If you’ve ever wanted to learn about behind-the-scenes facts, interesting tool-time tidbits, and fun details of a show you’ve almost certainly seen, you’re in the right place. Get ready to grunt along with us as we put the tools in their proper place.
The Start to a Beautiful, Bouncing Career
While the show wasn’t Pamela Anderson’s very first time in the spotlight – she had already been a Playmate of the Month by the time the show started – but she appeared as a regular character for the first two seasons of the show as “Tool Time Girl” Lisa. It was her big break in Hollywood after a few minor roles in single episodes of other shows.
After two seasons, Anderson decided to step away from the show to join the cast of “Baywatch,” which would see her gaining even greater fame, even if it wasn’t for her acting skills. “Home Improvement” had to come up with a reason for her leaving in-universe, and they said it was because she wanted to become a paramedic. She would, however, return for a season finale eventually.
The Last-Minute Choice
With Tim Taylor as the man of the house, there had to be something to keep him grounded, keep him from getting too crazy. That person was his wife Jill Taylor, played by Patricia Richardson. It wasn’t easy finding Richardson, who was a last-minute replacement, selected just before filming was set to start. The original choice for the “Tool Time” co-host, Stephen Tobolowski, suggested Richardson, as the producers were having a lot of trouble finding someone who would work.
And work Richardson did – she earned four Emmy nominations as well as two Golden Globe nominations for her time on the show. She was easily the second-most important member of the cast after Tim, and there were just as many episodes that centered on her as on her husband.
Wilson Was a Real Person
Even if you’ve only seen the show a few times, there’s a good chance you remember the character of Wilson, Tim’s next-door neighbor, who never shows his face – ever. He and Tim trade advice over the back fence, get lunch, or work on their yards, but the most we ever see of Wilson – played by Earl Hindman – is down to his nose.
He was based on a neighbor that Allen had while he was a child. The fence in his backyard was too tall to see over, especially for a kid, and Allen’s neighbor would talk to the Allen family just like Wilson does in the show, without ever showing his face. Of course, we assume that the real neighbor didn’t have a preternatural way of hiding his face when he wasn’t sequestered behind a fence.
The Person to Replace Pamela
Regardless of her acting skills, it wasn’t easy to replace Pamela Anderson after she left for warm, sandy beaches. The woman had left quite a pair of boots to fill. However, “Home Improvement” hit paydirt when they came across Debbe Dunning, who played Heidi Keppert, the new assistant to Tim and Al for six seasons.
While she initially had a minor role, Dunning proved to quickly turn into a fan favorite. She was even elevated to a member of the main cast by the end of the show. It was also clear that Debbe was committed to the show, appearing in almost a quarter of the episodes – one hundred and forty-eight out of a total of two hundred and four. Thanks to her, Tim and Al survived.
An Early Appearance of a Famous Funnyman
Long before he became regarded as one of the best stand-up comics around, Dave Chappelle made an appearance on “Home Improvement.” He appeared with his friend Jim Breuer, with both of them making short appearances as “Tool Time” audience members who ask Tim and Al for relationship advice. This tiny role proved to be a big hit with viewers, who found the pair so funny that ABC actually offered them roles in a TV show inspired by their friendship.
The show was called “Buddies,” but Chappelle’s friend Jim was abruptly fired before filming. For this reason, the comedic rapport the two friends had in “Home Improvement” disappeared from “Buddies,” and not only was the show a flop, but Chappelle also developed ill will toward the network.
One of the Best TV Dads
Tim Taylor was a great TV host and an accomplished handyman, but what about his skills as a father? Opinions may vary depending on who you ask, but people generally find him to be pretty good at raising his three sons. He was the typical man: he loved power tools, fast cars, and sports, but he didn’t really know as much as he often thought he did. That is to say that he was RELATABLE – sometimes sure of himself, sometimes in over his head, but always trying to do the right thing.
After a ranking of famous television dads in a “TV Guide” list, he landed at number twenty. Based on the number of famous TV dads, that’s no small achievement. While number nineteen was Herman Munster from “The Munsters,” that’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Too Big for a Small Role
Before the show’s producers found Pamela Anderson, they wanted Ashley Judd to fill the role of Tim and Al’s assistant on “Tool Time.” One of the creators, Matt Williams, loved her audition so much he simply couldn’t keep her stuck in a little role that would only show up once an episode, and maybe not even then.
Williams eventually came up with a character that was Tim’s sister on the show and offered it to Judd, saying that she was too talented for such a minor character. If you’re wondering why she didn’t ever show up, it’s because she declined the role – her agent said that she was trying to get into movies. She was, eventually, successful, but it took a couple of years.
Michigan Schools Only
A keen eye will notice that Tim Taylor wears a lot of clothing from colleges, and an even keener eye will realize that he only ever wore clothes from colleges that were in Michigan. This is because, somehow, the show got the colleges to send them all kinds of free shirts, jackets, sweaters, and more, as long as the show only had him wear clothes from Michigan, Tim Allen’s home state.
The show actually had a rule that only these schools would get free advertising, and the schools made sure to take advantage, especially after the show turned into a hit. It helped keep the show’s costs down since they didn’t have to spend any money on Tim’s apparel. After over two hundred episodes, that’s a good chunk of change.
The Only Non-Michigan Shirt
There is one and only one instance of the show breaking its Michigan-only rule when it came to Tim Taylor’s clothing. For some reason, a sweater from Wofford College made it into the pile of options for Tim to wear, and somebody failed to do their job when it came to double-checking where Wofford College is. It isn’t even NEAR Michigan – it’s all the way down in South Carolina!
A costume supervisor said that someone dropped the ball in double-checking that Wofford was in Michigan, resulting in this single instance of the rule being broken in the season six episode “Workshop ‘Til You Drop.” Because of this reason, it’s actually somewhat famous among fans of the show. The Twitter (now X) account for Wofford has even posted about it.
A Very Odd Fan Theory
Every show has its fan theories. Some of them make sense in their simplicity, some of them are mind-blowing if they’re true, and some of them are simply strange. This is one from that final category. A Reddit theory was developed that says Tim Taylor is actually Jesus Christ. Look, we just told you it was weird, but here’s why: Tim Taylor, like the big J-Man, is a carpenter.
And, like the big J-Man, Tim Taylor receives advice from an otherworldly entity – in the show that would be his neighbor Wilson. Taylor then shares the advice to others. That’s a pretty basic way of describing Jesus, but we guess it’s correct. There are, of course, dozens of reasons why the comparison doesn’t work out, such as Taylor being married and having children.
Not Happy About Losing a Kid
With three young sons played by actors growing into their own, it was almost certain that the show would lose one of the sons for one reason or another. It was Randy Taylor, played by Jonathan Taylor Thomas, who stepped away in 1998 in order to focus on his school. Despite being older than Zachary Ty Bryan, he played the middle son, since he looked like the younger child.
While the reason JTT gave was to focus on his studies, he was still acting in films, which led to Tim Allen being a little upset about being lied to. However, the two were able to patch things up so that Jonathan could return for the final season’s holiday episode. He left in the final season, so he didn’t miss much.
A Rumor Denied
We all know Pamela Anderson as a woman blessed in a number of different ways, which is how she got her first taste of fame in “Playboy” magazine. Hopefully, you’re familiar with the mag, and how much or how little the stars featured will wear. Well, there’s a chance that Tim Allen wanted a clean slate. Anderson wrote in a memoir that on her first day of filming, Allen flashed her – opening his robe and revealing himself.
He then covered and said that they were “even,” alluding to Anderson’s appearances in the famous nudie mag. For the record, Allen categorically denies the rumor, saying that it never happened and he would never do such a thing. It would have been a risky move even at the time, but nowadays it could get a guy blacklisted even thirty years later.
Time to Play the Tool Man
If you love “Home Improvement” but have always wanted to be a little more hands-on with the action, you might want to get out your old SNES. It’s a two-dimensional side-scrolling game that has you, as Tim the Toolman Taylor, running around backlot sets to collect the Binford-Taylor Turbo Power Tool that went missing. Believe it or not, you have to fight past reptiles, acid-spewing monsters, robot sentries, and plenty of pitfalls.
The game was actually compared to “Pitfall,” but the addition of power tools added a little more to the action. All in all, the game received mixed reviews, with some finding it boring and others finding it more interesting. At this point in time, it’s probably most famous for the JonTron episode featuring it.
The Mysterious Man’s Full Name
We all know about the enigmatic neighbor who shares a fence with Tim Taylor, but do you know his full name? Fans of the show may remember, but his full name, as revealed on the show, was Wilson W. Wilson. No bonus points for knowing what the middle initial stands for. Why on Earth parents would name their child such a thing is made a little clearer with the additional revelation that he’s Wilson W. Wilson Jr. – meaning that his father was also named Wilson Wilson.
The father’s middle name is unknown, but we have a pretty good guess as to what it could be. He’s easily the strangest character on the show, but strange in a good way – fans loved him, and removing him would have been a terribly bad decision.
Sharing an Audience
The show-within-a-show from “Home Improvement,” “Tool Time,” had Tim Taylor and the comparatively mild-mannered Al Borland get up to mischief and try not to injure themselves. While it’s easy to think that the audience we see during these segments are hired extras, they’re actually the studio audience for the episode as a whole – they’re the ones you hear laughing after the jokes.
Many people who were able to watch an episode being filmed called this the best part, since not only could they be on camera, but Tim Allen would often improvise jokes, do stand-up monologues, and more events that never made it into the episode. All that PLUS the normal humor that came from the show itself and watching it in a group setting.
Why No Season Nine?
Up until the end of the final season, the show was killing it in the ratings. Despite this fact, a season nine was never produced. How could producers leave so much money on the table? Well, money was the big reason, as it turns out. Patricia Richardson, playing Jill Taylor, wasn’t happy with the amount she was being offered to return for another set of episodes. Tim Allen was offered a whopping fifty million dollars, but Richardson was only offered half that amount.
She asked to get the same amount as Tim, but the producers instead decided to pull the plug. We guess twenty-five million dollars is a lot of money. However, two of the Taylor sons had decided to leave the show, meaning it still wouldn’t have been the same for the show.
The Show Inside the Show Based on Another Show
If you’re wondering where the producers for “Home Improvement” got the idea for “Tool Time,” it’s from the classic PBS show “This Old House.” It was a good-natured parody of the show, which ran for thirty-nine whole seasons on PBS, and Tim and Al are versions of the “This Old House” hosts, Bob Vila and Norm Abram. The show helped people renovate their homes – literal home improvement.
Bob, like Tim, was the main host, while Norm, like Al, was the master carpenter. Tim and Al even had wardrobes on the show that copied Bob and Norm. The real show and fake show had plenty of cross-overs, with each show’s pair appearing on the other show several times before “Home Improvement” went off the air.
The Most Difficult Episode to Make
One of the episodes of “Home Improvement” in which Bob Vila from “This Old House” appears is “The Great Race” from season two. For some reason, Tim challenges his counterpart to a hot rod race, as both men are fans of old, fast cars. Where could such a race actually occur, seeing as the show was shot in the busy streets of Burbank, California?
Well, somehow, the show was able to get one of the runways at the Burbank airport shut down in order to shoot the episode – no mean feat. Even much smaller airports can serve thousands of people a day and see dozens or hundreds of planes, and the airport in Burbank is not a small one. We’re going to assume there were lots of favors and money handed around.
He Didn’t Want to be Anonymous
Getting an actor for a role like Wilson is a little harder than casting for a normal role. The character’s face was hidden twenty-four-seven, and most actors would rather they become recognizable. For this reason, the original choice for Wilson, John Bedford Lloyd, declined the role when it was explained that his face would remain hidden. Lloyd went on to have a number of big movie roles, such as in “Wall Street,” “Philadelphia,” and “The Bourne Supremacy,” so maybe he made the right choice.
However, he dropped out a single day before filming was going to start, leaving producers scrambling to find a replacement for Tim Taylor’s hidden neighbor. They were able to find Earl Hindman, who didn’t mind staying hidden since he had already done the Hollywood route.
The Wrong Area Code
One of the frequent gags on the show-within-a-show “Tool Time” was Tim saying something offensive or inflammatory, and Al holding up a sign that has Tim’s phone number and mailing address. At the same time, Al tells viewers where they can send their hate mail. The number and address are, we’re told, the details for the company that produces “Tool Time,” which is in Michigan, but the phone number has an Illinois area code.
The address was never an active P.O. box, unfortunately, but the phone number was a real one, and it was not where it was supposed to be. In later seasons, the area code was adjusted to a proper Michigan code. In addition, the number started with 555, which meant nobody was getting any calls – it’s a common trick for TV shows to avoid anybody getting harassed.
The Tool Company Was Named After a Friend
The company that sponsors “Tool Time” on the show is called Binford – it’s also the company that Tim Taylor used to work for before he got the show. The products are all over the place, visible in almost every scene on the “Tool Time” set, as well as on the pin-up calendars that are frequently in the background. It’s not a real company, but it does come from a real person.
The screenwriter who came up with it simply took the name from an old high school friend. The name became so famous that it made it to number ten on the WatchMojo list of most popular fake brands. The list also includes the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company, Duff Beer, and the granddaddy of all fake brands, Acme Corp.
A Hint at a Shared Universe
Jonathan Taylor Thomas, who played the middle child, Randy, left the show on a bit of a sour note. He left to further his studies but went right back into movies the first chance he had. For this reason, he and Tim Allen had a bit of a hard time getting along. However, they were able to patch things up for JTT to return for an episode in the final season.
In addition, Thomas would make an appearance on Tim Allen’s later show, “Last Man Standing.” Not only that, but when he made his appearance, some of his lines referenced “Home Improvement,” and his relationship with his father Tim Taylor, which got fans all in a tizzy about the two shoes being in a shared universe.
The Man Playing Al
The original choice for playing Tim’s “Tool Time” co-star was Stephen Tobolowski, a veteran actor who has been in all sorts of shows and movies. However, after the choice was made, it was discovered that Tobolowski was going to busy filming a movie during the time they were planning on filming the pilot of “Home Improvement.” The producers decided to recast the role, bringing in Richard Karn to play Al (Tobolowski’s character was going to be named Glen).
Karn was just supposed to be around until Tobolowski became available, but he ended up being too busy for good. Thus, Al was permanent. Tobolowski has said that he didn’t have any regrets about turning the show down, since Al was a great character and Tobolowski had plenty of his own work to attend to.
The Right Kind of Costume
Besides just acting on “Home Improvement” together, both Tim Allen and Jonathan Taylor Thomas had prominent animated voice roles in some of the biggest movies of the nineties. Allen was the voice of Buzz Lightyear, the spaceman from Pixar’s first film “Toy Story,” while JTT voiced young Simba in what very well might be the best Disney film ever, “The Lion King.” Both of these roles were referenced in the same episode of “Home Improvement:” “I Was a Teenage Taylor” from season seven.
A pair of kids come to the front door, one dressed as Buzz and the other dressed as Simba. Randy, played by Thomas, gives one piece of candy to Buzz and seven to Simba. The cat goes away happy, but we bet Buzz wasn’t too thrilled about it.
Connected to the Pixar Universe
Yes, it’s well-known that Tim Allen is the voice of the intrepid toy spaceman Buzz Lightyear in Pixar’s flagship movie series “Toy Story,” but there’s actually a little more of a connection between the two titles than you might think. Mainly, it’s the company that sponsors Tim Taylor’s show “Tool Time.”
Binford sponsors the show from season one until the end of the show, and the name also shows up in “Toy Story.” Woody gets trapped underneath a crate that has a Binford toolbox on top of it – too heavy for a little toy. It’s evidence that the two worlds might just share a single universe. And, you might not know, all or at least a lot of the Pixar films are connected, meaning Tim the Toolman Taylor might be part of the “Wall-E” world.
Turning Down a Lot of Roles
Long before “Home Improvement” was a hit on the airwaves, Disney knew that it had a budding star in Tim Allen. They offered him a bunch of different show options, including a pair of IPs that had already seen the light of day. The first was the TV show based on “Dead Poets Society,” the second was the same for “Turner and Hooch.” Yeah, the dog-buddy-cop movie. Allen turned both of the options down, saying that he didn’t really think either would work out.
Seems like he was on the money since neither show made it to our TV screens. Allen was able to press the network for what he was really looking for – his own sitcom. Matt Williams, who had created “Roseanne,” created the show, and thus we got “Home Improvement.”
Pre-Fame Michelle Williams
Before she gained fame as a famous cutie on “Dawson’s Creek,” Michelle Williams appeared as a girl named Jessica Lutz on an episode of “Home Improvement,” in which she goes on a date with Brad. It’s the season four episode “Wilson’s Girlfriend,” and it was just a couple of years before she made it big with her friends at the creek. Coincidentally, her very first acting credit was as a child on “Baywatch,” so she at least had a chance to meet the original Tool Time girl Pamela Anderson.
After she was done with “Dawson’s Creek,” Williams went on to have an incredible career, appearing in lots of shows and movies, including roles that would see her getting Oscar noms and Golden Globe Awards, such as playing Marilyn Monroe in “My Week with Marilyn.”
The Older Son That Was Actually Younger
While Tim and Jill got most of the time when it came to members of the Taylor family, their three sons – Brad, Randy, and Mark – got their fair share of storylines as well. Brad was the oldest and Mark the youngest, but that’s not how it went when it came to their actors. As it turns out, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, who played Randy, was older than Zachary Bryan, who played Brad, by about a month.
This is because JTT had a naturally younger look to his face, while Zachary Bryan grew up big and tall. After his time on “Home Improvement,” Zachary Bryan went on to have some minor roles in shows such as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Veronica Mars,” and he even got to appear in a few films, such as “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.”
The Original Jill
Sure, it’s hard to think of anyone other than Patricia Richardson as Jill Taylor, but there was another name attached to the character for the test pilot. None other than Frances Fisher. Not sure who that is? She was Strawberry Alice in “Unforgiven,” Ruth DeWitt Bukater in “Titanic,” and Jane Crawford from the “Watchmen” series, as well as something like a hundred other roles in film and television.
How could such an incredible talent get replaced? Simple: She just couldn’t do comedy. At least according to the test pilot audiences. The producers tried to keep her around, but it didn’t work out. Even if you’re a great actress, being comedic can sometimes be difficult. Eventually, they replaced her with Patricia Richardson, a version of the character that audiences received with much more laughter.
It’s Just Such a Comedic Language
“Home Improvement” is an incredible title for this kind of show – about a tool guy that is always trying to keep his family life in tip-top shape. Just like any other show that is on a big network, a group of people tried out a bunch of different names for the show. This happened not only in the original English, but also in the languages it was going to get translated to.
In German, for instance, the name became “Hör Mal Wer da hämmert," which means “Listen Who’s Hammering.” You might be wondering why they picked such a title, but it’s all because of John Travolta. Apparently, his film “Look Who’s Talking” was really popular in Germany. We just love finding out how decisions like these can come to be.
The Accident Man
Nobody can deny that Tim Taylor was great at his job as a TV host. He was funny, unique, and a perfect salesman. He was the kind of person a lot of people could relate to. On the other hand, he was also incredibly accident-prone. For some reason, despite being a trained handyman and someone who is actually able to have a tool show, he doesn’t really seem to know how to display safety when it comes to using power tools.
His strangely accident-prone self ended up with a whole lot of injuries over the course of the show, whether witnessed on-screen or not. Leaving aside hitting himself with a hammer or small injuries such as that, he’s also managed to electrify himself a few times, fall through a roof, and blow up part of the house.
Who Was Klaus?
The shenanigans that Tim Taylor gets up to on his show can sometimes land him in trouble – or at least a desire to go to a commercial as soon as possible so he doesn’t get embarrassed on national television. If this happens, Tim would yell out to a man named Klaus to “start the music” or something like that. Since we never actually get to see Klaus, it’s often assumed that he doesn’t exist, but he is, indeed, a real person.
He was actually Klaus Landberg, the sound engineer for the entirety of “Home Improvement,” and thus he was actually the person who would play the music when Tim asked for it. Pretty fun. Landberg and Allen have worked together on several other projects, including “Toy Story” and “Last Man Standing.”
The Decade of Allen
When it comes to people who had a good decade, it’s hard to beat Tim Allen’s time during the nineties. He was not only the star of a famous and beloved sitcom, but pretty much everything else he touched turned to cold during that time. We’ve already gone over his starring role in the much-loved Pixar film “Toy Story,” but there are a couple of other examples from that time.
His Christmas film “The Santa Clause” became number one at the box office and is still a family favorite. His book “Don’t Stand Too Close to a Naked Man” was number one on the best-seller list. In November of 1994, “Home Improvement” was the number-one rated TV show, and because of it, he got three People’s Choice Awards, a Golden Globe, and an Emmy nomination.
The User’s Guide
There aren’t a lot of TV shows that need a user’s guide. We can only really think of “Dark” right off the top of our heads. The special “Tim Allen Presents: A User’s Guide to Home Improvement” was actually a TV special made four years after the show ended, which was a collection of clips and moments that were some of Allen’s favorites from the eight seasons of the show.
Earl Hindman, who played Wilson, was terminally ill from cancer at the time, but he was still able to provide a voice-over for the show. The special also featured a lot of personal reflections from Allen about his time on the show, and a few times when the cameras were rolling as Allen responded to audience questions between scenes.
The “Home Improvement” Movie that Wasn’t
“Home Improvement” turned out to be such a hit for audiences and critics that Disney was seriously considering making a movie out of it. The initial idea for a plot was for Jill and Tim to get divorced, forcing Tim to dress up as a woman – a nanny – in order to see the kids. You might realize this is really similar to the Robin Williams movie “Mrs. Doubtfire.”
When Tim Allen was presented with the idea, he turned it down, either not liking the movie or thinking it wasn’t a good fit for the “Home Improvement” brand. However, the higher-ups in Disney thought that it still had legs, so the project continued, eventually turning into the movie that we all know and love, released in 1993.
Wilson’s Face – Revealed!
The biggest thing we all know about Wilson is that he always, always, always keeps his face covered. Whether it’s behind a fence, around a corner, or as he’s perusing a menu, we never get to see anything more than Wilson’s eyes and maybe his nose. He’s also wearing a big hat that obscures his ears and hides his hair. Nobody ever gets to see him...except for once.
At the very end of the show, in the very final episode, Wilson comes out from behind the fence to show everybody watching on TV what he looks like. It turns out that he’s just a normal guy. We don’t know what people were expecting. Still, after all the time the show went covering him up, it’s a great way to end the series.
Binford Is Still in Business
We get to see the quality of Binford products in action every time we turn on “Home Improvement,” whether it’s Al demonstrating how to properly use a new power tool, or it’s Tim getting his hands stuck in a bucket of wet cement without realizing it would dry so quickly. It turns out that Tim Allen has such an affinity for the fake company that he wanted it to continue past the initial show.
Thanks to Allen’s new sitcom, “Last Man Standing,” it’s still possible to see the Binford logo in a number of places. In addition, whenever a power tool appears on the show, you can bet that it’s a proud member of the Binford family.
Doing Something for the Troops
Tim Allen is a fan of the troops, and Richardson is a daughter of a Navy vet, so the show decided to have a special event. Members of the naval forces were invited to sit in on a rehearsal for “Home Improvement,” while Jimmy Labriola (the actor for Benny Baroni) would entertain the assembled men and women between takes. There was also when Allen did something special during a Christmas episode of “Last Man Standing.”
He invited a mother and her two sons onto the stage to give them a special surprise, which turned out to be the husband/father, Petty Officer 1st Class Raymond McKnight, who had just arrived home from active duty, unbeknownst to the family. He walked on stage to greet his family, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
The Original Name
The year was 1991 – or 1990, who knows – and the team at Disney was working on turning “Home Improvement” into a real show. One of the most important things about a show is the title, since it’s the first thing that any viewer will see. “Home Improvement” is a great pick, but they almost went with something that was far, far worse. The original name for the series was going to be “Hammer Time.”
Not the worst name for a show about tools and their uses, but there are some problems. First off, this probably would have resulted in some sort of court case thanks to MC Hammer. In addition, it would have stuck the name in the really early nineties. Since MC Hammer had no other hits, it would have immediately dated the show.
Thanks for the Ticket
While the original actor for Al (actually to be named “Glen”) was Stephen Tobolowski, Richard Karn was a last-minute addition to the cast. Even then, we’re lucky to have seen Karn on the show – it’s only because of a moving violation that landed him in traffic school. He got a ticket for rolling through a stop sign after a rehearsal for “Macbeth” in Los Angeles, and he had to attend school as a punishment.
While there, he happened to meet an agent who told him about the opening on “Home Improvement.” After that, Karn looked at his contacts in the biz and found that he would be able to parlay them into an audition. From there the rest is history, and Karn even stayed on longer than expected.
The First Lady Almost Appeared
A memo got released to the public in 1995 that showed Hillary Clinton’s press secretary Lisa Caputo had reached out to Hillary’s chief-of-staff Maggie Williams about the idea of having Hillary – at that time the First Lady of the United States – make an appearance on “Home Improvement.” It was actually called the “most popular television show on the air.”
The show’s producers were on board, at least initially, and were willing to do a show about women, children, or family issues based on what Hillary would want to talk about. However, this special guest star episode never materialized, and it’s honestly hard for us to picture it being fondly remembered at this point. Obviously, the Taylor family would have known who she was. It just would have been weird.
One of the Most-Watched Ever
The show started out popular and got even more eyes on it as the years went on, and it culminated in one of the most-watched series finales of all time. Al gets married and Wilson’s face is revealed – what more could the audience possibly want? It netted a total of thirty-five point five million viewers, putting it at number ten on the all-time list. It beat out incredible shows like “Frasier,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
However, it was unable to top series such as “All in the Family,” “The Cosby Show,” “Friends,” “Seinfeld,” “Cheers,” and the biggest series finale of them all, “MASH.” We don’t think it’s even possible for a show to get more viewers than “MASH,” which had an absolutely astounding one hundred and five million people tune in for the finale.
Weird Al Wasn’t Allowed His Song
For his 1996 album “Bad Hair Day,” Weird Al Yankovic tried to produce a cover of the Rembrandt’s song “I’ll Be There for You,” probably better known as the theme song to “Friends.” He wanted to make it into a parody of “Home Improvement,” and was planning on naming it “I’ll Repair for You.” Unfortunately, the producers of “Friends” told him no.
We don’t know why they had the rights to the song, but contract stuff like that is always super complicated. For the record, the Rembrandts were perfectly fine with the cover. While he couldn’t include it on an album, Weird Al was still able to sing it live. These days, telling Weird Al no is a good way to get blasted on social media, but we guess you have to draw a line somewhere.
Plenty of Guest Stars
Sure, the show might not have been able to snag the First Lady as a guest, but there were a couple of other big names that showed up over the years – including a former president! In fact, it’s the only sitcom ever to feature a Super Bowl MVP, a four-time Oscar nominee, a former president, and Oprah. All on the same show!
Oprah appeared as herself during a dream sequence, in which she gets Toni Morrison to talk about Tim Taylor’s book. There was also John Elway, the MVP, the Beach Boys, and, yes, President Jimmy Carter. In addition, there was Evander Holyfield, Drew Carey, former Detroit Piston Isiah Thomas, and a couple of others. But they just couldn’t get the First Lady.
Awards Work a Certain Way
“Home Improvement” was Allen’s first major television series role, but when the Emmy nominations were released in the summer of 1992, he found he wasn’t on the list. This is because, unbeknownst to Allen, you have to submit the paperwork yourself in order to be considered for nomination. It isn’t just the group that takes a look at every single show and picks out the nominees.
Whenever someone says it’s an honor to be nominated, you have to remember that they submitted the paperwork themselves. They TRIED to get nominated. After Allen learned how the Emmys work, he made sure to submit his paperwork on time the next year. In fact, he personally delivered his application to the Academy, having hired the USC marching band to lead him the whole way.
A History of Issues
One of the more famous pieces of trivia about Tim Allen is that he was a criminal long before he joined the cast of “Home Improvement.” In 1978, he was found guilty of drug trafficking and sentenced to two years in federal prison. After that, he was able to turn his life around thanks in part to focusing on his stand-up comedy. From then on he kept away from the hard stuff in all manners, but that doesn’t mean he was able to avoid the law entirely.
For the record, Tim Allen was found with more than half a kilogram of illicit substances. He could have received a life sentence for carrying so much, but he handed over the names of other dealers in exchange for a shorter sentence – originally three to seven years, but got out early thanks to good behavior.
Another Brush With the Law
Despite Tim Allen leaving his criminal ways far behind him, he would have to deal with the police again during the “Home Improvement” years. In 1997, he was arrested for driving while intoxicated near his suburban Detroit home. He had simply had too much to drink while golfing and getting dinner, and he didn’t stop to think for a moment that he should hand the keys over to someone else.
His wife, who was with him, had been hit on the head with a golf ball, so we guess she didn’t really want to be in control of the car either. Because of this, Allen checked himself into a rehab clinic, and from then on he’s been clean – about twenty-five years at this point.
The Story of the Missing Episode
This special show had big ratings and lots of acclaim over its eight seasons. The show had a total of two hundred and three episodes, but if you only watched them during their initial prime-time airing, you’d only see two hundred and two. So what about the remaining show? Well, during the fifth season’s production, the show made an extra episode called “Tanks for the Memories,” in which Tim participates in a tank race at the behest of a friend who is in the Marines.
It was specifically produced for the syndicated reruns, so that people who wanted to see something new for viewers to watch. The episode did eventually run on ABC, but it was more than four months after it premiered on local TV networks all over the United States.
The Big Lawsuit
There was no doubt that “Home Improvement” was going to get sold into syndication thanks to its popularity. It happened in 1993, meaning that suddenly the producers and distributors inside the Walt Disney Company were making plenty of money, since the show was running quite a lot.
However, the show’s creators, Matt Williams, Carmen Finestra, and David McFadzean asserted they didn’t receive proper compensation from Disney after the show was sold to affiliates in New York for far less than its market value. After a drawn-out case, the courts sided with Disney, saying they didn’t have to pay the creators any more than they had already received. One of the big reasons was that the lawsuit was filed in 2013, long after the show had been sold – the lawsuit was too late.
Real Construction Projects
Every once in a while, Tim and Al will take a trip outside the “Tool Time” sound stage to visit a real construction site, showing off their ability to supervise or advise on real projects. You might think that the production team threw these sets together, but they were all real construction projects. The cast and crew had to venture outside the set in Burbank, California in order to find these places, but a lot of times they weren’t very far away.
The season three episode “Dollars and Sense” and the season four episode “Don’t Tell Mamma” had them find construction projects that were right outside, in the Walt Disney Studios lot. Almost right outside the door. The first building became the Roy E. Disney Animation Building, and the set from “Don’t Tell Mamma” was some backlot construction.
Talk of a Revival
The entertainment world has been on a reboot kick for a little while now, especially when it comes to shows that were on during the nineties. You might think that you’ve gone back in time thanks to shows like “Will and Grace,” “Roseanne,” “Full House,” “Twin Peaks,” “Charmed,” or “Boy Meets World” coming back on the air or appearing on your favorite streaming service. However, there’s a notable lack of new “Home Improvement” episodes.
Allen still talks to everybody from the show, and he’s game if the producers are. However, he’d most be interested in doing a one-off, TV movie kind of special more than bringing the show back for full seasons. There was a soft reboot of the show during “Last Man Standing,” which has Tim Taylor, played by Tim Allen, meet Mike Baxter...played by Tim Allen.
Changing the Intro
Like most shows of the era, the first season of “Home Improvement” began with the traditional theme song and credits intro. In the second season, however, the network requested a switch to the “cold open” format of beginning episodes. This means that people who were watching the show prior to “Home Improvement” might get to see some of the action and humor before they have a chance to turn the TV off.
It was a technique perfected by “Saturday Night Live.” Season four was when the show added the paper cutouts of the characters, with names coming and going as people left the show, joined, or became more prominent. The art style continued to evolve as the season rolled on, as well. Every year had a brand new opening.
Making Sure She Stands Out
Patricia Richardson has gone on record stating that the original version of Jill Taylor was rather one-dimensional. She said it felt like she was every other mom on TV. After enough time, she was able to convince the producers and writers to switch things up a little bit. She went from a housewife to a working mom and would eventually start going to college.
The show also took the interesting tactic of having her turn out to be a Democrat in order to balance out her Republican husband. It turned out that Richardson’s urging was certainly for the better since she earned four Emmy Award nominations and a pair of Golden Globe Awards. Sometimes it pays to listen to the people who are actually playing the roles.
The Fan-Favorite Episode
With more than two hundred episodes to choose from, it must be hard picking a favorite if you’re a fan of the show. However, the fandom got together and eventually named “Love’s Labor’s Lost” as the best of the best. The title comes from Shakespeare – always a good choice if you can pull it off – and it’s a part comedy, part drama story about Jill having to go through hysterectomy surgery.
It’s one of the few times on the show when the story stretched for longer than a single episode, requiring a part two to wrap everything up. It involved some tough conversations, some dramatic moments in hospitals, and a big change to a character that had at least been partially defined by motherhood. Would she survive the change?
The Powerful Catchphrase
Despite it turning into Tim Taylor’s catchphrase on the show-within-a-show “Tool Time,” it wasn’t until the seventh season of “Home Improvement” when we first heard “More Power!” Immediately the show realized it had a good thing on its hands, and started throwing it out whenever it could. It was even the very last line said by Tim Taylor in the entire show!
Of course, it helps that Taylor was quite unsafe when it came to power tools, even if they were the thing he had been trained to use. He used a huge magnet to destroy sound and camera equipment, he got caught in a mousetrap, and he got his head glued to a table. Some people think Taylor actually meant to mess up – in order to teach the “Tool Time” audience what not to do while working with tools.
Even More Laughs
It’s really hard to beat sitcom bloopers when it comes to putting a smile on your face. Even among other sitcoms, the blooper reels for “Home Improvement” are a little famous – you can see them on the DVD releases or on YouTube. The season seven reel probably has the very best of the very best, though, since it has Tim Allen having a showdown with a Buzz Lightyear toy.
When he picks the toy up, he starts saying the lines the toy is supposed to say – since he’s the voice of the toy, they sound just like the real thing! Because they are. The audience loved it, especially since “Toy Story” was so new and was such a big hit.
The Girl Behind the Tools
Fans of both “Home Improvement” and “Tool Time” loved it when Heidi, played by Debbe Dunning, walked onto the stage. You could hear the wolf whistles practically anywhere. Of course, having an attractive woman was a way for the show-within-a-show to gain some appeal, and it didn’t hurt “Home Improvement” at all, either. During high school, Dunning was a cheerleader and Homecoming queen, and she even won the Miss Burbank pageant in 1984.
While she’s had a couple of smaller roles in films including “The Spiral Staircase,” her time on “Home Improvement” was by far the biggest element of her curriculum vitae. In 1997 she was married to pro volleyball player Steve Timmons, with whom she had two children.
Used to Feuding Families
After the end of “Home Improvement,” Richard Karn’s biggest TV role was hosting “Family Feud” for four years. He joins Richard Dawkins, Ray Combs, Louie Anderson, John O’Hurley, and Steve Harvey as hosts of the show. While he regularly wore plaid work shirts while acting as Al, his wardrobe for “Family Feud” was quite a bit different.
As a presenter he had to shape up a little bit, so he started wearing sports jackets and bright, colorful, vivid items like Hawaiian shirts. Of course, this wasn’t Al leading the show, it was the man behind the man, Karn himself. He probably had to put on a performance, but he didn’t have to try and be somebody he wasn’t. Maybe that’s just how he likes to dress.
Not Hiding Anything
While it can be a surprise to some people that Tim Allen has such a sordid past, it was well-known by the time “Home Improvement” was starting. Several newspapers even tried to bring up the controversy by pointing out the irony of a dealer starring in a family show. Allen and the show’s producers were quick to get their side of the story out.
In addition, Allen has never tried to hide his past, saying that he’s put all the illegal stuff behind him. Because of the show, a lot of kids or families would attend his standup, which pushed him to include less raunchy material. Nowadays, he’s considered a very family-friendly actor and comedian, which is why people can be so shocked by the revelations about his past.
The Real Tools
During the show’s time on the air, hardware company Black and Decker made a line of Binford-branded tools, after the fictional company that sponsors “Tool Time.” Since the company isn’t a real one, the rights-holders were able to auction off the name as a promotional stunt more than once, with several other companies now having made “official” Binford tools.
Not only that, but you can also get shirts, bumper stickers, posters, and all kinds of other gear that let people know real men don’t need instructions. It turns out this famous brand name has even jumped into the superhero genre – in the forty-sixth episode of the “Batman: The Animated Series” show, the Joker can be seen pulling a wrench out of a toolbox that bears the Binford name. Hey, the Clown Prince of Crime knows quality.
Trying Their Hand at Directing
Like so many other sitcoms, the principal actors of the show took a couple of opportunities to flex their directing muscles. The kid actors obviously weren’t able to handle it, but Tim Allen and Patricia Richardson both directed a single episode during season eight. Richardson directed episode twenty, “Neighbors,” in which Tim takes Wilson to a hockey game and wins ten thousand dollars in the raffle seat.
Wilson wants to use the money to build a greenhouse, which would block the fence. Tim Allen, meanwhile, directed episode twenty-two, “Loose Lips and Freudian Slips,” in which Jill is anxious about defending her thesis. Mark records her saying why she’s nervous, only for her professor to end up viewing the video project when Mark plays it for the parents of his class.
Allen Was on Her Side
The final season of the show was season eight, but producers were pushing hard for a season nine. We’ve already talked about how they tried to ply Richardson and Allen with different amounts of money, but Richardson wasn’t on board. Allen attempted to get her to change her mind, and then he found out that the producers were thinking of killing Jill off to continue the show.
Seeing as how two of the kids had already left the show, there wouldn’t be a whole lot left of the original cast. Allen changed his mind and sided with Richardson, and there was no way the show would continue after losing Allen. Richardson has always wondered if Allen resents her for having to make the decision, but Allen has always stood firm.
The Two Sisters
Jill Allen, according to the show, has six sisters: Katie, Robin, Carrie, Tracy, Linda, and Carol. All of the gals from the family make a couple of appearances (save for the baby of the family, Carol, who never appears on-screen). One of them, Robin, appears only twice and has a different actress for the two visits. In the season one episode “Luck be a Taylor Tonight,” she’s played by future Oscar nominee Amy Ryan.
When the character shows up in a season six episode, she is instead played by Loryn Locklin. This isn’t all that uncommon when it comes to small roles on a show like this one, especially since it was around five years since anyone had seen the character. Seeing as how Robin only had these two appearances, few people caught on.
Inspired by a Real Scare
Patricia Richardson was always pushing for more dramatic stories to add the realism of family life to the show, and more than once she succeeded. One of the most famous examples is the season five episode “The Longest Day,” which has nothing to do with World War II. In the episode, Randy is sent to a specialist due to swelling on his neck and fatigue, and Jill and Tim find out it could be cancer.
Thankfully, it’s “only” hypothyroidism, kept in check by a single pill a day. This storyline came directly from Richardson, whose own son went through an identical scare. While the show didn’t have too many heavy plots such as this one, it made these stories all the more impactful due to their rarity.
Jill has a big collection of sisters, which means the show had to find all the women they could who would be available for stepping into an episode should the script require one or more of them to visit the Taylor home. What better way to make sure that one of the sisters would be nearby by bringing in a family member of one of the regular cast? The woman who plays Jill’s sister Carrie, Tudi Roche, is married to Richard Karn, who played Al.
He had to stay around for his role on the show, so it made sense that Tudi would also be around frequently. The two have been married since 1985 and have a son together. Roche was an actor whose biggest role was the six episodes in which she appeared on “Home Improvement.”
Mimicking Real Life
Tim Taylor is smart enough for his life, but he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who will spring for a whole lot of post-secondary education. He has his degree and that’s good enough for him. Still, his alma mater decides, of all things, to give him an honorary Ph.D. in the season five episode “Doctor in the House.” It’s an odd choice for the college, but it’s all a ploy for them to receive more funding.
This story was included because it was written around the same time that Tim Allen was receiving his own honorary degree from his own alma mater, Western Michigan University. They presented an honorary fine arts degree, along with a Distinguished Alumni Award in 1998.
Two Episodes with the Same Plot
There are two episodes that seem to follow the extra same story, even if the fine details, lines, and jokes are a little different. One of them is the season three episode “Crazy Over You,” while the other is the season eight Halloween episode, “Bewitched.” In both episodes, practically the entire cast works together to play a crazy prank on Tim in order to get him back for all the pranks he plays on everyone else.
In fact, both episodes even have final scenes that include Tim playing a minor prank on one of the big pranks’ masterminds in order to regain a little bit of respect. After more than two hundred episodes of the show, some of the episodes are going to blend together, but this is a lot more than that.
Separated at Birth
If you’ve watched any of the episodes of “Home Improvement” that feature Al’s doppelganger brother Cal, you might have wondered how they got someone that looks SO MUCH like Al. The easy answer is it’s Richard Karn’s real brother, right? Well, you’d be wrong if you guessed that on the test. As it turns out, the man, Keith Lehman, has no relation to Richard Karn at all – he’s also not related to anybody on the show, either.
However, the resemblance is so uncanny that it actually gets brought up on the show. So how did they find this guy? Well, it turns out that Lehman was a fan of “Home Improvement” long before he was ever in the show, and he isn’t even a professional actor. Somehow, he and the production team were able to connect, and they wrote Al’s almost identical brother into the show.
How Technology Changes
Any show is going to suffer being stuck in a certain time period, even if it isn’t intentional. Though not a real period piece, there are still numerous times in “Home Improvement” that will remind you that you’re watching a show from the nineties. For instance, in season four, Jill brings out her 45 RPM records as the kids are listening to CDs. The latter are cool and hip while the former are obsolete.
Nowadays, digital music is the norm over CDs while vinyl records are making a resurgence. There’s also the time when Tim criticizes Al for buying a cell phone, saying it’s an extravagant purchase. There’s a pretty good chance you’re reading this article on your phone – even if you aren’t, we bet that your phone is close by.
Who Is Wilson?
Wilson is a lot of things. He’s related to Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, loves to make foreign food, he’s always wearing his floppy fisherman’s hat or another piece of headgear, and directs plays. He has a doctorate, he can be a bit of a weirdo, and he’s the person pretty much everybody else on the cast turns to when they need advice, which Wilson is more than willing to hand out.
At the end of the show, his face is revealed, he bows to the audience during the final casting call, and the show is over. He’s nothing more than a regular guy who has a lot of strange hobbies. However, one of the original ideas for the character was that at the end of the series, he would be revealed to have been a ghost the whole time!
Haven’t I Seen You Before?
Before she joined the cast of eye-candy Heidi Keppert the Tool Time Girl, Debbe Dunning actually had a small role in season two as an unrelated character. The name of her character is – take a deep breath – Kiki Van Fursterwallenscheinlaw. Just like her role as the fanservice on “Tool Time,” her role here is to be attention-grabbing.
Actually, she asks Tim Taylor for his autograph, being a fan of his, and Tim has to try very hard not to ogle her, since Jill had caught him ogling someone during an episode of “Tool Time.” Of course, the fact that he has to try very hard to spell her name correctly only adds to the fun of the entire event. He has to do it while not looking at her at all.
I KNOW I’ve Seen You Before!
Debbe Dunning wasn’t the only person that played more than one character on the show. An actor by the name of Tom Poston appeared no less than three times as three different people, but that was intentional. Every time he showed up he played a service worker at a counter while Tim was in a time of extreme need. They aren’t the same character – they’re different people who look exactly the same and can’t be bothered to treat Tim with even a modicum of respect.
Tim says that they have to be relatives, but no information is offered as to whether or not he is correct. This wasn’t the last time Tom Poston worked with Tim Allen, either – they were both in the disappointing Christmas movie “Christmas with the Kranks.”
Nothing the Critics Can Do
Critics. Can’t live with them, and you won’t know what to watch without them. It turns out this group of media hogs weren’t too fond of “Home Improvement.” The show had to compete with critical darlings such as “Roseanne,” “Seinfeld,” “Friends,” and “Frasier.” Clearly, the problem is it had two words in the title instead of just one. The critics didn’t trash it, but it was never at the top of the list when it came to perfect television.
Still, this lack of critical acclaim didn’t seem to do much to damage its number of fans. There were plenty of awards for the show, as well as plenty of popularity with the People’s Choice Awards, and it was even the number-one show on television for a couple of years during its run. In fact, for all eight years, it never dropped below number ten.
A Realistic Portrayal
While the formula is so basic these days that it doesn’t seem creative at all, the show seems to have done an incredibly good job of portraying how a family can live and communicate together. A lot of the episodes were little more than an argument, a misunderstanding, going to Wilson for advice, and then apologies at the end, but hey guess what that’s kinda like real life.
Tim was a little immature, but he cared for his family, could take care of them, and had plenty of good points. Jill was the same way. The show also bucked the then-nascent trend of having an ugly husband with a hot wife on a dom-com show, having both of them relatively even as far as attractiveness goes. Subjectively, of course.
It’s a Christmas Miracle
Yes, we all know that Tim Allen was the main character in the “Santa Clause” series of movies. They’re holiday classics, even if the two sequels might not hold up to the original. In the first one, Tim Allen’s character scares Santa Claus, leading to the latter’s death and Tim becoming the new Saint Nick. It’s a classic setup for Christmas shenanigans. However, a season-one episode of “Home Improvement” either predicted that event or straight up inspired it:
Brad and Randy tell Mark that Santa Claus was dead, and it was their father Tim who had bought all his presents. Technically true, sort of, but nobody had any idea how big that idea would become to Tim Allen. The movie even answered the question Mark asked about how Santa fits all the presents in his bag.
“Boring” Doesn’t Necessarily Mean “Bad”
The show was beloved by viewers and shunned (or at least not lauded) by critics, but even the people who worked on the show knew that they weren’t exactly flipping the script when it came to the sitcom genre. The cast has admitted that the formula was pretty generic, and it very rarely pushed any boundaries – though the episode where Randy might have cancer was almost not allowed by the network for being too dark.
Most of the time, however, it wasn’t doing anything that other sitcoms hadn’t done plenty of times before. Still, a well-trodden path is often the safest, and fans loved the show. The “Tool Time” segments were fan favorites for a reason, with a great deal of the humor coming from them even if they had nothing to do with the episode’s story.
Before the Fame
Pamela Anderson wasn’t the only person who worked on “Home Improvement” before she made it to the big time. A couple of names you’re much more likely to recognize appeared on the show in some really small roles. There was Amy Ryan, who plays Jill’s younger sister Robin before she was on “Gone Baby Gone,” “The Wire,” or the US version of “The Office.”
William O’Leary was Marty before he had his big break as a member of the “Kamen Rider Dragon Knight” team. Maggie Lawson, famous for playing Juliet on “Psych,” was Brad’s college-age girlfriend later in the series. Finally, LUCY LIU appeared in one episode as one of Al’s adoring fangirls when he was named one of Detroit’s most eligible bachelors. Lucy Liu! She played “Woman #3.”
More Popular Than the Original
If you plopped a kid down in front of “Home Improvement” and asked him or her what “Tool Time” was based off of, there’s almost a one hundred percent chance you’d get nothing but a blank stare in return. For people of the era, it was clear that it was a parody of the acclaimed and much-loved show “This Old House,” and Tim and Al are clear copies of the originals.
While “This Old House” ran for more than twenty years, other handyman or carpentry shows have eclipsed it with a more modern styling, such as “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” Meanwhile, “Home Improvement” has stayed well-liked enough for people to continue watching it even as the inspiration for “Tool Time” has faded into TV history.
What the Heck Was With the Grunts
The grunts that Tim Allen belts out seemingly every chance he gets is a staple of his character on the show – his in-show fans even want him to grunt for them. But why was it in the show? It’s all because of a Tim Allen comedy special from Showtime called “Tim Allen: Men Are Pigs.” This was the stand-up special that put Allen on ABC’s radar, and he says it’s because men are just animals that would rather grunt than talk.
Behind that revelation, Allen says that it originally came from a show he was doing in Ohio. People were eating and talking and ignoring him on stage, and he started mimicking the grunts of the audience between stories – to his surprise he was actually able to get their attention and recover during the show.
Al’s catchphrase on “Tool Time” was originally not supposed to be a joke. When Tim asks if something can be done to fit into his weird ideas, Al’s go-to response is “I don’t think so, Tim.” It wasn’t supposed to be funny, it was just supposed to be a response, but Richard Karn’s deadpan expression and flat delivery – a perfect comedic foil to Tim Allen’s odd behavior and odd requests – got a lot of laughter.
It was a surprise to the actors and the producers, but they did what people always do when they strike gold, and that’s keep digging. Before long the line was Al’s favorite thing to say on the show, and it was guaranteed to get a big laugh.