Network Television: Hammer & Chew: Lords of Junk

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Having the innate ability to entertain and keep people laughing is a trait many would say can’t be learned; it’s inherently ingrained in certain individuals who just seem to have that knack for saying and doing things on queue that leaves others watching and laughing in bedazzled amusement.

If ever that personal chemistry rang true with a working tandem, it’s with two junk haulers from Niagara in southern Ontario who have seen their real-life daily shenanigans put to film. New episodes of Hammer & Chew: Lords of Junk air Saturday nights at 10 pm on the CMT network, and can be seen on nationwide television, coast to coast. Episodes are also repeated at various times throughout the week.

The stars, Chris Chew and John “Hammer” Netherway have become bona-fide celebrities in the business of junk. They are a pair of hard-working, green-collar workers – representative of their work shirts – who most often find themselves in all sorts of hilarious predicaments as they’re tasked with junk removal from any one of a number of locations ranging from stately to downright filthy. Every day provides a brand new adventure.

Making their situations highly comical is the fact the pair come equipped with polar opposite personalities. Both are highly intelligent, but Hammer, an English major who’s also a classically trained musician and former bouncer, has little patience for wasting time. He’s all business – meat and potatoes; get to the site, do the job quickly and efficiently and then move on to the next task.

Of course the straightforward, neatly diagramed plan from Hammer quite often goes off the rails and directly into a smouldering abyss when Chew decides to saunter off on one of his patented wayward scavenger hunts, hoping to find some hidden gem amongst the endless piles of junk. Despite slowing down progress, at times it can actually be less aggravating for Hammer as opposed to when his partner is nearby – because, among other things, Chew has the uncanny ability to turn a normal 30-second response into a 30-minute diatribe, most often on matters that are of no consequence to his good buddy Hammer.

There’s not a single word to sum up Chew’s complex personality. He’s extremely intelligent, charismatic, outgoing, funny, mischievous and if you have to deal with him for any length of time – exceedingly annoying. If you are on the outside looking in, he’s hilarious. Dealing with him directly as Hammer must, well that’s a different story altogether and therein you find the comedic mix of seeing Hammer’s frustration level go off the charts.

The television show was the brainchild of JustJunk co-founder Mike Thorne. For quite some time he held the belief that the daily adventures of his employees were far more entertaining than what he was seeing on TV and so he decided to put forth a proposal for a new twist on reality programming. After a trial filming session and some negotiating with several production companies and later the CMT network, season one hit the airwaves with the first episode this past January. The network ordered 10 30-minute episodes and there are hopes it will be renewed for a second season. By all accounts, the show has been very well received.

“A lot of production companies, and networks for that matter, seem to be steering towards trying to develop shows based around characters and people with certain vibrant personalities,” Chew says. “It can be a great concept but if you don’t have interesting people telling the stories then it might not make for a good show.”

After the initial filming with a director on-site, Chew was left someone concerned there wasn’t enough in what he and Hammer had gone through during the course of the day to make for entertaining viewing. But those concerns were quickly alleviated.

“The director laughed and said ‘trust me Chew, there’s plenty of stuff here on the video tape that would make for great television,’” Chew chuckles.

While the basic backdrop premise of the show is about two guys hauling junk and making some interesting finds along the way, the main focus is on the characters themselves and the crazy situations they manage to get themselves in to.

“Hammer is the wound uptight, ‘let’s get the job done’ type and Chew is more of the charismatic ‘look for treasures’ type,” Chew reveals. “We’ll go to great lengths to make sure the customer is happy, but during the whole time you see that tension exists between these two characters.”

It’s a working relationship that has been ongoing for the past six years.

Off camera, the two are now good friends having known each other since high school, but both men agree that what you see on camera is authentic anger and frustration within the moment. On a personal level the relationship has evolved, but took some time to get to where it is today.

“Our relationship, to be honest, started off with quite a bit of tension because he was coming into the company after me and he was really trying to show that he had leadership abilities,” Chew candidly admits. “Although I respected that, I think it caused tension to start off, but it’s not the first relationship for me that started off rocky that ended up being a good relationship. I’ve come to know him as a really funny guy who’s got a good heart. Even though I’m older than him I kind of look up to him as sort of an older sibling.”

A typical day during filming could take up to 12 hours and often three to four days of total production would be required in order to make one 30-minute episode. Customers can also play integral roles in any given episode and provides an interesting dynamic with such contrasting personalities according to Chew.

“You get a lot of zaniness from Hammer & Chew that it creates a balance when the person they are doing removal for is somewhat normal, and those individuals get to experience all the insanity,” he says.

It’s rather difficult to pinpoint what genre the show would best be categorized under, because it truly is a unique programming venture. There’s a blend of reality TV mixed in with elements of a sitcom, but it’s all done without a script. It’s the true authenticity that gives the show its charm and by extension provides a connection to viewers who tune in because they know the reactions of the characters are genuine in that type of work environment.

There are other characters on the show, such as the backup crew that sometimes interacts with Hammer & Chew. Further character interactions would likely occur if the show is brought back for a second season. That decision will be made behind closed doors, likely within the next couple of months.

Interestingly enough when interviewing Chew, he was not alongside of his sidekick, despite it being a work day. Why not?

“I’m just taking a break from him, he’s really been annoying me lately,” Chew laughed.

On meeting Hammer for the first time, there was Chew right alongside his best junk pal, immediately claiming that while Hammer provided the brawn, he was the brains of the operation and made for a far more interesting interview. That verbal jab was immediately disputed by Hammer.

“I’m the brains and the brawn of the operation,” Hammer declares with a wry grin. “Chew certainly adds a little stroke of colour to our daily routine. I love to hate him. On the job he brings a totally different perspective to the way we look at doing things.”

“It’s the oldest dichotomy in the world, that polar opposites attract and wind up finding some crazy chemistry that allows it to work,” Hammer says. “That’s what makes it entertaining for us. I think if I worked with anybody like myself I wouldn’t be able to stand him after about five minutes,” he laughs.

Any transitional moves within people’s lives most often means they’re discarding a lot of old junk, and that keeps Hammer & Chew constantly on the go.

All of a sudden being part of a television show that is seen by viewers coast to coast is still somewhat surreal to them both. Netherway admits that when the concept was first brought to his attention he was somewhat apprehensive.

“We’d never been on camera so it was hard to know what to expect, but it became a lot more fun than I expected, because I soon came to realize they just wanted us to be ourselves.”

It’s a sentiment Chew echoes.

“We never set out to be on television, but now that it’s happened, it’s been a great experience.”

“We’ve had some messages and posts on the Facebook page with people commenting on the show, which is great,” Hammer continues. “Everybody has been really supportive. Friends and family didn’t believe it at first when we told them we were going to be on a national TV show, ‘can you believe it?’ we said, and their answer was – ‘No!’”

“On the show you can see there are moments when there is genuine frustration and that is real. There’s no script; what he’s doing is how he really is. It is funny for half an hour, but imagine doing that under physical pressure and time pressure day in and day out, and you get really sick of it quickly,” Hammer says (while getting a good laugh).

It’s that utter frustration during a job that allows the audience to get a good laugh as well. 

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