Woodworking can be entertaining and profitable for television producers.

Read part 2 of this article: Making Woodworking Entertaining


  1. Couldn't agree more, even tho I am one of those people who say "I don't watch TV" and honestly that is true I don't.But now here is the but...

    I do watch Made for TV shows on Netflix. I can honestly say in over 9 years if I have actually sat down in front of a TV and watched it for more than an hour total that would be pushing it and ill tell you my main reason... Adverts.

    I am sick and tired of those stupid bloody things 4minutes of show 6 minutes of commercials. Isn't it enough we are bombarded with adverts constantly threw out our day to day and even sitting in our own homes its very rare to find anyone who can look in a single direction in any room and not see at least one Logo or advert never mind trying to sit down and relax and watch a show without being bombarded with them also now I understand its all about the Green god called Dollar but seriously even when you PAY for a service like cable/sat/digital you STILL get it.

    So my friend while I agree 100% with the words you wrote I still have to say while I don't watch TV I do enjoy the shows or maybe I'm just being picky lol

  2. I probably should have made that distinction. Watching T.V. means a lot of different things. I watch series from Netflix or stream shows on the internet. I have friends who have no traditional TV connection, but simply use Hulu, Netflix and a variety of other sources.

    For me, my DVR changed everything. I literally never watch shows as they are aired. I watch them when I want and skip the commercials. (Well I guess football is an exception.)However one watches programming, there is really good stuff to be found.

  3. I'm interested to see what you post tomorrow. I think you hit the nail on the head though, 30 minutes is not long enough to show how to build some of these advanced pieces of furniture. Even in the shows by Norm and Saint Roy, unless you are already a master craftsman you aren't going to finish watching, turn off the TV and head out to the "shop" to build what they made.

    On the same token, I am pretty sure I am not ready to face the wilds of Borneo after watching Bear Grylls drink his own pee and slice dinner from a decaying goat carcass either.

    Remember Mr. Wizard when you were a kid? His experiments were doable. You could go off, after watching his show, and do the experiments yourself. My mother still has some ruined tupperware at home from the famous Acid and a Base episode.

    We need a show that shows you how to do something simple. Like your bandsaw box video actually. I could watch your video one time, understand how to make the box, and go out and duplicate it.

    Add in some more details, a catchy jingle, a scantily clad shop assistant, and you have the makings for a Discovery Channel hit.

  4. Hi Steve
    I have watched your vids for ages now and seen some exceptional pieces of work from you and your subscriber’s thanks for all of that but especially thanks for posting the vid of Jackie Evancho. I also was left with feelings of elation and awe I will never forget.
    Here in the uk I hadn’t seen her before but will certainly follow her now. Wondrous moment

  5. Have any of you seen, "Rough Cut: Woodworking with Tommy Mac"?

    PBS just started airing the show.


  6. Can't believe you include the likes of "American Idol" in the "golden age of television" argument... IMHO that kind of spectacle is part of the problem, not the solution... except Survivor... I like Survivor... so shoot me for being a hypocrite... but in general, when decent budget meets good writing and production, magic happens... I don't mean Survivor, I mean shows like Six Feet Under or The Wire or Carnivale ...

    As for woodworking shows, it's like saying why are there no good knitting shows... fascinating if you're a member of the tribe, perhaps deadly dull if you're not... and you're right, that's where personality comes in... a Norm or a Roy Underhill, maybe a Tommy Mac (haven't seen it yet) or a Steve Ramsey (is THIS where part 2 is going??) is what it takes to carry such a specialized topic, and make it entertaining for the jaded masses...

  7. My favorite woodworking show was called The Router Workshop. It was this old guy and his kid and all the guy seemed to have was a laminate top that he'd clamp this scrap wood piece to for a fence and he'd make everything with just that.

    When I watched the show it didn't make me feel like I needed more tools than a hardware stocks in order to do something. Old Bob made up for a truckload of tools with skill and technique. That to me is something worth watching.

    I've watched some other shows and I think the only reason they are hosting a show is so they get their shop equipped with sponsor freebies. I can see how that is to their benefit but fail to see what that does for me.

    I guess anyone watching TV has to be prepared to have their intelligence insulted with fair regularity though ...

  8. @ ray_cashmore Jackie is one of those rare people who truly has a gift. Do a quick YouTube search and see more of her performances on America's Got Talent. The video I posted was her first performance, but she just got better and better.

  9. @Tom: Scantily clad assistant? I like where this is going! I mean seariously, who doesn't like to watch Kari on Mythbusters?


  10. Hey woodworking fans
    I agree there are not enough shows sharing the love and creativity we enjoy with wood. But My wife and I in years past had started watching the DIY network for home projects and stuff. Well I found a couple of good shows that shared from basic projects to top of the line hand made furniture. Here's a link to the show that re-lit my desire to be a better wood worker and craftsman.


    David has a great show, and most of his projects are very do-able, where he lost me was the exotic woods he uses, which are very pricey and though I will work up to that level, I did get discouraged after seeing the wonderful workmanship he puts into his projects.
    Great teacher, and I enjoyed the fact that when possible he uses hand tooling and old school joinery. He always goes into detail on the finishing and how to bring the wood to life. I have found out that he does seminars and work shops at he home studio which you get hands on teaching from what I would consider a true master craftsman.

  11. @rgdaniel: I agree, woodworking is not something for the masses as it is now. In my next post I'll outline my pitches to Hollywood that can make it viable. There are tons of highly specialized shows on tv. It really doesn't matter what the subject is as long as they are made exciting and involve the viewer.

    And don't go dissin Idol, man! Haha! In all seriousness, if you can get past the manipulative nature of the show, the contestants are actually quite talented.

  12. I know it wasn't woodworking per se, but I miss "The Furniture Guys" Ed and Joe. I learned a lot about refinishing and repairing my flea market (and dumpster diving) finds and laughed like crazy at the same time!

  13. Two notes, but I don't have a TV hooked up in my house and don't watch much:

    1. Among serious woodworkers, Norm Abrams is a carpenter who builds furniture. I think even Norm is quoted as saying that.

    2. Between your videos, and the other good stuff on YouTube (I'm trying to remember the name of the guy who builds the steam-bent benches out of a single plank whose video I watched recently and was blown away by), why bother with TV?

    I'd also add that my discontent with modern cooking shows, at least as of a decade ago when I still had TV, was that they were personality driven. Julia Child actually had some technique. The last few cookbooks by TV chefs I've bought, including luminaries like Heston Blumenthal, have been an amazingly sad pablum of myth and lore and "get good ingredients".

    If Harold McGee had a cooking show, I might watch it, but I doubt he'd sell advertisers, or garner a big audience. Same for Jerry Work and furniture building.

    (Oh: and your OpenID comment authentication is broken...)

  14. Good topic and I could not agree more ... I was a follower of a number of "Woodworking" shows that are no longer on the air - to name a few:

    - The Router Workshop
    - Woodworks (David J Marks)
    - The New Yankee Workshop
    - The American Woodshop

    and, of course, who could forget Roy Underhill...

    - also nice selection on Jackie Evancho.. I am friends with someone who knows her well and she is really quite talented

  15. i agree, but at the same time feel that any 'show' made for tv today is going to turn in to a half or a full hour of pushing brand names down our throats, with no real lessons.
    [ let me teach you how to make dovetails... buy this brand name dovetail jig and use a brand name router along with a brand name router bit.... that is their 'lesson'. ] gee thanks...

    i feel that all of the talent today on tv is being exploited and/or pushed into a certain mold that conforms with popular ratings, which i can understand because it's business, but also in business you should sometimes take risks to advance beyond the popular fads and create your own. needless to say, i don't watch too much tv... i stick to amature internet videos shot with passion from people that actually want to do it out of love, instead of for money/fame. I do watch netflix shows/movies too sometimes, because of the same reason a previous user stated, if i pay for network access tv, 50-60% of the content is advertisements, which defeats me paying for it... it's all a hot mess of double and triple charging for content...

    cant wait to see your solution for hollywood. ;P

  16. As far as I'm concerned, we don't need a tv show, we have you! Stretch your vids out to 30 mins and wahla, even more time spent in front of the computer watching wood working, heck I wouldn't even mind a Rockler commercial or two! If you do it, they will watch!

  17. I would say the closest we got to an entertaining wood TV show was Home Improvement's Tool Time with Tim Allen.

  18. No arguments here about Firefly and Battlestar Galactica being among the best shows ever made... If you've never seen it, I would also highly recommend Arrested Development as being in the same caliber of TV.

    As far as woodworking shows go... I'm going to go ahead and put yours on top. You're entertaining, approachable, come up with good, easy to replicate projects, you're not elitist nor off-putting in any fashion, and you have a beer fridge in your shop... how much better can it possibly get? I've been plowing through NYS, but there's very few projects I can see myself doing (minus that slick router cabinet of his). Norm's appeal is very much in his likeable personality.

    Keep up the good work Steve!

  19. love the site, and I have recently discovered that I can watch your vids on Youtube, cool stuff. Most of the stuff on tv just bores me.DIY is full of shows that air 5 or 6 times a week and all professionally gear. I liked NYWS but agree with others that say Norms shop is far better equipped than mine will ever be. D Marks is quite a talent also, but I doubt I will ever be able to buy trees and have them sawn up and stored. Most of the stuff I build comes from wood at the Home Depot or old pallets I pilfer from work.
    Thanks I will be watching.

  20. As woodworker, I can speak from a point of view that starts when I knew very little, to having a full woodshop at home. What sets apart a woodworking show from the rest of TV is the instructional basis. Learning new tools and techniques from true craftsmen is exactly why novice to master woodworkers tune in to these shows. The last thing we want is drama. O.C.C. is prime example of this reality drama that ruins the learning process. O.C.C.first grabbed my attention with the learning aspect, but quickly lost it's appeal when all the drama became the focus of the show. This niche of woodworking programing is about learning, not about being entertained and ratings. There are zillions of other TV shows for that. I dread the day when a woodworking show is in the likes of orange county choppers.

  21. I agree 100% with the article. Most hobby and beginning woodworkers want to build stuff for the shop or presents to give to friends and relatives. I dearly love Steve Ramsey's WWMM and Blue collar woodworking with Stumpy Nubbs. Both shows have (interesting) personalities, build projects with a minimum of tools and build projects that are useful or fun (or both). They make projects out of scrap, recycled wood or wood from big-box stores. They use colorful paints and edge-banding with dyes for clear finishing. Most of all, they have fun while doing it just like The Woodwright's Shoppe and Norm Abrams. Tommy Mack and the Wood Whisperer don't have the flamboyance of Steve or Stumpy, but they can put together a good interesting show. One new show that surprised me was 'getting started in woodworking" with Asa Christiana from Fine Woodworking magazine. I had dropped my subscription to the magazine because it had become too elitist, and here is the editor building basic useful projects with minimum tools and cheap woods. I would love to see any of these "tube programs" on cable or satellite programs, but the only one Ifind listed i the Woodsmith Shop on PBS and I can't get it in my area.