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Originally published May 26, 2013 at 5:12 AM | Page modified May 29, 2013 at 8:16 PM

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‘Treehouse Masters’ TV show has NW roots

Pete Nelson, who runs Nelson Treehouse & Supply in Fall City, is now the somewhat reluctant star of an Animal Planet reality show, “Treehouse Masters,” which premieres May 31, 2013.

Special to The Seattle Times


‘Treehouse Masters’

Premieres at 10 p.m. Friday (May 31), on Animal Planet.

Tonight in Prime Time

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Fall City treehouse builder Pete Nelson doesn’t like reality shows, and yet, he’s now the star of one. Animal Planet’s “Treehouse Masters” follows Nelson and his crew as they build extravagant tree houses all over the country.

“I had strict orders to the office manager not to talk to anybody about stupid reality shows,” Nelson said. “I will go through the channels when we’re on the road in a hotel and sometimes stop at a really particularly bad show and I wake up the next morning and feel like I just slept with a whore: ‘God, what have I done?’ ”

Nelson said he was first approached about a reality show a decade ago but it came to naught. When his office manager urged him to take a call from producers with Stiletto Television two years ago, he agreed to listen.

“Mark [Grove] of Stiletto was the silver tongue in all of this and he did a great job seducing me, saying, ‘We’ll simply just follow you, not do five takes,’” Nelson said, laughing. “It did not turn out that way.”

Nelson praised Grove and his collaborators at Discovery Networks, which owns Animal Planet, but he’s a realist about the process of making “reality” TV.

“You’re acting a lot,” he said. “I mean, I’m being authentic and I love, love my job so it’s not really acting but there are times where they say, ‘OK, we’ve got to do that again,’ or we’re repeating conversations we already had for the benefit of the camera.”

In the premiere episode of “Treehouse Masters,” which airs at 10 p.m. Friday, Pete and his crew — including his 21-year-old son, Charlie; foreman Daryl McDonald, of Ballard; lead carpenter Chuck McClellan, of Ballard; and rigger Alex Meyer, of North Bend — travel to Waco, Texas, to build what looks more like a full-size house in some trees than a ramshackle treehouse of yore. Nelson’s treehouses are often grand creations complete with running water and electricity. Many of the larger pieces of the treehouses are manufactured in Fall City by Nelson Treehouse & Supply and trucked to the client’s location.

“I would say we challenge the limits of treehouses all the time and we’re just creating what people want,” Nelson said. “My definition of a treehouse has expanded immensely. Twenty-five years ago I would have refused to put a post in the ground [as part of building a treehouse]. In the mid-’90s it hit me that what we’re really trying to do is be part of the tree and be in the tree and share the energy of that tree. And if you’re gonna create a space that can’t be properly supported by the tree, why not help the tree out and put a post in the ground?”

Nelson is an out-of-the-box thinker who has in the past run afoul of King County government for permitting violations. He has described himself in earlier interviews as a “spontaneous guy.”

In future episodes he’ll build a treehouse that’s a brewery in the sky in Ohio, a treehouse in a Manhattan backyard and a new honeymoon suite treehouse at Nelson’s Treehouse Point B&B in Issaquah.

Marjorie Kaplan, president and general manager of Animal Planet, said “Treehouse Masters” was developed as a companion series to the network’s “Tanked,” about guys who create extravagant fish tanks.

“We set out to find a master treehouse craftsman and Pete is such a lovely, idiosyncratic, interesting guy,” Kaplan said. “He’s the embodiment of that personal connection to the wild.”

Nelson, 50, began dreaming of building treehouses in 1987 and moved to Washington with wife Judy that same year. He built homes and dabbled in writing books on treehouses on the side. His first, “Treehouses: The Art and Craft of Living Out on a Limb,” was published in 1994. In 1997 he started Treehouse Workshop, a company that teaches others how to build treehouses. Treehouse Point opened in 2006.

“I’m thrilled and excited and I’m still pinching myself to think we’ve got a TV show,” Nelson said. “I don’t like reality shows, I’m repulsed by them, and yet I’m fully excited about having one of my own.”

Freelance writer Rob Owen: or on Facebook and Twitter as RobOwenTV.

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