PBS (Check local listings)
When you want nothing but practical, how-to info, here’s the show to watch. It has a smiling host and hostess, like Home, and a slightly stilted script, like Make Yourself at Home, but on this series, the Official Picks & Pans Twinkometer® measures down in the safe range. This show tries to tell you, step by step, how to really do things like sanding and refinishing wood floors, laying one-piece kitchen floors, installing and taping dry-wall or adding electrical outlets and switches—big jobs. Most people would watch Hometime to learn how to do these things, but I watch to learn why not to do them. After you see the many steps it takes to redo a floor with at least three kinds of sandpaper and two kinds of machines and lots of noise and dust and dirt and sticky liquids—well, that’s when you pull out the Yellow Pages and start looking under F. And that, by the way, is precisely what makes This Old House the only truly practical show in this whole bunch, for host Bob Vila presumes that you will end up hiring professionals for major work and that your role as the handy home owner is not to operate dry-wall staplers but to operate the pen that writes the checks. That is reality. This Old House also gives you lots of shortcuts from the pros. Hometime does everything the right way, the tedious way. This is a show for people who actually read the directions before they put a bookshelf together. Host Dean Johnson and JoAnne Liebeler or Peggy Knapp take everything one clear, well-explained step at a time—but I came to like them for that; they have a comforting way about them. What does, however, drive me crazy about Hometime’s hosts is that they never get sweaty or dirty; they never make a mistake or hit their thumbs; they never curse or throw things. They must be fictional characters.