Top Ten Old School PBS "Do It Yourself" Shows

September 7th, 2007 - 2:05pm by Slye Fox

1. Bob Ross -- "The Joy of Painting"
The king of painting shows, everyone is instantly familiar with this afro-wearing, Demerol-voiced squirrel lover. Reminding us that here, "We don't make mistakes, we make happy little accidents." And ending each show with "I'd like to wish you happy painting, and God bless my friend," with his little hand-flutter wave.

I always thoroughly enjoyed Ross's show (although I'd get irritated by the 5 minute segments of him cooing at a squirrel or baby deer.) Get back to your art, damn it! Anyone who's ever tried to paint has done their best to emulate Ross's style at least once. My early acrylics were an attempt at this, though with not nearly as nice a result.

Links:, Wikipedia -- Bob Ross, IMDb -- The Joy of Painting

2. Norm Abram -- "The New Yankee Workshop"
The woodworking icon. Tim Allen's co-host, Al, on "Tooltime" wore flannel because Norm did first. (Is there anything else in his closet?) It didn't matter because he taught us the fundamentals of fine woodworking and how easy it all is when you have the best tool for the job. "And remember this. There is no other more important safety rule... [Norm points to his glasses.] ...than to wear THESE... safety glasses..."

I think my favorite Saturday morning indulgence, I'd watch Norm's show like a baptist watching the 700 Club. My own motley collection of childhood Craftsman and Dremel power tools were no match for Norm's Deltas or Milwaukees, but I did my best and certainly learned what to have in my dream-list. Lucky to grow up with a very handy woodworking Dad and excellent shop teachers, I put their tools, my own and Norm's teachings to good use and churned out many projects from 2x4's and scrap wood. And now that I've acquired that dream-list of tools, Norm's knowledge and the right materials -- the sky's the limit.

Links: The New Yankee Homepage, Wikipedia -- Norm Abram,
IMDb -- The New Yankee Workshop

3. Julia Child -- "In Julia's Kitchen"
The "French Cook" hosted a plethora of shows on PBS, but I remember her early on from "In Julia's Kitchen". Like my own grandmother, she'd whip up European flare without skimping on the butter or shortening. Later she'd retire from the actual cooking and watch over a guest cook on "Cooking with Master Chefs". I was always delighted when she'd stick her finger in everything to taste it and then "double-dip" if it was good, (much to the guest-chef's disgust usually).

Since this came the closest to the Germanic cooking style I grew up with, I learned much of refining my abilities in the kitchen from Julia. From perfect hard-boiled eggs to pot roast, Julia taught us the fundamentals of French cuisine.

Links: Wikipedia -- Julia Child, IMDb -- Julia Child

4. Dean Johnson & Joanne Leibler -- "Hometime"
The great thing about this show was it's reality. Dean and JoJo always were doing something that was typical of most do-it-yourself homeowners -- a basement remodel, a new patio, a new desk, a cabin up north. Although Dean went through a few co-hosts, Joanne was the most memorable and in my opinion the best. I'm sure I'm not the only one who thought that they were a couple and not just co-hosts. Especially after the scandalous hot-tub episode at the cabin were JoJo drops her towel on the way in.

Since I wasn't rebuilding Victorian mansions or remodeling Connecticut farmhouses like Bob Villa's show, fellow Minnesotans, Dean and JoJo, were more my speed. I learned a lot watching them wire up new light fixtures and plumbing in a new sink. Everyday repairs that I could relate to. These hometime skills have come in mighty handy since then and have been put to good use.

Links:, Wikipedia -- Hometime, IMDb -- Hometime

5. Bill Alexander -- "The Magic of Oil Painting"
This self-taught "Happy Painter" developed his own paints and trademark palette knives to facilitate the creation of wet-on-wet oil painting. Later artists such as Bob Ross and Robert Warren would study his methods and go on to do their own shows.

I liked the fat German painter for his harsh accent and careless style. He'd stab the canvas with his big brush and say, "Fire it right in there!" Despite his sausage fingers and canvas-banging, each half-hour episode ended in a spectacular landscape painting.

Links: Wikipedia -- William Alexander

6. Clarissa Dickson Wright & Jennifer Paterson
-- "Two Fat Ladies"

Probably the most entertaining cooking show ever. These two kitchen-divas started each show riding around in their Triumph Thunderbird motorcycle with a sidecar collecting fresh ingredients. Each show then ended with Patterson usually smoking and drinking something with alcohol. Throwing good taste and health to the wind, these two would garnish and fry everything they made with oils, greases, bacon fat, cream or at least lard.

I always figured that these two were big, bitter, British lesbians and it made the on-air battles all the more entertaining. But in fact, they were just friends. Regardless, their chemistry and take no prisoners approach worked brilliantly and each show was a delight no matter what they smothered with fat before shoving it in the oven.

Links: Wikipedia -- Two Fat Ladies, IMDb -- Two Fat Ladies

7. Martin Yan -- "Yan Can Cook"
"If Yan can cook, so can you!" Or so he said, then he bore his trademark toothy grin and chopped so fast you're amazed he has fingers left. This Chinese chef brought Asian cuisine into our homes. His silly antics and stereotypical accent were always highly amusing.

Up in our neck of the woods (Stearns County), we'd hardly heard of soy sauce, let alone water chestnuts or even stir fry. I think this was probably my introduction to alternate food choices. Mr. Yan expanded the palate and opened the eyes to something other than just meat and potatoes.

Links: Yan Can Cook Homepage, Wikipedia -- Martin Yan, IMDb -- Yan Can Cook

8. Bob Villa -- "This Old House"
Although many of us have already replaced Bob with Steve Thomas (or newer) in our memories as the host of "This Old House", Bob was the original and the best suited for the job. Both in knowledge and charisma, Bob led us on tours of major home remodels on a scale that only the pros handle.

In my opinion, Bob got a respect around the project that the other hosts never achieved. And he concentrated more on the actual project without the segues into personal drama or off-site activity like later episodes. Although I couldn't relate much to the scale of the projects on "This Old House", I loved watching and learning how such major jobs were done. Again -- with all the right tools.

Links: Bob, Wikipedia -- Bob Villa, IMDb -- This Old House

9. Jeff Smith -- "The Frugal Gourmet"
The food genius who showed us you could make something with almost nothing. The waste not guru combined all kinds of regular ingredients without resorting to hotdish or casseroles. And he had a kick-ass cool kitchen overlooking the Washington Puget Sound. "I bid you peace," Jeff said as leaned over his counter of delicious creations at the end of the show.

Although I didn't realize it at the time, I sure appreciated the "frugal" aspect of this show as I did my best to feed myself during the bachelor years. That is when I wasn't subsisting off of beer and lucky charms anyway.

Links: Wikipedia -- Jeff Smith, IMDb -- This Frugal Gourmet

10. Roy Underhill -- "The Woodwright's Shop"
The great thing about this show was how everything was made with hand tools. No electricity in sight, Roy guided us through the lost arts of how people made things a century ago. Although many of the projects themselves weren't that interesting, the method was.

Although I shunned handwork in light of time and energy saving power tools, [grunt grunt], I appreciated the effort that went into making things with them. And I did learn a few tricks that were useful when the right power tool wasn't at hand. Much like watching a wood-carver, Roy's show was fascinating to watch -- a history class and a woodworking show all in one.

Links: The Woodwright's Shop on PBS, Wikipedia -- Roy Underhill,
IMDb -- The Woodwright's Shop

June 9, 2010 - 2:58pm
Anonymous says:

What was the name of the black cooking show host on PBS-channel 13 in the'80's that said "come yema come yam" at the close of her show?