An American network television staple for a good part of the 1990s, Home Improvement—which premiered 25 years ago, on September 17, 1991—was a sitcom documenting the work and home life of Tim “The Toolman” Taylor, stand-up comedian Tim Allen’s interpretation of a man unjustifiably secure in his knowledge of power tools and in his ability to communicate with his wife and sons through grunting. Here are some facts about the show that don’t obscure themselves behind a picket fence.
1. TIM ALLEN TURNED DOWN STARRING IN TV VERSIONS OF TURNER AND HOOCH AND DEAD POETS SOCIETY TO GET HIS OWN SITCOM.
Allen told the Los Angeles Times that it seemed like the Disney executives who pitched him those potential shows were already "preparing for failure." When he passed, Disney searched for a producer to develop a sitcom based on Allen’s stand-up character instead, which became Home Improvement. Matt Williams, the creator of Roseanne, was eventually hired for the job.
2. FRANCES FISHER PLAYED JILL IN THE PILOT.
The original idea for the show came from Allen and was titled Hammer Time. Frances Fisher, who is better known for her dramatic work on the stage and in films like Unforgiven and Titanic, was originally cast as Tim's wife, Jill. She shot the pilot episode, but didn't test well with audiences. So she was replaced by Patricia Richardson and the pilot was re-shot for ABC.
3. STEPHEN TOBOLOWSKY WAS THE ORIGINAL AL.
Tobolowsky was cast as Tim Taylor’s Tool Time partner. Then, while Home Improvement’s actors and crew waited to find out when ABC would give them the go-ahead on beginning production, Tobolowsky wanted to be able to seek movie roles to keep his growing family financially secure. The actor decided to drop out of the project, and while he missed out on a steady paycheck for nine years, he got to appear in movies like Groundhog Day. "It turned out to be a very good choice for me," said Tobolowsky.
4. RICHARD KARN GOT THE PART BECAUSE OF A MOVING VIOLATION.
The actor got ticketed for rolling through a stop sign after a Macbeth rehearsal in Los Angeles. He was sent to traffic school as a result, where he met an agent who told him about Home Improvement. Karn discovered he knew enough people involved with the show to secure an audition.
5. ASHLEY JUDD WAS "TOO TALENTED" TO PLAY THE TOOL TIME GIRL.
Matt Williams loved Judd at her audition, but felt that she was too talented for the tiny part of the Tool Time girl, which originally went to Pamela Anderson. "I called her agent and told him that she was so good, we would find a way to incorporate her into the series, period,” Williams recalled to Entertainment Weekly. Williams came up with the idea of creating a sister for Tim Allen's character. A few days later, Judd’s agent told Williams that the actress was "not ready to go into television right now. She thinks she has a feature career."
6. RANDY WAS ACTUALLY OLDER THAN BRAD.
On the show, Brad Taylor (Zachery Ty Bryan) is the older brother to Randy (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) and Mark (Taran Noah Smith). But Thomas was actually the oldest of the three; he was born on September 8, 1981—one month earlier than Bryan.
7. THE TOOL TIME AUDIENCE WAS PART OF THE HOME IMPROVEMENT STUDIO AUDIENCE.
Along with the perk of possibly appearing on an episode, people wanted to go to Home Improvement tapings because Allen was known to use some off-color language and improvise.
8. ALLEN'S CLOTHES CAME FROM COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES IN MICHIGAN.
Even though a rule was put in place that only schools from Allen's home state of Michigan would get the free advertising, the costume department supervisor was accidentally allowed to give the go-ahead to put Allen in a Wofford College sweatshirt in the 1996 episode “Al’s Video.” Wofford College is in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
9. A LOT OF WORK WENT INTO THE BOB VILA EPISODES.
In their hot rod race in “The Great Race II,” a Burbank Airport runway was shut down entirely to shoot the climactic scene.
10. WILSON’S FULL NAME WAS WILSON W. WILSON.
He was played by Earl Hindman, who died of lung cancer in 2003 at 61 years old. In the series finale curtain call, his full face was revealed to audiences.
11. THE WHITE HOUSE SERIOUSLY CONSIDERED GETTING HILLARY CLINTON TO APPEAR ON THE SHOW.
A 1995 memo released to the public last year showed that Hillary Clinton’s press secretary Lisa Caputo reached out to chief-of-staff Maggie Williams about the "wild idea" of having the then-First Lady appear on the “most popular television show on the air.” The show’s producers were "willing to do a show on women, children, and family issues or a show on whatever issues Hillary would like." Clearly, it wasn’t meant to be.
12. THE SHOW HAD ITS OWN VIDEO GAME.
In 1994, Super Nintendo released "Home Improvement: Power Tool Pursuit." The premise? When a line of power tools that the Binford tool company named after Tim Taylor went missing, Tim traveled from soundstage to soundstage fighting actors dressed as dinosaurs and other creatures to get the tools back, using only the tools he currently has on him—such as the always-convenient grappling hook.
13. JONATHAN TAYLOR THOMAS LEFT THE SHOW DURING THE FINAL SEASON.
Thomas left the show to focus on school. When he came back to guest star in the final season’s holiday episode, Allen told Thomas he was “confused” about his reasons for leaving the show. After walking away from the role of Randy Taylor to further his education, Thomas had agreed to appear in some movies. Though Thomas did not appear in the series finale, in 2013 he guest starred on Tim Allen’s new show, Last Man Standing.
14. ALLEN AND RICHARDSON TURNED DOWN A LOT OF MONEY TO MAKE A NINTH SEASON.
Richardson was offered $25 million to do a ninth season; Allen was offered double that. The two declined, and Home Improvement ended after eight seasons and 203 episodes.