|Meet The Producer Of Ask This Old House|
David: This article is by Julie Washington of the Plain D ealer
The show's experts actually swing the hammers and do the work, said former Willoughby resident Heath Racela, a producer for "Ask This Old House." And when things don't go as planned, they stick with a job until it's finished correctly.
Racela recalled the time when the show's general contracting expert Tom Silva had to repair cracked plaster for an episode. The summer day's high humidity meant that the plaster took forever to dry. The shoot was supposed to last just a few hours, but Silva returned for an extra, unscheduled day so that viewers could see how to finish the job, Racela said. "He didn't have an army of guys behind him," Racela said.
Who is your favorite expert on "Ask This Old House"? Tell us in the comments!
Cleveland is set to play host to Racela and Silva when "Ask This Old House" lands here during the week of Sept. 22. Racela and Silva will tape an episode at a 1920s Shaker Heights home, and speak about their experiences on "Ask This Old House" during a live event at Playhouse Square on Tuesday, Sept. 23. The event is sold out.
Racela and O'Connor spoke by phone recently to talk about their experiences with the show.
The two men admitted that sometimes "This Old House" is confused with "Ask This Old House," which debuted in 2002 as a spin-off of a similar feature in This Old House Magazine. Both shows have the same host and cast of experts, although Racela works on "Ask" only.
But Racela, 30, sees the two as very different shows. "Ask This Old House" host Kevin O'Connor, Silva, plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey and landscape contractor Roger Cook answer most questions from the show's set, and also visit homeowners to lend advice on starting or completing a project.
"This Old House" focuses on start-to-finish renovations done with higher-end materials. "Ask This Old House" usually features first-time homeowners who don't have a lot of tools or money, and demonstrates DIY skills, Racela said.
Or, as Racela put it more colorfully, "This Old House" is like a rock concert where the awe-filled audience watches guitar gods perform. "Ask This Old House" is like the guitar lesson where an expert tells you how to hold the guitar.
"This Old House Hour," which combines episodes of "This Old House" and "Ask This Old House," airs at 4:30 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday on WVIZ Channel 25. "Ask This Old House" airs at noon Saturdays on Western Reserve PBS (WNEO Channel 45/WEAO Channel 49).
As a producer, Racela's job is to go through all of the emails from homeowners wanting to be on the show ? about 2,000 a month ? and pick the projects that will be featured on the show. He looks for projects with a lesson to teach that will have broad appeal among viewers, and can be applied to homes across the country.
Rooms being renovated must be large enough to accommodate a television crew, camera and lights. Sometimes, Racela calls a homeowner to ask what other projects they are working on, in hopes that something else will be more appropriate for the show.
Homeowners are not paid for their television appearance, Racela said. Homeowners typically buy the materials, but the show picks up the labor costs. A five-person crew, including a producer, director and the construction expert, travel in a landscape trailer pulled by a pick-up truck. The trailer stands out only because of the "Ask This Old House" logo on its side.
As host O'Connor, 46, doesn't have a say on which projects are featured. "I do whatever he tells me to do," O'Connor said. "I'm the guy who shows up the day of the filming."
O'Connor's job is to extract the knowledge from the expert and ask all the questions that the viewer would like to ask. Sometimes he has to ask the expert to be less technical in his explanation or hold the hand of a tongue-tied homeowner who has never been on camera before.
While it's easy to explain how a wall is being built, electrical projects are challenging to explain on camera because you can't see electricity flowing or circuits working, O'Connor said.
"You can't show a picture of a volt or an amp," O'Connor said.
O'Connor never aspired to be the host of a television fix-it show. About 13 years ago, he and his wife bought their first house near Boston, a two-family fixer-upper. Soon they were in over their heads, and he emailed "This Old House" for advice ("Ask This Old House" wasn't on the air yet.)
"Instead of an answer I got a call from an 'Ask' producer," recalled O'Connor, who was working in finance at the time.
Silva arrived at O'Connor's home to tackle the job of stripping three layers of paint and wallpaper off walls covered in horsehair plaster. After scoring, steaming, soaping and using softeners, "the solution was old-fashioned elbow grease," O'Connor said.
Then, O'Connor dragged Silva all over his house, asking him questions and soaking up the expertise. A month later, O'Connor got a call asking him to host both shows. "It was startling to me," he said.
O'Connor thinks that his "bottomless pit of curiosity" led producers to offer him the positions. "The host's job is to be the guy who knows nothing and asks a lot of questions. I was perfectly qualified," O'Connor said.
Racela came to "Ask" by a more traditional route. He graduated from Willoughby South High School in 2002. Right after graduation from Emerson College in Boston, where he majored in television and video production, Racela was hired as a production assistant for "This Old House" and "Ask This Old House" in 2005. He became a producer for "Ask This Old House" nearly two years ago.
Two previously taped episodes of "Ask This Old House" will feature Cleveland chef Michael Symon's kitchen renovations. One already aired on Saturday, Sept. 20; another airs at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 28 on Channel 25.
Racela explained that the Symon episodes were part of a feature on doing kitchen renovations on a budget. The producers thought it would be fun to tour a chef's home kitchen. Racela asked the show's Twitter followers whose kitchen they would like to see, and many answered Symon's.
When producers learned that Symon was in the middle of renovating his personal kitchen, they decided to feature that in the episode. "Ask This Old House" cameras took viewers to Symon's restaurant Lola to see the kitchen layout there, then to his personal under-construction kitchen. It was mostly empty space, but Symon's contractor did a mock-up in drywall so that viewers could see how it was going to be laid out.
The celebrity kitchen included a refrigerator cooler in the island, and a cast-iron cooktop range.
"It was certainly exciting," Racela said.
Former Willoughby resident Heath Racela is a producer on the home improvement show "Ask This Old House."