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Sunday, June 21, 2020

Happy Father’s Day with Fun Facts about Disney and Tim Allen’s “Home Improvement”

by Chris Lucas
Guest Column
June 21, 2020

In honor of Father’s Day, here are some things you might not know about the Disney sitcom Home Improvement, which ran for eight seasons and 204 episodes on ABC from 1991-1999.

- Producers signed Tim Allen to a development contract after seeing how popular his stand-up comedy gigs were with audiences, especially his “grunting man” routine. 

- Disney originally pitched Allen starring roles in sitcoms based on the movies Dead Poets Society and Turner & Hooch, but he declined. It was then decided to build a TV show around his stand up persona and make it a family sitcom, creating an accident prone handyman Dad (Tim Taylor) with three boys and a wife who matches him every step of the way as they tackle life together.

- Patricia Richardson, who played Jill Taylor, worked a lot of autobiographical material into her character, like the fact that she was from a military family. She also had a say in Jill’s personal choices, like returning to school to get a higher degree in psychology.

- The show was originally called “Hammer Time” but was changed to Home Improvement to avoid confusion with the popular MC Hammer song. In some countries around the world, the show is still known as “Listen Who’s Hammering!”

Home Improvement was shot on videotape in front of a live studio audience. It was the last American sitcom to do so.

- The character of Al Borland, Tim’s trusty and loyal assistant, was an afterthought. Originally, actor Stephen Tobolowsky was hired to play a character named Glen, but he wasn’t available for the first four episodes, so Al was created as a placeholder. When Tobolowsky decided to stick with feature films (you know him best as annoying insurance salesman Ned in Groundhog Day), Richard Karn stayed on as Al for the series duration.

- Karn ad-libbed a throwaway line “I don’t think so, Tim” in one of the first episodes. It proved so popular that it became his catchphrase.

- Al’s look was modeled after real life home improvement specialist Bob Vila, whose PBS show This Old House was an inspiration for Tool Time, the show within the show. Vila appeared as himself on several episodes. 

- Though the show was set in Michigan, it was filmed on the Disney Studio lot in California. It’s obvious from most outdoor shots that they aren’t in the Midwest. It’s also one of the few sitcoms to never show an exterior shot of the family’s house from the front.

- Tim Allen - a Michigan native - wore a variety of sweatshirts throughout the show’s run, and Michigan colleges and pro sports teams were featured on most of them.

- The Taylor’s next door neighbor, Wilson W. Wilson, was played by Earl Hindman. Until the curtain call in the series finale, his face was never shown. The idea of never seeing Wilson was developed by Tim Allen, who remembered having conversations with an unseen neighbor over a backyard fence as a kid. 

- In November 1994, Tim Allen scored a rare trifecta, when Home Improvement was #1 in the TV ratings, his movie The Santa Clause was #1 at the box office and his autobiography was the #1 best seller. That’s never happened before or since for an entertainer.

- In 1995’s Toy Story, where Allen voiced Buzz Lightyear, there’s a shot of a toolbox as Buzz rescues Woody. The box is marked “Binford Tools,” the brand Tim Taylor reps on Home Improvement. There were many shout outs to Buzz on the TV show, and also some for Simba from The Lion King, who was voiced by Jonathan Taylor Thomas, the young actor who played Tim and Jill’s middle son, Randy.

Home Improvement went into TV syndication in 1995 and hasn’t left the air since. Because it mostly avoided topical references and jokes and is about common themes like raising kids, husband/wife dynamics, school, humor in the workplace and working on appliances and projects, it’s timeless, like I Love LucyThe Dick Van Dyke ShowThe Brady BunchFull House and other TV classics that will be around forever. Home Improvement remains Disney’s most profitable network sitcom ever.

On the PRESS CLUB C Podcast, enjoy Ray’s recent discussion with Chris Lucas about his career as an actor, author and Disney expert. Tune in right here!

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