In the early '00s, reality television established itself as not just another fad but a must-have category for all networks. Shows like Big Brother and American Idol blew the ratings out of the water, and executives scrambled to find the next big thing in the genre. In Discovery Channel's case, it experimented with innovative reality series such as Monster Garage.
The program was hosted by Jesse James, a popular customizer who had made a name for himself with his motorcycle build shop West Coast Choppers. The premise was simple: a team of five people would have seven days and $3,000 to build a monster machine. Of course, the designs and builds were groundbreaking, as the team turned the likes of an ambulance into a wheelie demon and a police car into a donut shop.
Even though it only lasted a few years, its impact was felt as it influenced other series. There were spinoffs for James and similarly themed shows, but there was only one Monster Garage. The fact that it's still on streaming services and fans watch the reruns religiously are testament to its legacy.
So, let's take a look at the 20 Wild Details Behind The Making Of Monster Garage.
20 James Became An Ordained Minister For The Show
Numerous actors take the method acting approach to get into character and deliver their best performances. In the case of Jesse James, he decided to fully commit to his role on Monster Garage and become an ordained minister for the episode "Wedding Chapel", which featured a standard Chevrolet Suburban being transformed into a chapel on wheels.
If you think it was all for show, you'd be wrong. James is registered as a minister on the Universal Life Church Ministry. The website does mention that the reason for his ordination was for Monster Garage, though. Hey, if you're planning on getting hitched any time soon, hit up James for his rate and get him to officiate the ceremony.
19 James Met Sandra Bullock On Set
Jesse James became a household name when he starred in Monster Garage. However, his popularity went to the next level when he married Hollywood superstar Sandra Bullock. As it so happens, the relationship came to fruition thanks to Monster Garage.
According to Daily Mail, Bullock met James while she was on a tour of the Monster Garage set. They hit it off immediately and were married that same year. Unfortunately, the marriage didn't last due to James' infidelity and the two of them called it quits in 2010. Speaking to Daily Mail, James said, "Yeah, I did cheat on my wife, yeah, I stood up and took accountability for it and apologized. And that's end of story."
18 Drama Was Scripted On The Show
Is there anyone alive who actually believes that reality shows aren't scripted? It's been proven that networks edit and throw in their own "storylines" to keep their shows fresh and entertaining. After all, we all have those boring, monotonous days – celebrities included. It turns out that Monster Garage wasn't immune to scripting, either.
Since the show ended, Jesse James has claimed that it was scripted. However, the most telling revelation came from Larry Webster, who worked on the show. In a Car and Driver feature, Webster spilled the beans about what happened behind the scenes. He explained how he was forced to shatter a window for dramatic effect, when it would've been easier to remove it in a less destructive way.
17 James Fought With Discovery
It should come as no surprise that Jesse James and Discovery Channel had their fair share of disagreements over the years. The partnership seemed solid, however, as the network gave James other televisions shows after Monster Garage came to an end. Though when Jesse James: Outlaw Garage was axed due to low ratings, James went off on Discovery.
In a now-deleted blog post, James said, "For all those asking about Outlaw Garage, I'm sorry to say that I'm done with Discovery. It's time to take skills and hard work to a network that appreciates what I offer and, more important, a network that doesn't look at [its] viewers like they are dumb [expletive] that want to watch fake, phony, staged, scripted, [expletive]." Yikes.
16 There Were Issues With The Iraq Episode
Jesse James is a rebel, and he likes to walk to the beat of his own drum. His plan to film an episode of Monster Garage in Iraq, though, wasn't warmly received by his family or the producers of the show. According to James, they even threatened to fire him if he went ahead with it.
Somehow, he swayed them and managed to go over there. "The whole family was concerned," James told South Coast Today. "They said 'What are you doing now? This doesn’t sound like a good idea.' They supported me, though. They knew the reasons I wanted to go." James claimed it was a life-changing trip – even if he acknowledged it was dangerous.
15 There Was A Video Game Based On The Show
Look, in all fairness, there were video games about everything in the '00s. Heck, even today there's a market for Farm Simulator, so that tells you all you need to know about people's taste in gaming. That doesn't excuse the Monster Garage game, though, because it was simply bad – like Superman 64 bad.
Critics trashed it as nothing more than a cash-in – and they were correct. In IGN's review of the game, it cheekily said, "There's a 'b' missing in that title." No punches were pulled and it isn't a simulator that fans are praying finds its way to Xbox or PlayStation in the near future. The less said about this terrible game, the better.
14 James Never Managed To Create A 200-mph Monster
If you were an avid watcher of Monster Garage, you'll probably remember how there wasn't always a happy ending. There were just times when the teams failed to build their monster machines and were left with duds on their hands. Much like in life, disappointment was a major part of the show.
It wasn't just the competitors' failures on display, though, as Jesse James also struggled to meet his ultimate goal. He stated that his big dream was to build a monster that topped 200 mph. Joining the 200 club was highly ambitious, but you wouldn't put it past James to achieve it. Unfortunately, he never cracked the code, even if he had 80 episodes to achieve it.
13 The Rules Were Relaxed As The Show Went On
Undoubtedly, one of the biggest selling points of Monster Garage was that teams could fail. In fact, one in every 10 builds wouldn't meet the standard and had to be scrapped. It made for riveting television and brought an element of "reality" to the show.
At the same time, though, it made it incredibly difficult. The rules were fairly strict in the beginning, with teams having a set amount of cash at $3,000 for any parts required and seven days to complete the project. As the show went on, though, Jesse James would happily break the rules whenever he could and encourage the teams to do the same. Monster Garage eventually relaxed some of its restrictions as it went on.
12 James Claimed To Be Related To The Infamous Outlaw
While Jesse James positioned himself as the outlaw of a new generation, he also claimed to be related to the infamous outlaw of the same name. In a now-deleted biography on Discovery Channel's page, the following was said about James: "His great-great-grandfather was the famous outlaw's cousin."
Whether it's true or not, no one really knows, as James has declined to undergo any test to prove his claim. Still, it's a good story to tell people. If you'd like a quick rundown of the outlaw, do yourself a favor and watch The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, starring Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck. It received two Academy Awards nominations at the 80th Academy Awards.
11 The Success Of Motorcycle Mania Inspired Monster Garage
Discovery Channel's relationship with Jesse James started with the documentaries Motorcycle Mania, which covered him and his motorcycle shop, West Coast Choppers. The success of the documentaries, especially the second one, which became the highest-rated show on Discovery, led to the network exploring other opportunities with James.
"I mean, I was just myself, I wasn't trying to be or act like anything other than just me. For two weeks I'm like, 'Man, I don’t know how people are going to take it.' You'll see when you see it," James said to Autoweek. "And since they were so cheap to make, naturally, the path of least possible resistance for Hollywood, you know, 'We need to do that every week!'"
10 James' Favorite Was The 1984 Ford Ambulance Turned Into A Wheelie Car
Throughout Monster Garage's five seasons, we saw numerous successful builds and innovative creations. Some of the highlights included the PT Cruiser that could change into a wood chipper, the school bus that transformed into a pontoon boat, and the Chevrolet Blazer Pikes Peak hill climber. Naturally, there must've been a few favorite builds for the show's host, Jesse James.
According to the Chicago Tribune, James' favorite is a 1984 Ford ambulance that was changed into a wheelie car. It certainly was a unique build and everyone should be proud of how it turned out. After all, no one could've predicted the possibility just by looking at the vehicle. It was a mark of true creativity and vision.
9 The Executive Producer Called James "The Perfect Gen-X Antihero"
Jesse James isn't your regular whitened-teeth, wrinkle-free television host. He did his own thing and wasn't afraid to speak his mind. As a result, he became something of a cult hero to the audience of Monster Garage – and Discovery Channel recognized it.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Thom Beers, executive producer of Monster Garage, referred to James as "the perfect Gen-X antihero." James himself told the publication why he and his co-stars stood out. "I think it's just a lot of guys that you would never see on TV, including myself," he said. "It's the guys who change your oil and stuff like that. It's not celebrities, or even people that desire to be stars. It's kind of just your average blue-collar worker."
8 Junkyard Wars Inspired Monster Garage
It's rare to find a television show that isn't a carbon copy of another one nowadays. However, Monster Garage was unique when it was first released – there was simply nothing else like it at the time. While it was its own beast, it did find inspiration from another series.
"We kicked around ideas for a couple weeks and we just kind of came up with this. We saw everything else that was out there like Junkyard Wars and stuff like that and figured out ways we could improve on it," James explained to Autoweek. "Junkyard Wars starts with junk and tries to make something out of it. We start with perfectly good stuff and turn it into junk."
7 James Donated The Free Equipment To His Foundation
One of the biggest reasons for Monster Garage's appeal was its host, Jesse James. He wasn't like other celebrities – boastful and playing it up for the cameras – as he prided himself on being an everyday man and valuing hard work over instant celebrity.
James didn't understand all of the attention he got from the show, including all of the autograph hunters and fame. In fact, he urged the people to give all of the equipment they offered him to his foundation. "I've actually started a foundation here in Long Beach where we're beefing up shop classes," he told Autoweek. "These people that want to give me free equipment, I say, 'Give it to the Jesse James Foundation for Industrial Arts.'"
6 Producers Wanted Agricultural Vehicles
Jesse James is renowned for his love for speed, so it should come as no surprise what type of vehicles he preferred to see and modify on Monster Garage. After all, it's way more fun to see someone turn a classic car into a new beast than your mother's smashed-up Hyundai Jazz (complete with the eyelashes on the headlights).
According to James, the producers kept pushing for something a little different on the show. "Producers always want to do agricultural stuff," James complained to The Midland Reporter-Telegram, before adding that he feels if there's "no speed, [there's] no reward." Fortunately, James got his way for the most part and we owe him a debt of gratitude for it.
5 Discovery Claims That Celebrities Wanted To Appear On The Show
At the time of its airing, Monster Garage transcended its core demographic. Even to this day, it still manages to attract non-car enthusiasts who end up becoming enthralled by the ingenuity and creativity of the people on the show.
It was certainly a unique television program, and Discovery claims it received requests from all sorts of folks – including celebs – to appear on it. "They are everybody from designers to engineers to people who are working in their garage and are extraordinarily skilled," Discovery Channel's former vice president Clark Bunting told The Midland Reporter-Telegram. "We're seeing more and more celebrities who want to be a part of it, but they have to have a talent and have to have a passion."
4 The Yellow Submarine Was Submitted To The Show
Seeing what was happening on Monster Garage, it's natural that many people wanted to submit their ideas and contraptions to appear the show. Of course, due to the constraints of time and money, not everything made it on air. It's disappointing, though, as some of the submissions were next-level innovations.
Take the case of the Yellow Submarine, for example, which was designed and created by Jeff Skoda-Smith of Gainesville. Named after and inspired by the famous Beatles song, it was a rocket ship that was turned into a submarine. According to Gainesville.com, it was submitted for consideration to Monster Garage and more footage was requested. It didn't make the grade, unfortunately, but it still remains an interesting and highly creative design.
3 James Was Fined By California
While Jesse James has a need for speed, the state of California found that he didn't meet the strict emissions standard, according to the Washington Post. In 2007, James got slapped with a fine of $271,250 for violating California's air quality laws. Reportedly, his motorcycle build shop, West Coast Choppers, sold more than 50 new or custom-built motorcycles that weren't certified by the Air Resources Board.
In a statement released by James, he claimed the state agency was only "interested in the cash settlement." He added, "We hope that paying this money will bring to light that California has a flawed system when it comes to its clean air agencies and the policies and practices they use."
2 James Wants To Bring The Show Back
Despite airing for five seasons, many fans still miss Monster Garage. Discovery Channel tried to resurrect the concept with a similar show titled Motor City Motors, positioned as the natural successor to the Jesse James-hosted program, but the audience didn't catch on. That show only lasted 13 episodes.
On In Depth with Graham Bensinger in 2015, James revealed that there have been talks about reviving Monster Garage and he'd do it again. He added that it just wouldn't be the same without him. "I think it would be cool. It was a fun show. Anything else I ever do on TV, that's the yardstick," he said. "I think we could do it and start airing it right away."
1 There Was A Short-Lived UK Spinoff
For such a niche television show, Monster Garage had a successful run. It aired for 80 episodes across five seasons – and that's nothing to sniff at. As expected, other territories noticed how well it did and decided that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery (and ratings).
A UK version of Monster Garage aired in 2004 on Channel 4. It largely followed the same format as its US counterpart, except that the budget for the teams was £3,000 and the main cast member was a Hell's Angel known as Cookie. Unlike its bigger brother, though, it wasn't a hit with the audience. Embarrassingly, it got canned after only eight episodes and no one talks about it today – except for us, obviously.
Tell us, do you know any other details about Monster Garage? Sound off in the comments!