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'Hometime' host Dean Johnson reflects on his 30-year run as guide to DIY

Hometime used a fast-paced, 
reality-based approach to telling home improvement stories and teaching building and remodeling skills. Top row: Dan Laabs, Dean Johnson and Judd Nelson; bottom row: Miriam Johnson and Tom “Bucky” Weckwerth.
Hometime used a fast-paced, reality-based approach to telling home improvement stories and teaching building and remodeling skills. Top row: Dan Laabs, Dean Johnson and Judd Nelson; bottom row: Miriam Johnson and Tom “Bucky” Weckwerth.
Published Mar. 10, 2016

Dean Johnson, host and executive producer of Hometime, has been a fixture on PBS stations across the country since his do-it-yourself television series debuted in 1986.

Five co-hosts and 30 years later, Johnson, 64, is hanging up his tool belt after enjoying success on both public television and in commercial syndication with one of the longest-running home improvement TV shows.

Johnson wasn't just an actor playing an on-screen handyman all those years. He started off as an independent contractor with a penchant for construction and a passion for sharing his knowledge with others.

"I was a builder, and people asked me, 'How do I do this? How do I do that?' " he said.

Johnson launched Hometime Video Publishing in 1984, a venture spawning numerous how-to videocassettes that were sold at lumberyards, hardware shops and bookstores. Two years later, he nailed a hit with his Hometime series.

Johnson and his on-screen construction team showed viewers how to tackle everything from weekend projects, such as replacing windows and installing lawn irrigation systems, to the multi-episode construction of entire houses, including two exquisite log cabin homes.

"The log cabins and timber-frame homes were the projects I got most excited about," Johnson recalled.

Production went smoothly for most Hometime episodes, filmed on location in the greater Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., area in association with WHYY-TV of Philadelphia and Wilmington, Del.

However, Johnson says it became increasingly important as the series went on to show that things don't always go right the first time in home improvement.

"We talked about the mistakes that can happen and the bumps in the road you'll run into," Johnson said.

Many episodes featured self-effacing blooper reels, reminding DIY-ers that even the professionals confront stripped screws, ill-fitting pipes and a host of frustrating surprises within ceiling plenums and wall cavities.

Over the years, Johnson's mission of educating homeowners about the ins and outs of home remodeling remained steadfast, even as the construction industry changed.

"Back when (Hometime) first started, there was a boatload of smaller lumberyards serving contractors and homeowners," Johnson said. "Today, there are basically just two — Lowe's and Menards."

In addition to the rise of big-box home improvement stores, such as Home Depot, Johnson says homeowners have a greater array of products to choose from today than they did in the 1980s, especially when it comes to building and remodeling kitchens.

"There are so many cabinet options now," he said, and the same goes for countertops. "Natural stone is widely available, including granite and quartz."

The advice Johnson gives DIY-ers is to stay educated and learn all they can about the home improvement projects they wish to tackle.

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"One of the key things about our program was showing people good construction and contractor practices," Johnson said. "Contractors will respect your knowledge if you know how homes are built and how repairs are made.

"Those who understand home improvement won't have the wool pulled over their eyes."

As for the next project on Johnson's to-do planner? He hopes to fill his "5-gallon" bucket list with lots of traveling — and he's not very picky on the destination.

"I'll go anywhere in the world."

Contact Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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