This Old Scandal: Why Bob Vila Left “This Old House”

In an era when HGTV has turned home repair into a form of light entertainment and figures like power couple Chip and Joanna Gaines have morphed into public figures, it’s worth remembering that the foundation for this genre actually began with Bob Vila. From a different era, Vila made his name in public television, but his success created a situation that reverberates deeply into the world of sponsorship and advertising. Every season, This Old House would highlight an aging house and renovate it, step by step, over the span of several episodes. Vila stumbled onto the job as a result of his home-restoration business, R. J. Vila, Inc., which won an award from Better Homes and Gardens for fixing up a Victorian house in Newton Center, Mass. Boston PBS network WGBH was looking for someone to host a home-improvement show, and the rest is history. After a decade on the air, This Old House faced complicated funding issues, including the network’s inability to pay Vila what he deserved. He was only making $200 per episode at the start, later increasing to $800. That meant that the very most he made from the show over a 10-year period was $188,000. Although it was a side job for him, Vila decided it wasn’t worth the time and effort, so he decided to make money off his status as a home-improvement guru. He wound up making an average of $500,000 annually just off his name, quickly becoming a pitchman for Home Depot. PBS prompted WGBH to ask Vila to drop his commercial work, which he refused to do. That, of course, led to a parting of the ways, and PBS brought in Steve as host, but he left in 2003. Today, the show is hosted by Kevin O'Connor, but it has never had the ratings it did when Bob Vila was the host.