Public television is the home of Austin City Limits, the Crawleys of Downton Abbey, Mr. Selfridge, Mr. Rogers and Curious George. It's also home to one of the oddest ducks to appear on television: Red Green, Canada's king of duct tape, bad inventions, and ill-fated hunting and fishing trips.
The man behind Red Green, Steve Smith, had been donning plaid and camo for nearly four decades when he first introduced the character in a two-minute sketch on the Canadian TV variety series Smith and Smith, which he hosted with his wife (think a maple syrup-infused Sonny and Cher). After the variety series ended in the mid-1980s, Steve Smith revisited the Red Green character, which led to 15 years worth of programs that enjoyed success on both sides of the border. The show still airs in reruns on PBS stations across the U.S., including Idaho Public Television.
In anticipation of his Sunday, Sept. 11 visit, when he'll bring Red to the stage of Boise's Egyptian Theatre, we talked to Smith about his iconic character.
I grew up near the U.S./Canada border and watched a lot of Canadian television. I vividly remember some pretty fond memories of Smith and Smith in the '70s and '80s.
Wow, you're old. There's not many of us left. I created Red for that show... a little two-minute bit. I actually fashioned Red after a real-life outdoor show that used to be on Canadian TV. The host would read poems over grainy, 16-millimeter films of him fishing and he would have entire shows where he wouldn't catch any fish.
How did the character of Red Green break out as a stand-alone TV show?
When my wife didn't want to do TV anymore I thought I would pull Red out for a small summer TV show in 1990. And it just took off.
Do you have a theory as to why Red is so popular in the States?
Honestly, I think Red reminds people of a relative that they like. There's one in every family. If you don't think there's somebody like that in your family, it's probably you.
When did you stop taping new episodes?
2005. I retired. We did 200 episodes.
Fifteen seasons in television is almost unheard of.
At the end of the 13th season, I approached the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and told them I would be turning 60 in a couple of years. I know an exit ramp when I see one. They agreed to give me a two-year contract, which was great because I gave everybody two years notice and planned story arcs for full closure.
Yet Red Green still runs on PBS stations all across the U.S.
100 percent of our U.S. exposure is PBS. Without public television, Red Green never would have aired in America.
Tell us about the Red Green "I'm Not Old, I'm Ripe," tour.
We did 25 cities across North America this past spring and they were really successful. The show is in the form of a meeting at the Possum Lodge, complete with the possum salute and oath.
Does duct tape follow you everywhere?
I sign a lot of duct tape. We probably used 100 rolls of duct tape for each of our episodes. It's the physical representation of Red. He sort-of fixes things that sort-of work for sort-of a little while.
And Red's infamous inventions?
Well, there was the Cadillac backhoe which is the Cadillac of backhoes or the backhoe of Cadillacs.
My favorite was his final invention.
A perpetual motion machine that Red could never get started. That's so Red.
How long do you want to keep doing the stage show?
I keep a careful eye on the demand from the public. This has already exceeded my wildest dreams. But things still make me laugh. I was talking to Old Man Sedgwick the other day [Sedgwick was an unseen fictional character on the Red Green Show] and he told me that he had just put two hearing aids in his dog's ears. I asked him if the dog was deaf; and he said, "No but it makes him think twice about barking."