Does everybody know what time it is? It’s TOOL TIME! Home Improvement was a popular TV sitcom in the 90’s and it also catapulted Tim Allen into stardom. It might be hard to believe, but the show aired for the first time 25 years ago! I suddenly feel very old. America spent eight years laughing and crying with Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor, his long-suffering wife Jill, his easygoing assistant Al, and his wise and mysterious neighbor Wilson.
We have the inside scoop on what happened on the show and behind the scenes, particularly about teenage heartthrob, Jonathan Taylor Thomas! Open our gallery to find out more.
The Show Helped Launch Pamela Anderson’s Career
When the show aired, Pamela Anderson was already a well-known model. She had appeared on the cover of Playboy and was playmate of the month. This made her the perfect choice for the role of Lisa, the extremely attractive Tool Time Girl, on Tim Taylor’s show. This was Pamela’s first acting gig, but it gained her a lot of attention and quickly led to other offers.
Pamela Anderson was only on the show for two seasons before she received a starring role in Baywatch as C.J. Parker. Fittingly, when Lisa left Tool Time, the plot had her going off to train as a paramedic. Anderson did return to Home Improvement to play Lisa one more time in the season six finale, “The Kiss and the Kiss-Off”, which aired in 1997.
Debbe Dunning - The New Tool Time Girl
After Anderson called it quits, actress Debbie Dunning was chosen as the new Tool Time Girl, Heide Keppert. Her job was to introduce the show, and bring Tim and Al tools, and she did so for the next six seasons. Dunning first appeared in the third season episode “Maybe Baby”, and audiences immediately took a liking to her.
At first her character had a small part, but in the final two seasons, she had more elaborate storylines and became part of the main cast.
Ashley Judd Was Too Talented For The Role
Before Pamela Anderson got the part, the creators were actually interested in actress Ashley Judd for the role of the Tool Time Girl and Matt Williams, a creator on the show, was blown away by her audition. In the end, they decided not to cast her because they felt that she was too talented for such a small role.
Williams stated, “I called her agent and told him that she was so good, we would find a way to incorporate her into the series, period.” They offered her the role of Tim’s sister which they wrote especially for her, but surprisingly Judd turned them down. Her agent said that after thinking about it she was “not ready to go into television right now. She thinks she has a feature career.”
Tim Allen Passed On Big Hollywood Films To Get His Own Sitcom
Before there was even a Home Improvement, Disney bossed offered Tim Allen to chance to star in television series versions of Turner and Hooch and Dead Poets Society. The actor decided to pass on both offers because he believed those shows were “preparing for failure.”
Allen wanted to do something original and Disney offered him his own sitcom on the ABC network. They hired Matt Williams, the creator of Rosanne, for the job.
Frances Fisher Was Supposed To Play Jill
In the original pilot episode, filmed in April 1991, Patricia Richardson was not the actress playing the part of Jill. Frances Fisher was the first actress to be cast as Tim’s wife, Jill Taylor, but audiences who saw the pilot didn’t respond positively to her and felt that she wasn’t very funny.
Fischer was already well known at the time for her dramatic roles including Ruth DeWitt Bukater in Titanic or Strawberry Alice in Unforgiven. The producers tried to get Fischer to lighten up and deliver her lines more comedically, but eventually decided to recast the role of Jill.
Allen Could Only Wear Clothes From Michigan Schools
Tim Allen was born in Colorado but moved to Michigan in his teens and considers it to be his true home. That’s the reason that Tim’s character is always wearing Michigan school apparel on the show.
Allen had a rule that only his home state’s colleges and universities would get the free publicity. All of his clothes on the show actually came from colleges and universities who sent in their shirts and sweatshirts.
The Show's Original Name Was "Hammer Time"
When the first pilot was shot the name of the show was Hammer Time. The name was a nod to the famous MC Hammer song and was also supposed to be the name of Tim’s home improvement show. Tim Allen, Carmen Finestra, David McFadzean and Matt Williams started working together on the concept in the summer of 1990 and a year later finally decided to change the name to avoid confusion.
The new name was supposed to symbolize the fixing of not only the house itself, but also the problems of the family living within the home.
The Exception To Allen’s Michigan Jersey Rule Was An Accident
In an episode from 1996 titled “Al’s Video,” Tim is shown wearing a Wofford College sweatshirt. Wofford College is located in in Spartanburg, South Carolina, but somehow the supervisor for the costume department mistakenly okayed this jersey for Tim’s wardrobe.
Costume supervisor, Valerie Levin-Cooper, when asked about the incident replied, “Someone is supposed to double-check and verify the school is in Michigan. Obviously, someone didn’t do their job. Wofford got lucky.”
The Show Was Based On Tim Allen’s Stand-Up Routine
When Tim Allen was just 25, he was arrested for selling cocaine to an undercover police officer. In the 8 months between his arrest and sentencing, which was two years in federal prison, he began doing stand-up at a Detroit Club, the Comedy Castle. When Allen was released, he went back to doing comedy and after gaining some recognition in Detroit, decided to move to LA where he became a regular at The Comedy Store.
One night, Walt Disney Co. Chairman Michael Eisner and Walt Disney Studios Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg saw him perform and the rest is comedy history!
Jonathan Taylor Thomas Quit In The Final Season, Allen Wasn't Pleased
During the show’s eighth season, the middle Taylor son, Randy, leaves the family to go to an environmental study program in Costa Rica. This takes place in a 1998 episode titled “Adios”. The actor behind the character, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, actually left the show so he could spend more time on his schooling.
It seems that Tim Allen wasn’t very happy with his decision. In an interview with TV Guide Allen stated, “He said it was about going to school, but then he did some films,” it seems like he believed Thomas was not truthful about the reasons for his departure. The actor did not appear in the series finale, but he did reprise his role for the final season’s holiday episode, “Home for the holidays.”
Wilson’s Full Name Was Wilson W. Wilson
One constant gag on Home Improvement was that we never get to see the face of Tim’s neighbor, Wilson. We only see the top of his head and his eyes. It turns out that actor Earl Hindman didn’t mind playing a role in a successful show in which he never shows his face.
Despite his hidden face, Wilson had an important role on the show. He was the wise neighbor who gave advice to each family member when they needed it most. While he is known as just Wilson, in later seasons it is revealed that his full name is actually Wilson W. Wilson.
The Tool Time Studio Audience Was The Same Used For Home Improvement
Home Improvement had another television show within it, Tool Time, with Tim Taylor as its host. On every episode, we could see Tool Time’s studio audience and Tim often talked to them and invited them onstage.
The audience seen on the show is the actual studio audience who came to watch Home Improvement being taped! Being part of the audience was known as great fun because Allen was known for his colorful language and improvisational skills.
Tool Time Was Based On PBS's "This Old House"
If you like watching home repair and renovation programs, you might have felt that there was something familiar about Tool Time. The show was intended as a parody of PBS home improvement show This Old House. Tim is based on the host, Bob Vila and Al on the master carpenter, Norm Abram.
Al’s signature beard and plaid shirts are a definite homage to Abram. Bob Vila even did a few cameos on Home Improvement while Tim Allen and Pamela Anderson were guests on his show!
The Great Race Was Actually Pretty Great
Bob Vila was often shown on the show as Tim’s rival. He appears in season three episode “The Great Race II”, which continued their competition from season two’s “The Great Race.”
In this episode, Tim challenges Vila to a hot rod race, after they already held a lawn mower race. In order to shoot this famous scene, the producers had to shut down a runway at Burbank Airport.
John Bedford Lloyd Opted Out Because He Didn’t Want To Hide His Face
John Bedford Lloyd auditioned for Home Improvement and was up for two roles, Tim’s Tool Time assistant Al or his neighbor Wilson. He got the role of Wilson, but he didn’t know anything about the character he was supposed to play. When he discovered that Wilson spends his whole time on the show behind a fence, he let the producers know that he wasn’t interested.
Lloyd gave them the news the day before the pilot was filmed and producers had to scramble to find a replacement. The actor got the temporary role, but producers and audiences liked him so much, he ended up staying on for the entire series!
Wilson Was Based On Allen’s Childhood Neighbor
The character of Wilson was funnily enough based on Tim Allen’s childhood neighbor. Tim’s yard had a big fence around it and because he was a kid, therefore too short, he couldn’t see his neighbor’s face while they talked.
Allen included a nostalgic nod on the show to his old neighbor by having him never show his face. It is not unheard of to have a character whose face is never shown on a TV show, but it is usually in the animated genre.
Wilson’s Face Was Finally Revealed In The Final Episode
At the end of 8 long seasons and 204 episodes, the audience finally gets to see Wilson’s face. Earl Hindman showed his face to the world on the series finale on May 25th, 1999, during the final curtain call. The crowd went wild for Hindman when he stepped out with his full face on display, and Wilson was ranked as the number six top unseen TV character of all time.
The Home Improvement series finale was the fifth highest-rated series finale of the 1990’s and 9th most watched ever!
There’s A Home Improvement Video Game
In November of 1994, Super Nintendo Entertainment released “Home Improvement: Power Tool Pursuit”, a 2D action platformer video game based on the show. In the game, Tim gets his own line of Binford power tools, but they are stolen before he can use them. The player then has to get them back by using nail guns and fighting with dinosaurs.
The game took place inside the studio and included 4 worlds, each with 4 levels of different sound stages. The video game did not get very good reviews and was ultimately ranked as the fifth worst game based on a TV show.
Tim’s Number On The Show Had An Illinois Area Code
Tim would make a lot of inappropriate jokes on the Tool Time stage, most of them about women. Al had a strategy for when this happened, he would hold up a sign with Tim’s address or phone number and also recite the mailing address for people to send hate mail.
The mailing address was the actual location of the studio in Detroit, Michigan, and the phone number was (815) 555-TOOL. We’re pretty sure their mailbox was always full. Turns out, the area code for that number is actually for Northern Illinois, and not Michigan.
The Fictional Binford Company Was Named After A Screenwriter’s Friend
On the show, Tim got his start as a salesman for the fictional tool company of Binford. The company, which ended up as a sponsor for Tool Time and the place where Tim gets all his tools, is featured prominently on the show with their logo on everything.
The company of Binford was created by one of the screenwriters and its name was based on one of his old high school friends. Binford was actually ranked as the number 10 fictional brand on TV!
Tim Allen And Jonathan Taylor Thomas Reunited in Last Man Standing In 2013
Thomas and Allen shared the screen for the last time on December 8, 1998. They didn’t part on the best of terms because Allen felt that Thomas kept making movies during his supposed time off for studying. They buried the hatchet a whopping 15 years later when Thomas appeared on his TV dad’s sitcom, Last Man Standing.
Thomas plays a middle child on the show and says, “A lot of times, that middle child ends up being the funny one because he wants the attention.” Sound like anyone we know? He also appeared on the show two more times as other characters.
Allen And Richardson Were Offered A Lot Of Money For A 9th Season
At the end of season 8, Home Improvement was still quite strong in the ratings. The producers wanted to make yet another season and offered Tim Allen $50 million, and his TV wife Patricia Richardson $25 million for season nine. Both actors were ready to move on and turned down the very large offer, although Richardson didn’t fail to notice that hers was only half as large.
Richardson had a guest appearance on Last Man Standing alongside Allen. The two shared plenty of inside jokes, so fans felt like they got at least a mini-reunion.
Mrs. Doubtfire Was Based On An idea For A Home Improvement Movie
The show was a big hit which made the studio executives seriously consider making a movie based on it. The idea they came up with was that Tim and Jill got divorced and Tim’s only way to see the kids was if he pretended to be the female nanny.
That storyline sounds oddly familiar. Tim rejected the idea and the movie was cancelled, but the studio still thought it had potential. They ended up using the idea in the movie Mrs. Doubtfire with Robin Williams.
Stephen Tobolowsky First Cast As Al
Actor Stephen Tobolowsky was originally supposed to play the Tool Time co-host as a character named Glen. During the shooting of the first pilot, Tobolowsky was in the middle of shooting another movie, so producers decided to have someone fill in for him, just for the pilot.
Richard Karn was chosen to play Al in the meantime until Tobolowsky became available. The actor later let them know that he was unable to do the show, because he had too much going on. He later remarked that he was not sorry he gave up the role on Home Improvement, saying “It turned out to be a very good choice for me.”
There’s A Reference To Allen’s And Taylor’s Disney Characters
In a special Halloween episode titled “I was a teenage Taylor,” the whole family pulls pranks on one another. In one scene, two trick or theaters come to the door dressed as Simba and Buzz Lightyear. Randy gives them some candy and says, “One for the space man, and seven for the cute little lion.”
This unfairness can easily be explained, Tim Allen was the voice of Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story, while Jonathan Taylor Thomas was the voice of Simba in The Lion King.
There’s A Fan Theory That Tim Taylor Is Jesus
There is another fan theory about Home Improvement that is simply divine. People have speculated that Tim is Jesus. It all started when a Reddit user remarked on Tim’s similarity to Christ because he was both a carpenter and also received advice from a mysterious neighbor. Tim learns the lessons but also shares them with others.
In this scenario Wilson is supposed to resemble god, and Tim who is spreading his word is then Jesus. There could be something to it, but let’s admit it, Tim is not always so good at turning the other cheek.
A Young Michelle Williams Appears In An Episode
Michelle Williams appeared on an episode of Home Improvement in 1995, at the very beginning of her acting career. She had a small part in a season 4 episode named “Wilson’s Girlfriend” as Jessica Lutz, a girl that goes on a date with Brad.
Williams was 15 at the time and basically an unknown. She would become a household name three years later when she starred as Jen Lindley in the series Dawson’s Creek.
Randy Was Actually Older Than Brad
On Home Improvement, Jill and Tim Taylor had three boys, Brad the eldest, then Randy and Mark. Jonathan Taylor Thomas, who played Randy, was actually older than Zachery Ty Bryan, who played Brad! He was born on September 8, 1981, a whole month before Bryan.
In real life, the two “brothers” would have been in the same grade. Taran Noah Smith, who plays youngest brother Taylor, was 3 years younger than his TV siblings.
There Was A TV Special Called "Tim Allen Presents: A User’s Guide to Home Improvement" in 2003
Four years after the series finale, some of the cast reunited for a TV special titled Tim Allen Presents: A User’s Guide to Home Improvement. Tim Allen, Richard Karn, Debbe Dunning and Casey Sander (Rock Flanagan) all appeared on the special and it was also included on the season 8 DVD set. Sadly, Earl Hindman was suffering from terminal lung cancer at the time and only appeared as the narrator through voice-overs.
This didn’t seem so odd since he was never seen on the show either. The special included some of Tim Allen favorite moments from the show, insider tips, personal thoughts and stories, and a question and answer session with the live studio audience.
Hilary Clinton Was Supposed To Be On The Show
In 1995, an idea came up that the future Presidential candidate should appear in a guest role on a popular sitcom. Hilary Clinton was first lady at the time, and her advisors believed that an appearance on Home Improvement would make her seem more approachable. Her press secretary Lisa Caputo contacted Maggie Williams, who was head of staff at the time, saying, “I know this may sound like a wild idea, but I think it is an interesting one to discuss. Rick Kaplan brought to my attention that Home Improvement would very much like to have Hillary make a guest appearance on its show.”
Sadly, the idea was never realized but the producers were completely on board and “willing to do a show on women, children, and family issues or a show on whatever issues Hillary would like.”
Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor was an uncomplicated, laid back kind of guy. He lived in the suburbs with his mostly loving wife, Jill, and their three mostly adorable boys. Taylor had a warm place in his heart for boyish pastimes including power tools, the louder the better, sports and naturally, cars. Tim Allen’s natural humor made Taylor even more lovable.
Tim Allen’s portrayal of Taylor became more and more popular over the years. He was eventually even ranked number 20 on TV Guide’s list of “50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time,” together with some of the most beloved fathers like The Cosby Show‘s Cliff Huxtable and Full House‘s Danny Tanner.
A Last Minute Replacement
Although Patricia Richardson was the perfect embodiment of Jill, nabbing the role was not an easy task for the classically trained actress. As we’ve already seen, a different actress was originally cast. After she was dropped, Richardson’s friend actor Stephen Tobolowsky, who we’ve also seen here before, recommended Jill to the producers, right before filming was set to start.
In a very Home Improvement like twist, Richardson Auditioned for the role only three months after giving birth to twins and with another child at home. The producers immediately fell in love with her for the role, and so did everybody else. She received four Emmy nominations and two Golden Globe nominations for her portrayal of Jill.
Why There Was Never A 9th Season
Home Improvement was still a fan favorite with decent ratings at the end of the eighth season, but a ninth season was never created. Not surprisingly, the cause of this was money issues. Patricia Richardson, who was one of the show’s two biggest stars, wanted to be paid just as much as her TV husband, Tim Allen.
The producers did not feel the same way, and Tim Allen, who felt fondly about the show that rocketed him to stardom, said he didn’t want it to become all about money. The decision by two of the Taylor sons, Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Taran Noah Smith to leave the show only made things more complicated.
How Important Is A Name?
Hammer Time and Tool Time were some of the optional names the producers had thought up for the show, before deciding on Home Improvement. To be honest, either of them would have still fitted the show perfectly.
Curiosuly, the show's German title is “Hör mal wer da hämmert”, which is a reference to the movie title, Look Who’s Talking. The reason for this? We truly don't know.
Tim Taylor had the perfect personality for a TV host, he was funny, charming and knew how to sell. But his love of power tools and his desire to always use “more power” on top of his natural clumsiness meant that Al and the rest of the audience were always kept on their toes.
Tim’s accident-prone ways were not only a danger on set, he had his share of misadventures at home as well. Several examples include how he managed to fall off the roof, fall through the roof, blow up parts of the house and electrocute himself, sadly more than once.
Did you know that Dave Chappelle got his acting start in Robin Hood: Men in Tights? The standup comedian got his first real role in the 1993 Mel Brooks classic comedy. A couple of years later he appeared in an episode of Home Improvement, but he was still relatively unknown. It took a few more years for Chappelle’s acting career to really take off.
Dave Chappelle and his friend comedian Jim Breuer appeared on the season 4 episode “Talk to Me”. They were in a short scene as Tool Time audience members who ask Tim for relationship tips. Their appearance must have made an impression, because ABC decided to give them their own sitcom, Buddies. Unfortunately, the show was cancelled after five episodes.
Who Is Klaus?
When you think Tool Time, you obviously think about Tim and Al, they set the tone for the show and of course it wouldn’t be the same without the lovely Tool Time Girls, Lisa and Heidi. But does anyone remember a Klaus?
The name Klaus was actually used pretty often on the Tool Time set. Tim would repeatedly ask Klaus to play some music on the show. It turns out that he was actually talking to Klaus Landberg, a real guy working on the Home Improvement production team. Tim calling for Klaus became yet another running gag in the studio.
A Winning Week
There’s no denying that Tim Allen was a huge star in the 90’s. He was nominated for countless awards, won three People’s Choice Awards and a Golden Globe, and was even nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award.
Allen’s success reached unbelievable heights over one amazing week in November 1994. On that week, his TV show Home Improvement was the number one series in the ratings, his film The Santa Clause was number one at the box office, and his book, “Don’t Stand Too Close to a Naked Man,” was number one on the best seller’s list. That’s going to be nearly impossible to beat.
We all know that the fictional Binford brand logo can be found all over Home Improvement and even in the movie Toy Story, but the bogus brand did not end with the show. Tim Allen must be a real fan of those Binford products, because he decided to include them in his next sitcom, Last Man Standing.
On the show, Allen’s character is a sporting goods employee, which of course has nothing to do with power tools. Nonetheless, in several scenes, tools with the Binford logo appear. Now that’s what we call loyalty!
The Navy Connection
Patricia Richardson, the daughter of a naval veteran, was always a staunch supporter of the US military. Tim Allen, who worked alongside her, is also a big admirer of the armed forces. So, it’s no surprise that Navy troops were invited to view a special Home Improvement rehearsal with cast member Jimmy Labriola there to keep them laughing between takes.
Tim Allen has not lost his strong connection with the navy over the years. While he was shooting Last Man Standing, Allen invited a mother and her two boys onto the set for a special Christmas episode. There was an amazing surprise waiting there for them. Their father, Petty Officer 1st Class Raymond McKnigh, was home for the holidays, hidden inside a wrapped Christmas present.