90s | TV | Pop Culture
10 Things About "Home Improvement" That Will Give You More Power
Home Improvement was one of the greatest shows of our generation, giving us Jonathan Taylor Thomas in his prime, and Tim Allen before we knew he was a cocaine trafficker.
1. The Right Fit
Disney originally wanted Allen to take the leads in Turner and Hooch and Dead Poet's Society, but he turned them down to get his own show.
"They offered me two sitcoms: 'Turner & Hooch' or 'Dead Poets Society' in the Tom Hanks role or the Robin Williams role," Allen said. "And I thought they got the wrong guy. I told them, 'I'm the one you saw on stage doing the men thing, grunting like a pig. Without being disrespectful, wouldn't that seem like an odd idea?'"
2. Stop! It's...
Hammer Time was the original name for the TV show, and you've gotta wonder if MC Hammer had something to do with the name change.
3. Casting Changes
When the pilot was shot, Frances Fisher was playing the role of Jill. Known for her more dramatic work, Fisher didn't test well with audiences, so she was replaced with Patricia Richardson.
4. Family Man
Though you've probably seen Stephen Tobolowsky in a lot of projects, you probably didn't know he was slated to play Al Borland instead of Richard Karn. Tobolowsky wasn't sure if the show was going to get the go-ahead on production, so he decided to drop out in order to support his family.
"They didn’t know if it was going to be a midseason replacement or if it was going to be on next season’s lineup," Tobolowsky recalled. "My contract was they were going to pay me $16,000 a show, which was enormously princely for me, but I was to have an exclusive contract. I couldn’t do any other work, any other shows, which is normal on a regular show. But my wife was pregnant, we had a baby coming. I had auditioned for a couple of movies and was waiting on them, and they said I couldn’t do the movies. And I said, “Well, if we’re not shooting the show maybe for another 10 months, I’m not going to be able to live on $16,000 with a baby coming. So, I can’t do the show.”"
5. Thank The Police
In 1989, Richard Karn had moved to Los Angeles and was driving home from Macbeth rehearsal when he rolled through a stop sign. The actor was given a ticket and sent to traffic school, where he met an agent who told him about Home Improvement. Even though the role of Al was already filled at the time, Karn used his connections with the directors to get an audition.
"I auditioned because life keeps going," he said. "Maybe they would see me now and remember me for another show or part."
Tobolowsky dropped out of the project, and Karn got his big break.
6. Ashley Judd Was "Too Talented"
Instead of Pamela Anderson, it was originally going to be Ashley Judd as the Tool Time girl.
"When Ashley came in and read for the part I thought, My God, this girl is so talented!” remembers show creator Matt Williams.
Williams decided she was too talented, in fact, for the small part of a Tool Time girl. "So I called her agent and told him that she was so good, we would find a way to incorporate her into the series, period.”
However, days later, Judd's agent told Williams she was "not ready to go into television right now. She thinks she has a feature career."
7. Audience Perks
According to a report, Home Improvement was second only to Friends when it came to people wanting to be in the studio audience. Because the real studio audience was used for Tool Time, people were excited at the prospect of being on television. They also loved the ad-libbing among cast members.
"It's the things that you don't expect that are some of the funniest things," said Dave Gonzalez, who was in a Home Improvement audience. "I found myself laughing more at the mistakes than the actual lines. Sitcoms are so predictable, I knew how it was going to go."
8. Free Advertising
Only schools from Allen's home state, Michigan, were allowed to get free advertising on the show. They would send t-shirts, sweatshirts, and other swag to the set, which would then be used on screen. However, a school in California was accidentally given the go-ahead.
"Someone is supposed to double-check and verify the school is in Michigan,″ said Valerie Levin-Cooper, Home Improvement costume department supervisor. "Obviously, someone didn’t do their job. Wofford got lucky.″
Levin-Cooper says there was a stack of sweatshirts she chose from to dress Allen, and would go strictly based off visual appeal. After it was used, Allen would autograph the sweater and send it back to the school.
"Allen likes to promote higher education,″ Levin-Cooper said. "That’s why we only use sweatshirts from colleges and why we return the sweat shirt to the college to use.″
9. Family Drama
Despite Allen's attempts to promote higher education, when Jonathan Taylor Thomas left Home Improvement to focus on school, the stand-up comedian didn't agree with it.
"He said it was about going to school, but then he did some films," Allen said. "Did he want to do films? Did he want to go to school?"
Tensions ran high when JTT returned to film the holiday episode in 1998.
"I mentioned that I was confused [about the reasons for his departure]," Allen said. "I don't think he liked that."
But that didn't stop Thomas from pursuing his education. He studied philosophy and history at Harvard University, and finished his degree at Columbia University.
“I’d been going nonstop since I was 8-years-old,”Thomas said in 2013. “I wanted to go to school, to travel and have a bit of a break.”
Thomas declined to appear in the series finale of Home Improvement, despite numerous attempts by production.
"Every attempt was made to invite Jonathan to be in the last episode. We did not want to leave him out of it and we would have loved to have had him with us," series producer Gayle Maffeo said.
"It's a pretty sore point around here," TV mom Patricia Richardson said. "...I don't think it's a good idea that he didn't show up, but I don't always think he gets the best advice."
10. Money Doesn't Talk
The eighth season of Home Improvement was the last, but the network didn't want it that way. They tried to get Richardson and Allen back for a ninth season, but neither were on board. Richardson was offered $25 million, while Allen was offered $50 million, but it didn't change their minds.
"I couldn't have gone on, because it would have been for the wrong reasons," Allen said in an interview.
"What [were] we gonna write about?" Richardson said in 2002. "We've done...everything. We'd run out of stories and freshness, and wanting to be there. Everybody just wants to do it for the money, and that's not a reason to do work."