Smile Politely

Wasting Time (Until Lost) with Create TV

My co-worker reminded me that the new season of Lost comes on the day after Inauguration Day (Jan. 20, 2009), which means January’s looking up for TV and general happiness. My TV watching will be what it always is in troubled times like these: constant and random. I’m stuck in the hiatus between the show I’m obsessed with (currently Mad Men) and the next show I’m obsessed with (probably Lost, if it’s as good as it was last season). This hiatus includes, among other things: football, Food Network, Top Chef, 30 Rock and The Office, for some ungodly reason Jon & Kate Plus Eight, The Departed on HBO for the 47th time and possibly the greatest channel that has ever existed, PBS’ Create TV.

Like the Do-It-Yourself Network but awesomer on account of any given local PBS station’s schizophrenic production values, Create (Comcast channel 219 in the Champaign-Urbana market) broadcasts all the PBS cooking, arts & crafts, gardening, home improvement and travel shows you could ever hope for, 24/7. From Tommy Tang’s Let’s Get Cooking to “America Quilts Creatively”:; from One Stroke Painting with Donna Dewberry to “Rick Steves’ Europe”:; from Barbecue University to New Jewish Cuisine, Create has an endless lineup of watchable shows.

Every single show is, at least, an eternally charming, squirmy Saturday Night Live parody of itself, and, at best, truly excellent Public Broadcasting that we viewers sponsor (okay, that some viewers sponsor). The smaller PBS markets (think Portland, Oregon) obviously produce the lower rent, unintentionally hilarious shows (watch Caprial & John’s Kitchen or P. Allen Smith Garden Home). Larger markets, like Boston, have been broadcasting and refining shows like This Old House for years. All the shows are so earnest they make my heart hurt and swell with love, and with old stand-bys like The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross and Baking with Julia thrown in, Create makes for a truly terrific and slightly elderly afternoon of TV watching.

And sometimes, if you watch for an afternoon, Create runs marathons! Multiple episodes of engaging and excellent shows like America’s Test Kitchen or Globe Trekker or This Old House! For an entire afternoon! Recently, I have become particularly fond of This Old House day. In fact, I find I am unable to overstate my love for the PBS mainstay that began 30 years ago with host Bob Vila. The show’s host-builder-whatever-expert guys have changed over the years (Norm Abram, Tom Silva, Richard Trethewey, Roger Cook and Kevin O’Connor — photographed above — are the current hosts), but the formula hasn’t. They take a beautiful old structure and they make it a lot more awesome and architecturally sound for modern people who want a period-looking Jacuzzi bathtub, or to be able to plug more than two things into an outlet. And they show you exactly how they do it, from start to finish (even all the boring intricate electrical and plumbing things!), for one whole season of TV. And sometimes, they build a totally new house using old things reclaimed from other beautiful old structures! And sometimes, they have a noble cause driving them to save the beautiful old structure!

I find that I am consistently impressed by the walk-through dramatic monologues delivered by the host-experts each episode. As the host-expert walks around the house, he explains things along the way, occasionally stopping at various work stations to chat with workers about progress. The most amazing part: The host almost always executes these pieces in one continuous camera shot — a minutes-long live camera shot (no editing!) that requires the complicity of many people who do it like they were born to be on TV … or at least born to be on PBS. It’s extremely well-done.

The one downfall of Create: It’s hard to follow the order in which the station broadcasts seasons of its shows. Though it would benefit viewers to catch a whole season of This Old House (tune into regular old WILL or WTTW for that), most of these quirky shows are freestanding and don’t require you to watch a season in order, hence the utter joy of haphazardly watching Create in 30-minute increments on any given afternoon. You can switch to it when football makes you too nervous! You can watch Caprial & John cook with wine! You can relive some buried childhood moment when Bob Ross was making pretty little trees! You can get lulled into a nap by Rick Steves! What more could one want from TV?

Actually, what I want is Lost and Inauguration Day, but Create TV will suffice until then.

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