'This Old House' star Bob Vila on finding success by accident

Bob Vila with actors Tim Allen and Richard Karn on TV sitcom "Home Improvement"
Credit: ABC Photo Archives / Contributor

It was 1978 and a then-30-year-old Bob Vila had just launched his own company, renovating and restoring antique houses in New England.

"I was really focused at the time on building my business," Bob Vila, the former TV host of "This Old House," tells CNBC Make It.

So when he was approached by a TV producer who had seen one of his renovations featured in a local paper and was asked to shoot a pilot for a possible home improvement show, the idea didn't pique his interest at first.

"Back then, I had no interest in doing a TV show," Vila, now 73, says.

But eventually Vila changed his mind. "It seemed like a wonderful opportunity to publicize my work" and gain more clients, Vila says.

After shooting a few pilot episodes though, Vila didn't hear anything about the show for months.

"Then a year later, the producer called again and said that we got funding and we are going to buy an old house and fix it up and will you do it with us?" Vila says.

Vila agreed and spent the next four months live-taping every step of his home improvement projects.

"It was pretty complicated to tape a renovation of a house, which normally would take a year and try to do it in a matter of months," says Vila, who spoke to CNBC Make It while promoting his partnership with Quinstreet, which manages Vila's Find a Pro Network.

On Feb. 20, 1979, the first episode of "This Old House" debuted on the Public Broadcasting Service Network in Boston, and after 13 weeks on the air, the show was nominated for a regional Emmy award.

"I won it too," Vila says, "It was a little thing because it was the regional Emmy's, but that eventually snowballed into a media career that I could have never foreseen."

Credit: Time & Life Pictures / Contributor

Vila hosted the show for 10 years before leaving in 1989 to become a spokesman for Sears and launch his spin-off show, "Bob Vila's Home Again." Then in the 1990s, Vila was asked to guest-star on ABC's comedy "Home Improvement" with actor Tim Allen, who a TV handyman know as Tim "The Toolman" Taylor.

While Vila admits studying journalism and architecture did help throughout his career, he mainly attributes his accidental success to being dedicated to his craft.

Credit: Bob Vila

"The key thing is that you have to be sort of obsessed with your field. And if you are someone who is really focused on something — whether it is medicine, home building or cooking — if you follow your passion and stay true in things that really interest you and drives you. Success is likely to come your way," Vila says.

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