Home Improvement: It’s Just a Name; No Improvement Needed Here

Here we are in week 2 in our blog series looking at some of our favorite families. Last week we were in Long Island with the Seavers. Today we are traveling east to Detroit to spend some time with The Tool Man and his family.

Photo: usweekly.com

Home Improvement was on ABC from 1991 through 1999; this was the era my older boys grew up in, and I think they have some fond memories of watching this show. They weren’t alone, because it was one of the most-watched shows of the decade. It stayed in the top ten the entire time.

Matt Williams, Carmen Finestra, and David McFadzean created the series. A lot of writers worked on the show. Richardson talked about the writer’s room where all the writers were men and she did the scripts at first without saying anything, because she didn’t want to rock the boat. She said eventually she would tell them a woman would not say that and defended her position more often.

It was based on the stand-up comedy of Tim Allen. Tim Taylor (Tim Allen) is married to Jill (Patricia Richardson) and they have three boys: Brad (Zachery Ty Bryan), Randy (Jonathan Taylor Thomas), and Mark (Taran Noah Smith). They live in Detroit where Tim has a television show for Binford Tool Co.; he was previously one of their salesman.

Photo: pinterest.com

The cast is rounded out with their neighbor Wilson (Earl Hindman) who doles out advice to Tim, but whom we never see more than part of his face. Al Borland (Richard Karn) is Tim’s assistant on the show. During the run of the show there were several Tool Time girls including Pamela Anderson and Debbe Dunning. The show was a parody of This Old House, a home-improvement show on PBS for years.

Originally the show was titled Hammer Time. The first pilot starred Frances Fisher playing Jill Taylor. The studio audience did not view her as a comedic actress, so she was recast. Al was a harder part to cast. John Bedford Lloyd auditioned for the roles of Tim’s assistant and neighbor Wilson. He got the part of Wilson but dropped out when he learned his face would not be seen on tv. That’s when Hindman took over. Stephen Tobolowsky was then offered the role of Al, named Glen at the time. He was occupied with a project at the time, so Karn was hired, and Al was created.

Photo: wikifandom.com

In a June 6, 2017, episode of thehomeimpodcast.com, Karn was interviewed. He was asked what one of his favorite Al moments was on the show. He talked about a scene when Tim invited him over to play poker. He had asked about a theme and then showed up in a 10-gallon hat as a cowboy. He said Tim opened the door, and Karn would raise his hat and hit the light. Every time that happened, Tim cracked up. Karn said he could not stop himself from laughing.

Jill has her hands full living with four males, and I can certainly relate. Tim is a bit stubborn, accident prone, spends lots of time with his cars, and often acts like one of the kids. Allen was from Detroit himself and one of his quirks on the show was wearing Michigan sports apparel.

Photo: amazon.com

There were a lot of guest stars on the show during its nine seasons: race car drivers Johnny Rutherford, Robby Gordon, Mario and Michael Andretti, and Al Unser; golfer Payne Stewart; Denver quarterback John Elway; boxer Evander Holyfield; NASA astronaut Ken Bowersox; basketball player Grant Hill’ singers The Beach Boys and The Manhattan Transfer’ comedians Drew Carey and Rodney Dangerfield; ex-President Jimmy Carter; talk show host Oprah Winfrey; and actors Jack Nicholson, Dan Aykroyd, and Marlon Brando.

Home Improvement was still in the top ten after its eighth season. Richardson was offered $25 million for a ninth season, and Taylor was offered $50 million, but they both declined.

The theme song was “Iron John’s Rock.” It was composed by Dan Foliart. In addition to the music, it included Allen’s grunting that became a catch phrase of a sort and several power tools in the background.

When Allen got his second series, Last Man Standing, Karn, Richardson, and Taylor Thomas guest-starred on the show. Also, many of the tools he used on this show were Binford tools.

Photo: people.com

This was one of those much-loved shows. In a time before DVR, families sat down to watch television together when their favorite shows were on. The shows were relatable to all family members. It was well written, and the stories had the right amount of humor and heart-warming moments. When a series stays in the top ten for almost a decade and the stars turn down huge piles of money to end the show, you know the quality is still there. Like The Dick Van Dyke Show, this show ended on a high note, and I’m so happy we did not have to go through the “they should have ended it a year or two before” stage. Thanks to the entire cast for being a team player and bringing an amazing show for a decade.

Kate and Allie: The Not-So Odd Couple

ka1

Today we look at a show that never received its due credit post production.  Unless you watched Kate and Allie, you might never have heard of the show. Yet, it had two major female stars in Jane Curtin and Susan St. James. It ran for six seasons. It was in the top 20 until the last season. The series was one of the most popular and critically acclaimed shows of 1984. The show won at least four Emmys and had many nominations.

ka4

Sort of a female Odd Couple, the premise of the show is that Allie Lowell (Curtin) divorces her husband, a doctor, after he was having an affair. They have a son and a daughter. She moves to New York to live with her childhood friend Kate McArdle who is also divorced raising a daughter. Her ex is a part-time actor. Allie’s son Chip is played by Lowell Frederick Koehler and her daughter Jennie by Allison Smith. Kate’s daughter Emma is played by Ari Meyers.

ka2

A lot of stars appeared on the show including Wendie Malick, Dylan Walsh, Andrea Martin, David Groh, Holland Taylor, Patricia Richardson, Barbara Barrie, Ben Stiller Lindsay Wagner, Ricki Lake, and Debra Jo Rupp. Dick Cavett, Dick Butkus, and Joe Namath all played themselves. A fun trivia fact is that Kelsey Grammar had his series acting debut. He played a man who had a blind date with Kate but hit it off with Allie while waiting for Kate to get ready. When he and Kate don’t have a connection, he then asks Allie out, but she spends the entire evening talking about her ex-husband and her divorce.

ka8

John Loeffler sings the theme song, “Along Comes a Friend” composed by Ralph Schuckett. During the first season, Loeffler appeared as a piano teacher in one of the shows. Bill Persky, well respected in television, was the director for the first five years. Persky directed other shows such as That Girl, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Alice and Who’s the Boss. He was the producer for the entire run of That Girl as well. The last season was directed by Linda Day.

ka11

Sherry Coben created the show. She got the idea after attending a high school reunion.  She noticed that the divorced women seemed to relate to each other and received encouragement from each other, so she thought it would make a great show. The working title for the show was “Two Mommies.”

ka7

Kate is free spirited while Allie is more traditional. When the show first begins, Kate is a travel agent, so Allie decides to stay home and take care of the domestic duties for the three kids. At the beginning of the fifth season when the kids are older, Kate quits her job, and Kate and Allie start their own catering company. They both date off and on; the finale for season 5 shows Allie marrying Bob Barsky (Sam Freed), a sportscaster. They get their own apartment for season 6, but the ratings declined so the writers found Bob a new job that required a lot of travel, so Kate moved in with the couple.  The concept never worked because she seemed to be intruding on the newlyweds’ privacy. By this time Kate’s daughter Emma had left the house. In real life, Meyers left the series to attend Yale, but she was in the opening credits and appeared on the show at least once.

ka9

Kate never marries but she has several serious relationships. She dates plumber Ted Bartelo (Greg Salata) during Season 2 but they break up at the end of the year. He re-enters her life in Season 5, but things just don’t work out.

Allie’s husband Charles (Paul Hecht) marries Claire, played by Wendie Malick during the run of the show.

Each episode began with Allie and Kate having a conversation. It reveals how close they were and introduced the episode. At the end of the show, the theme song played and another discussion between the two brought closure to the issue.

ka5

The week the show debuted, it was number four in the ratings. It was consistently in the top 20 for the first five seasons. Persky left after five seasons once Allie married because he felt that the show had accomplished what it set out to do. Allie has learned more about herself, become confident in taking care of herself and relying on her friends to help her navigate life. She now is able to enter a new relationship as a stronger and more independent person. After the drastic changes of Allie getting married and the kids beginning to leave the nest, the ratings declined during Season 6. At the end of the year it was cancelled.

Two of the funniest shows were a parody of I Love Lucy and the episode when the girls go on the Dick Cavett Show.

ka10

St. James and Curtin were friends. St. James’ husband Bob Ebersol worked on Saturday Night Live, which Curtin left in 1980. The two starred in The High Cost of Living, a movie from 1980.

After the show was over, Curtin had several other series including Working it Out and Crumbs which both lasted an unlucky 13 episodes and Third Rock from the Sun, a huge hit and long-running show. Recently she has appeared on The Good Wife and The Librarians.

curtin show

St. James was best known for her roles in The Name of the Game, McMillan and Wife, a variety of movies, and an appearance on M*A*S*H.

In an interview with People in June of 2006, St. James said on the show “Jane ran a serious poker game with the kids and crew like Triple Card Cowboy or Blackjack Over Easy.” It sounded like a fun set to work on.

St. James was happy to take on the show because it allowed her to continue living in Connecticut with Dick and their five children. Her TV kids became friends with her own children. Ari Meyers said “I loved Susan . . . I went to her house many times and hung out with her kids.”

ka6

The series spawned two spin-offs but neither went anywhere. Roxie starred Andrea Martin. It aired in April 1987, but after two episodes it was cancelled. Late Bloomer was a season replacement to star Lindsay Wagner, but the show was scrapped before its debut on the air.

ka3

Kate and Allie’s first two seasons were released on DVD in May of 2006, but I don’t think any other seasons have been packaged. The lack of DVD presence and the fact that reruns never ran on a major station keep the show from being remembered. Take some time to watch an episode or two on YouTube and enjoy the camaraderie of these two stars.