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Kevin Tetz Voices His Opinion on Automotive Reality TV Shows

Just Sayin’: Reality? Really?

Kevin Tetz Aug 2, 2018
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The automotive shops that I admire don’t exist on TV, and that bothers me big-time. Here are some of the shops I admire: TriWorks Hot Rods in Nashville; Greening Auto Company in Cullman, Alabama; Painthouse in Houston; Ida Automotive in Morganville, New Jersey; and Bay One Customs in Springfield, Tennessee.

At these shops, there’s no weird salesman that comes in with a mysterious build that he needs done fast with no questions asked, there’s no unrealistic deadlines (other than SEMA, sometimes), and there’s no fake drama, just good work being done and outstanding cars being built. There’s no way on God’s earth that a business model similar to those on some of these “shop-based” reality shows would survive more than a couple of months at best. There’s money to be made in our industry and there are people that are willing to spend it having cars restored, improved, and modified; the aforementioned (real) shops prove that. But what customer in his right mind would toss his checkbook over to some of these TV “shops” that thrive on apathy and wrench tossing?

It’s no secret why a lot of the new shows on that new network are exactly the same formula, with interchangeable characters that get into hijinks and shenanigans on a daily basis while building a project on a ridiculous deadline but still getting it finished just in time over and over and over again. Is this real? Hell no! Of course it’s not real. It’s a transposed reality-TV model that was brought over from other genres with the hope that it would bring more eyeballs to a niche industry. Everyone that works in that industry understands that this is produced TV and drummed up drama.

I suppose I should apologize to the people that I will offend or hurt with this column that don’t feel like their show is of this type, and to be fair not all current automotive TV is “fake.” There are some shows that shine a positive light on the craftsmanship that our industry produces. My problem is that from 10,000 feet, we all look like clowns to the uninformed non-car guys.

Consider the observer effect, in which a subject alters their behavior because they know they are being watched. So the producers throw a camera on somebody and tell him or her to react to a given scenario, and it’s no wonder you get a manipulated outcome.

Some might say, “Get over it, Kevin. It’s entertainment.” I guess. Some people who have watched me on TV can probably bring up examples of me buying into a storyline or a “deadline” from time to time, but the premise of any of the TV that I have done was not to create drama but more to solve problems and pass on skills that I’ve picked up in my career.

It’s obvious that giant networks run away screaming from how-to formats. How-to TV is boring, and I can live with that. What troubles me is that I can turn to a food channel and see tons of home cooks elevated to rock star status in competition shows and we are told constantly that theirs is a noble profession. It is. And that there’s a career ahead of them filled with rewards, respect, and integrity. There is. Then I flip back to a network that specializes in fake automotive shop scenarios that make our entire industry look like stooges and idiots.

Maybe I’m just jealous that I don’t have a Trucks spin-off show that has crazy deadlines and mega T-shirt sales. Maybe I would feel different about it if I were actually one of the main characters on one of those series. It’s hard to say without having been in those shoes, but from where I stand the impression that is being broadcast of the automotive aftermarket is far from real and it bothers me.

So how do we show the world that gearheads and car builders aren’t a bunch of cartoonish drama queens that spend more time setting up a joke to play on their co-worker than actually doing the work? I don’t have the answer right now, but maybe somehow over time we can change the perception of what a career in the automotive field looks like. Let’s show that there’s some integrity in our trade, not just a quick flip and a trip to the go-kart track to blow off steam. Let’s spotlight some amazing and rewarding careers that have been earned over time with hard work, not produced on TV.

I know many skilled craftsmen that are amazing at what they do and are successful businessmen as well. Let’s shine a light on that side of the aftermarket, as well as being “entertained.” Are you not entertained?

I’m not.

Just sayin.’

About the Author: Kevin Tetz is an automotive restoration expert, TV personality, freelance automotive journalist, and owner of Paintucation Instructional DVDs.

Photo by Jesse Greening

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