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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.