Street Tech Talks to Cathy Rogers:
Cathy Rogers is the creator, producer and host of Junkyard Wars, the very popular, Emmy-nominated "techno-competition" show on TLC (9pm ET/PT, Wednesdays). She was not supposed to end up in front of the camera, but when a suitable co-host could not be found, she decided to fill the bill. The rest, as they say, is television history. She's become something of a celebrity among deep geeks and grease monkeys alike -- and something of a sex symbol, though she professes innocence on that count. She's whip smart, adorable, dresses like a Tank Girl sidekick and knows her way around an arc welder -- what's not to love? Gareth finally caught up with Cathy in cyberspace, he 30 miles out to sea on an island, she logging on from the junkyard during a few moments between shooting. Ah... ain't technology grand?
Street Tech: How did you come to create Junkyard Wars?
Cathy Rogers: It was after seeing the movie Apollo 13. We loved the scene where Ground Control has to make life-saving devices out of rubbish. The ingenuity was fantastic and I really loved how the people who are normally the unsung heroes (engineers, the planners), who normally work behind the scenes, saved the day. We paced around the house quite a bit, came up with a slightly dicey pilot, and finally arrived at Junkyard Wars as we know it. [Actually, the show that initially appeared in the UK was (and still is) called Scrapheap Challenge. The name was changed to Junkyard Wars for the US edition. -Ed.]
Street Tech: Did you ever suspect it would become as popular as it has and have such a devoted following?
Cathy Rogers: Not at all. It was that thing where you sort of half think you're making the show only for yourself - and then - good God! - other people actually seem to like it too. GEEKS UNITE! It's part of our global takeover bid. And beware! We sometimes come in disguise!
Street Tech: How do you all consistently come up with such great ideas for the challenges? And are you ever afraid you'll run out of good ones?
Cathy Rogers: It's very much a group effort. We sit around and chuck ideas back and forth and then hatch our cunning schemes. And yes, I always worry that we'll run out of ideas, but i think that's a natural worry, one that I hope has so far proven unjustified.
Street Tech: What's the most outrageous idea anyone has come up with for a challenge?
Street Tech: Can you divulge a few of upcoming challenges?
Cathy Rogers: Rocket-powered underpants (c) Robert Llewellyn.
Cathy Rogers: I best not. But let's just say that we fashion machines which are sent to investigate every element.
Street Tech: How much of a nightmare is the safety and insurance considerations?
Cathy Rogers: Erm, well you know that nightmare you have where you're being chased by a lion and then it catches the bottom bit of your trousers and you go down and struggle to escape, and you are just about to make it, when a gang of marauding, heavily-armed gorillas in balaclavas come to help the lion? [Ah... NO! -Ed.] Well it's much worse than that.
Street Tech: Where are those fabulous junkyards you use and do you "seed" them with the appropriate materials for each of the challenges?
Cathy Rogers: It's all one junkyard [Actually, it's one junkyard in the US, for the stateside episodes, and one in the UK for Scrapheap Challenge. -Ed.], purpose-built with earthquake- and topple-proof piles of junk and lots of special treasures for constructing all manner of clever machines. Occasionally we have to do an overt seeding (e.g. rocket motors) but we don't like to do this unless we absolutely have to.
Street Tech: Do your expert consultants ever complain about having to wear the Mad Max/Tank Girl costumes?
Cathy Rogers: You should see what they show up in!
Street Tech: Are you comfortable being in front of the camera or would you have rather remained behind it?
Cathy Rogers: It's pretty easy for me to be honest either way.
Street Tech: How do you deal with being a sort of geekboy's (and girl's?) sex symbol? Is it flattering or does it creep you out a little? Or both?
Cathy Rogers: Erm... I don't really think about it. Well not until now, anyway. No one has ever said that to me before... (cf. nightmare about lion/gorillas above)
Street Tech: How can people try out to become contestants?
Cathy Rogers: See our website for more information how to apply.
Street Tech: What's in store for the future of the show?
Cathy Rogers: More shows, more 2-hour specials with more adventurous and spectacular challenges, more international teams (I hope!), and lots and lots of secrets.
Street Tech: Do you think there's a trend afoot with the "robotic combat" shows and Junkyard Wars? Do you think we'll see more such programs and why do you think they're currently so appealing?
Cathy Rogers: There seems to be a surge in such shows, doesn't there? I can only attribute it to geek globalisation. I only feel partly allied with the robot shows, though. I think Junkyard Wars appeals for much different reasons. I mean, the idea of watching an episode of Junkyard Wars is that you get to really understand how a particular type of machine works and you get to know a group of extraordinary individuals who build these incredible machines while you watch. Most of the robot shows are much more "wham, bam, ka-boosh, wow look at all the destruction!" - it's much more primeval.
Street Tech: What's in store for Cathy Rogers and other RFMedia [The producers of JW -Ed.] programs?
Cathy Rogers: Ha! Good question. I don't really know exactly. We have lots of other new exciting shows champing at the bit. Sadly, I can't really say much about them or I might curse them.
Street Tech: Thanks so much for your time Cathy -- and thanks for creating such a fabulous program. My son and I watch each week, stare at the screen in geekheaded ecstasy, periodically droning: "This is the greatest TV show EVER!").
- Gareth Branwyn [9/24/01]
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