Let’s go behind the scenes of this all-time classic show and see what was going on when the cameras were off and the actors were just being themselves. You’ll be shocked at some of the facts regarding what was one of the most popular sitcoms in TV history.
How Pamela Got Her Start
Home Improvement definitely represented Pamela Andersons big break in the acting business. The producers took one look at her and quickly realized she’d be perfect as the Tool Time girl. Of course, she left after two seasons for Baywatch.
The New Tool Time Girl
Obviously, there had to be a Tool Time girl to replace Pamela Anderson, and the producers went for the vivacious Debbe Dunning. She appeared in season three and would stick around on the show for six seasons, becoming an obvious audience favorite along the way. We still can’t think about tools without thinking about Debbe!
Ashley Judd As The Tool Time Girl?
Actress Ashley Judd actually auditioned as the Tool Time Girl, but she didn’t get the part for a very strange reason…the show’s creators actually thought she was too talented! Instead, they decided to offer her a different role entirely, writing the character of Tim’s sister for her. However, Judd declined the role and the rest was history.
When you’re an actor or actress, you only have so much time and sometimes you have to turn down some projects to have a chance at others. In Tim Allen’s case, he probably made the right decision. He said no to TV series based on the films Turner and Hooch and Dead Poets Society, saying the shows were likely to fail.
The First Jill
You’d be surprised how many TV shows start out with different people cast for roles than the ones who end up actually appearing on TV. In the case of Home Improvement, Frances Fisher was cast to play Tim’s wife, Jill, but she didn’t test that well with audiences. After some adjustments, the producers just felt that it was a better idea to recast the role.
Although Tim Allen was born in Colorado, he moved to Michigan later on and thinks of it as his home. He’s so proud of Colorado that he decided he would only wear shirts of colleges from within the state. As a result, all kinds of colleges and universities sent shirts and sweatshirts to the studio, hoping to get a little free advertising on Home Improvement.
Here Comes The Hammer
Originally, Home Improvement was not going to be the name of the show. Instead, it was going to be Hammer Time. That would also be the name of the show within the show, which ultimately got changed to Tool Time. The name lasted for a year of the show’s development before getting changed. Perhaps they were worried about a lawsuit from MC Hammer?
One Snuck By
Remember Tim Allen’s “only Michigan colleges” rule for his sweatshirts and t-shirts in the show? Well, Wofford College of Spartanburg, South Carolina, was able to sneak through when the wardrobe department failed to double-check the college’s location. “Someone is supposed to double-check and verify the school is in Michigan,” said costume supervisor Valerie Levin-Cooper. Hmmm…maybe you should have, Miss Supervisor?
Started In Stand-up
The roots of Home Improvement go back to Tim Allen’s beginning as a stand-up comedian. Many people know that in his mid-20s, Allen got in trouble for selling cocaine to an undercover cop. Well, as he was awaiting sentencing, he started to do stand-up at Detroit’s Comedy Castle. After getting out of prison two years later, he moved to Los Angeles and became a regular at The Comedy Store. Disney Chairman Michael Eisner and Disney Stuidios Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg saw his act and were impressed.
A bit of a controversy emerged among the Home Improvement family when Jonathan Taylor Thomas decided to leave the show in its final season. Thomas said it was to focus on his education, and the writers had his character leave to go to Costa Rica to explain the absence. However, Tim Allen later noted that Thomas “said it was about going to school, but then he did some films.”
The Mystery Of Wilson
Wilson was a favorite of Home Improvement viewers, both because of the sage advice he doled out and the fact that you could never see his face below his eyes. It became quite a running gag, but what many people don’t realize is that Wilson was his first and last name. That’s right…Wilson W. Wilson. Does the middle initial also stand for “Wilson”? We wouldn’t bet against it.
Two Shows In One
If you came to a studio taping of Home Improvement, you got to be in the crowd for the show within a show, Tool Time, as well. That was pretty cool considering that Tim Allen would often interact with the Tool Time crowd on the show. Of course, Tim would also do a little improv before and after tapings to warm up the crowd and make the experience fun.
Inspiration For Tool Time
If you were wondering about the similarities between Tool Time and the PBS show This Old House, they were very much intentional, right down to Al’s plaid shirts and beard, which made him very similar to Norm Abram. What’s funny is that This Old House host Bob Vila guest-starred on Home Improvement a number of times, while Allen was a recurring guest on Vila’s show.
Big Budget Episode
Some episodes cost more than others, as anyone in the television business can attest. One expensive episode was “The Great Race II,” which was a continuation of “The Great Race” from season two. In the episode, Bob Vila guest-stars and Tim challenges him to a hot rod race, which was filmed at the Burbank Airport, which had to be shut down.
Thanks, But No Thanks
You would think that no one would turn down a recurring role in a sitcom like Home Improvement, but alas, that wasn’t the case. John Bedford Lloyd was offered the role of Wilson after being briefly considered for Al, Tim’s assistant on Tool Time. However, Lloyd wasn’t too keen on the idea of having half of his face obscured by a fence, so he declined the opportunity just a day before the pilot was filmed.
Believe it or not, Richard Karn may not have played Al if he hadn’t gotten a ticket for failing to come to a complete stop at a stop sign. He had to go to traffic school, where he met an agent who told him about Home Improvement. Karn realized he knew some of the people involved with the show and was able to secure an audition.
How Wilson Came About
The idea of a neighbor whose face was always partial obscured wasn’t just random. It actually stems from Tim Allen’s childhood, when he would often talk to a neighbor but because he was short and he had a tall fence, he couldn’t see the neighbor’s face. Once the show began, of course, the Wilson character really became a hit with viewers.
The Big Reveal
Speaking of Wilson, the actor behind the character finally revealed his face during the final curtain call for the studio audience after the series finale was filmed. Earl Hindman finally got to soak up the cheers of the audience. The episode itself was also a hit, as it was the fifth highest-rated series finale of the 1990s and the ninth highest of all time.
Playing With Power
Believe it or not, Home Improvement actually got made into a video game in 1994. The Super Nintendo game Home Improvement: Power Tool Pursuit! tasked players with recovering one of Tim’s most prized power tools. To do so, players had to go through four worlds of four levels each, fighting through a variety of enemies in the process.
Tool Time In Illinois?
There was a recurring gag on Tool Time where Tim would say some sort of tone deaf, offensive comment and Al, being the more reasonable of the two, would hold up a cue card supposedly giving Tim’s mailing address and phone number for complaints. While the mailing address was the studio’s address, the phone number was (815)555-TOOL. While the 555 is the dummy prefix used in movies and TV shows, 815 is a real area code…but it’s in Illinois, not Michigan.
Good Ol’ Binford Tools
You can’t be a home improvement expert with a show called Tool Time and not have some reliable tools. Instead of bothering with an official tool sponsor, the show created a fictional tool line named Binford, based off of the name of one of the writer’s high school friends. Eventually, Binford was ranked as the tenth best fictional brand in TV history!
Tim Allen would return to the world of sitcoms with Last Man Standing. The show provided a chance for Allen and former co-star Jonathan Taylor Thomas to appear on-screen together again, killing any rumors that the two may not get along after how Thomas left Home Improvement so many years before. They even worked in a line where Thomas said, “A lot of times, the middle child ends up being the funny one because he wants the attention.”
To those of you who wondered why there wasn’t a ninth season of Home Improvement, you aren’t alone. After all, the ratings were still good for season eight. At the time, Allen was offered $50 million for another season and co-star Patricia Richardson about half that amount. However, neither were that enticed and both decided to move on to the next stage of their respective careers.
Mrs. Doubtfire Began As A Home Improvement Idea
Mrs. Doubtfire was released in 1993, a few years into Home Improvement‘s run on television. But did you know that the movie started out as a Home Improvement idea? Executives thought that one day, Tim and Jill could get a divorce and Tim could dress up as a nanny to get time with the kids. Tim wasn’t crazy about the idea, but Robin Williams was game!
Earlier, we talked about how Richard Karn got the role of Al through a coincidence that began at traffic school. Well, something else helped him get the role, too: Stephen Tobolowsky dropped out after being cast for the role. Richard Karn was only going to play the role for the pilot while Tobolowsky filmed a movie, but afterward, Tobolowsky stepped aside and the role remained Karn’s. Tobolowsky later said that it was a good choice for him, and maybe he’s right, as he filmed 29 movies and dozens of TV appearances during Home Improvement‘s run.
Easter Egg On Halloween
TV producers like to put little Easter Eggs such as inside jokes and references into their shows. One example of this was during Halloween when Randy gives candy to a pair of Trick-or-Treaters dressed up as Buzz Lightyear and Simba, who were voiced by Tim Allen and Jonathan Taylor Thomas, respectively. Of course, Randy gave many more pieces to the “cute little lion.”
There are a lot of popular theories about the Pixar films, including that the films all take place in the same universe, but there’s also a theory that Home Improvement also takes place in that universe. Why? Because there’s a Binford toolbox clearly shown in the film Toy Story. Obviously, the producers put it there as a reference to Tim Allen’s role in the movie and the show, but you know how people are.
Really Wacky Theory
As if the Pixar-Home Improvement theory wasn’t enough, here’s another silly one for you: one Reddit user speculated that Tim Allen is meant to symbolize Jesus. After all, he’s a carpenter and gets wisdom from a mysterious neighbor, which he then passes on to others. And uh, that’s about the extent of it. Not a very good theory, I know.
Star In The Making
Before she was a four-time Oscar nominee or even a young star on Dawson’s Creek, Michelle Williams appeared on Home Improvement. At just 15 years old, Williams appeared as Jessica Lutz, a girl that Brad went on a date with during season four. It was only three years later that Williams earned a role on Dawson’s Creek, and the rest is history!
On Home Improvement, Brad was the oldest of the three brothers and Randy was the middle son. However, Jonathan Taylor Thomas was actually a month older than Zachery Ty Bryan. They were even the same grade in school. Meanwhile, Taylor was the youngest brother on-screen and in real life, as Taran Noah Smith was three years younger than the other boys.
In 2003, the cast of Home Improvement reunited for Tim Allen Presents: A User’s Guide to Home Improvement, which featured Allen and company presenting their favorite clips, personal reflections, and more. They also hosted a Q&A session with the live studio audience. Earl Hindman was sick with lung cancer and couldn’t be there, but did voice-overs while a stand-in appeared with his face concealed.
The First Lady
Back in 1995, Bill Clinton was the United States’ president and Hilary was the first lady. At one point, Press Secretary Lisa Caputo was contacted by Rick Kaplan with the idea of having Hilary make a guest appearance on Home Improvement. The show was hugely popular and it probably would have helped her image with the American people, but it ultimately didn’t happen.
What A Dad
Although Tim Allen’s character, Tim Taylor, was often seen helming the show Tool Time or working on projects in the garage, he also had a more important role as the father of the Taylor family. The family structure has always been an important part of sitcoms in the U.S., and when it was all said and done, TV Guide ranked Taylor as the 20th greatest TV dad ever.
Take Your Time
The producers really took their time when it came to setting key roles in stone for the show, as roles such as Wilson and Tim’s wife, Jill were left to be set til the final minute. Patricia Richardson had only had her audition right before the show finally began and three months after she had twins. She ended up earning four Emmy and two Golden Globe nominations, however.
Couldn’t Work Out
Season nine of Home Improvement was just never going to happen. For one, Patricia Richardson wanted her paycheck to be closer to co-star Tim Allen’s. Also, child actors Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Taran Smith didn’t want to continue the show. It would have been hard to do the show without such pivotal cast members, and Tim Allen decided to move on, too.
What’s In A Name?
You already know that Home Improvement was nearly known as Hammer Time or even Tool Time. But did you know that in Germany, the show was known as Listen Who’s Hammering? The title was meant to be similar to the hit 90s film Look Who’s Talking, though other than being comedies, what would prompt this similarity is anybody’s guess.
Tim Taylor was sort of a mixed bag as a character. He was meant to be something of a home improvement expert, having his own show and all, and he also sold tools for quite some time, so he clearly knew his stuff. At the same time, he always wanted “more power” and was quite accident-prone, leading to his falling off (and through) the roof, blowing up parts of the house, electrocuting himself, and much more.
Tim Allen’s stand-up comedy roots collided with his sitcom work when a pair of young comedians made an appearance on the season four episode “Talk to Me.” The comedians? Dave Chappelle and Jim Breuer. Their appearance led to the ABC series Buddies, which only lasted one season as Breuer was fired following a single episode and Chappelle became quite unhappy due to his friend’s departure.
Tool Time had a few elements that made it great: Tim and Al, of course. The Tool Time Girls, yes. But what about Klaus? That’s right, the mysterious Klaus that Tim would frequently ask to play music or do other things. Off-screen, there actually was a real Klaus, who worked on the Home Improvement production team, so there’s some real truth to the Klaus references.
Although Home Improvement was a ratings hit, it was also a critical success, as Tim Allen earned three People’s Choice Awards and a Golden Globe for his work as Tim Taylor. In addition, he earned an Emmy nomination. The show helped him catapult to a movie career that sure, had mixed results, but has definitely earned him a lot of money in the process. In November 1994, Tim had the #1 rated TV series, the #1 film at the box office (The Santa Clause) and the #1 best-selling book all in one week.
Binford’s Back, Baby!
Tim Allen is obviously fond of his days on Home Improvement. You can tell, because he even brought back the Binford tools brand for his other sitcom, Last Man Standing. Whenever tools are shown on the newer series, they are Binford tools. So you have to wonder, does that put Last Man Standing in the Pixar universe, too?
Saluting The Navy
Patricia Richardson was the daughter of a Navy veteran and Tim Allen is a supporter of the U.S. Armed Forces, so it was only natural for Home Improvement to invite Navy service members to a rehearsal. Also, on the set of Last Man Standing, Tim Allen presided over a very special surprise as a Navy service member hid in a Christmas president to surprise his wife and two kids during the filming of the show’s Christmas episode.