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Home Improvement: One of the Hit TV Shows of the 1990s

“More power!” *grunt*

Does this line sound familiar? If you have watched Home Improvement during the 90’s, this would definitely bring back some memories.

Home Improvement is an American sitcom starring Tim Allen as Tim Taylor, with his wife Jill (played by Patricia Richardson) and their three children Brad (Zachery Ty Bryan), Randy (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) and Mark (Taran Noah Smith). Based on the stand-up comedy of Tim Allen, the show ran on ABC starting on September 17, 1991 to May 25, 1999, spanning over eight seasons. The show was one of the hit TV shows during the 90’s and one of the most watched sitcoms in America.

As the show became popular, Home Improvement launched Tim Allen’s acting career, Pamela Anderson’s TV career, and catapulted Jonathan Taylor Thomas into a ‘90’s heartthrob status.

Storyline

Tim Allen

The series focused on the story of the Taylor family, with Tim and his wife Jill and their three sons Brad, Randy and Mark. Tim was trying to balance his own life raising three rowdy kids and his wife, as well as his responsibilities as a TV host of a mildly successful home improvement show Tool Time (which we’ll talk about later). The Taylors live in suburban Detroit, with their neighbor Wilson (played by Earl Hindman) who is their go-to-guy for advices on how to deal with their problems.

Tim was a stereotypical American dad who loves power tools, sports and cars. He’s an avid fan of local Detroit teams and a former salesman of tools. He is ambitious, cocky, and an accident-prone know it all. He also tends to joke a lot, and sometimes inappropriately, much to the dismay of his wife. His wife, Jill, is a sophisticated and loving woman, but also makes dumb moves sometimes.

Their children were boisterous, as the two eldest sons Brad and Randy always team up to torment the youngest brother Mark, while continually pestering one another. But during the final season of the show, Brad and Mark became closer, as Randy left for Costa Rica. Brad was the brawn – quite popular in school and athletic; while Randy was the brains –a comedic, quick-thinking smart mouth. Mark was the mama’s boy, but eventually grew into a teenage outcast.

Each episode would usually follow this formula: Tim would have a problem and try to deal with it in his own stereotypically macho way. Their three sons would engage in rambunctious, youthful shenanigans that would require a heart-to-heart lecture in the end. Somewhere, he would handle a large engine or tool badly, much to the dismay of his assistant Al (Richard Karn), ensuing some grunting and injuries. Tim would have an argument with his wife over something stupid that he did (usually because of his manly way of dealing with things). He would end up seeking the help of his well-spoken and well-read neighbor Wilson (whose face wasn’t shown until the end of the series), then he would try to relate Wilson’s advice, twist it badly and then eventually put this advice into understandable words of his own. Situations regarding Tim’s screw-ups would vary, but this is essentially the plot of most episodes.

A show within a show

As mentioned earlier, Tim Taylor is also a TV host of a fix-it show called Tool Time. It’s a fictional show within the main show. Each episode of Home Improvement includes scenes from Tool Time. In his TV show, Tim is joined by his friend and assistant Al Borland and “Tool Time girl” – first Lisa (played by Pamela Anderson) and then later Heidi (Debbe Dunning). The Tool Time girl introduces the pair at the beginning of the show as she opens with the line “Does everybody know what time it is?” and she also assists the duo by bringing the featured tools.

In the show, Tim Taylor was perceived as an accident-prone handyman, often causing disasters on and off-set, which puts his co-workers and family in distress. Most of Tool Time’s viewers think that the accidents on the show are done on purpose to show the consequences of misusing the tools, but it’s actually because of Tim using it in an overpowered manner to illustrate his mantra “More power!”

The Tool Time show was conceived partly as a parody of This Old House, a home improvement show on PBS starring Bob Vila and Norm Abram. Al Borland often wore plaid shirts and sported a beard, which was definitely inspired by Abram’s looks.

The story behind the title

If you were going to name a sitcom, why call it “Home Improvement”? There’s a reason behind this title. Originally, the project’s proposed title was Hammer Time, which was based on MC Hammer’s popular song and catchphrase. It was also supposed to be the name of the fictional show within the series. By the time the network began to be committed to the project, the title was already changed to Home Improvement. Tim Allen and his team thought that it would better represent the aspect of Tim fixing problems within his family and home life, as well as his use of tools in his own show. The Hammer Time title for the fictional show was replaced with Tool Time.

Casting changes

In the early development of the show and up until while it’s running, the producing and writing team of the Home Improvement have to cast and recast new actors.

First of all, let’s talk about Jill. The pilot episode was filmed in April 1991, and Frances Fisher was the actress playing Jill. However, the audience didn’t seem to like her in the test run because she wasn’t comedic enough and seems too serious in her line delivery. Fisher was already known for playing serious and dramatic roles. The producers tried to work with her to help her adapt to the sitcom setting, but after the post-production of the pilot episode, they decided to recast her. The role eventually went to Patricia Richardson.

The character of Al was originally written as Glen, and Stephen Tobolowsky was chosen to play it. During the time when the pilot was about to be filmed, the actor was in a production for a movie he was in, so the producers set out to cast an alternate character that would stand in while Tobolowsky was gone. Richard Karn was cast to play Al until Tobolowsy was available, but eventually the latter decided to drop the role after he decided he had no time to do a series. Thus, the character of Glen never came to being, and the character of Al Borland was created.

Before the pilot was shot, John Bedford Lloyd was the actor supposed to play Tim’s Tool Time assistant (originally named Glen) and his neighbor Wilson. Eventually, he got the part of Wilson, but the actor didn’t realize the type of character he was playing. When he found out that Wilson won’t show his face and stays hidden behind the fence the whole time, he bailed. He gave only a day’s notice before the taping of the pilot, so casting immediately contacted the other actor considered for the role, Earl Hindman. Thankfully, Hindman didn’t bother hiding his face.

Model Pamela Anderson launched her acting career after being the Tool Time girl Lisa. She played the role for the first two years of the show, but left for Baywatch, where she became famous. After Anderson left, Debbbe Dunning was cast as the new Tool Time girl named Heidi. Dunning played as Tim and Al’s assistant for 6 seasons.

Theme song

The theme song for the show wasn’t really a song – it’s more of a sound of power tools played with a theme music made from flute and organ. Tim’s grunting (an iconic sound, much like a caveman grunt) can also be heard on the theme song.

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