If you were anywhere near a television set in the 1990s, you couldn’t help but catch an episode or two of Home Improvement. The Tim Allen-headlined sitcom was so light and charming that it seemed effortless. Wouldn’t being a part of such a fun and popular show be a dream come true?
Well, behind the scenes, it was another story entirely. Vicious disagreements, casting issues, and criminal exploits nearly divided this house before it could be built. Good thing that Tim “The Toolman” Taylor had a few tricks up his sleeve to turn this fixer-upper into a hit.
Home Improvement was the type of sitcom that made everything seem right in the world, at least for 30 minutes. Strangely enough, outside events almost stopped it from ever happening. For starters, Tim Allen had the most bizarre rise to the top of any sitcom star.
In 1978, the Detroit resident got into hot water when police caught him with over a pound of cocaine. After giving up his cohorts to avoid a long prison sentence, Tim made a curious decision during his truncated stay behind bars.
While he’d toyed around with stand-up comedy before, two years locked up helped him realize it was his true calling. So, once a free man, Tim moved to L.A. and made a real name for himself, getting the attention of executives at ABC.
Some enticing offers came Tim’s way. ABC pitched him TV adaptations of Turner and Hooch and Dead Poets Society, but Allen didn’t want to become a knockoff Tom Hanks or Robin Williams. He wanted to do his own thing.
He proposed a send-up of Bob Vila’s remodeling show This Old House, which was a staple of PBS. Soon, that idea morphed into the idea of a show-within-a-show, with the main focus being on the TV host’s life and family.
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As a matter of fact, the working title for the sitcom was Hammer Time, a reference to rapper MC Hammer. ABC wisely opted for the more evergreen Home Improvement. That was the first of many early changes — some of which were out of executives’ hands.
The initial stages of casting Home Improvement were a total nightmare. One of the show’s most memorable images is that of Wilson, the Taylors’ sage neighbor, poking over the fence. But this cultural touchstone almost never came to pass.
Earl Hindman only got the role after the first choice, John Bedford Lloyd, dropped out. Lloyd threw a fit when he learned his face would be half-hidden the entire series. When Allen refused to compromise, ABC had to recast the part. And that wasn’t the only one.
Dramatic actress Frances Fisher played Jill Taylor in the pilot, but it turned out she had zero comedic chemistry with Tim Allen. In a last-ditch effort, producers brought Patricia Richardson in for the part. With that switch, the cast was solid — for now.
Despite her relatively minor role, Pamela Anderson turned a lot of heads as Lisa, the attractive assistant on Tool Time. Whispers about her jumping ship echoed all over set, though she was hardly the first rising star associated with the role.
Ashley Judd also auditioned for Lisa, though producers actually turned her down because she had too much depth for the role! Pamela’s skill set apparently fit the part far better, but she quickly outgrew it.
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Without a second thought, Pamela tossed off her toolbelt and slipped into a swimsuit. Her portrayal of C.J. Parker on Baywatch made her a bonafide sex symbol but left Allen and co. in the lurch. Producers needed a solution — quick.
So, Home Improvement brought in Debbe Dunning to play another version of Tim’s Tool Girl, and the controversy around Pamela’s exit died down. Suddenly, the show’s ratings and reviews were looking pretty swell. And they soon got even better.
American audiences couldn’t get enough of the Taylor family’s antics. Tim, who made a point of wearing Michigan college gear, found himself receiving tons of sweatshirts in the mail. With sky-high ratings, producers mapped out bigger and bolder storylines.
The sitcom grew so popular that they attempted to get Hillary Clinton to appear in an episode. The press secretary of the then-First Lady wanted to pursue the offer, perhaps to soften Clinton’s image, but the cameo never came to pass.
In spite of that miss, the sitcom stayed on course — though reportedly the funniest scenes never made it to air. One interesting aspect of the production was that the Tool Time scenes were shot live with the actual Home Improvement audience.
For these segments, Allen and co-star Richard Karn really put on a show. They went way off-script with crazy riffs and even used — gasp — profanity. While these two were hamming it up, however, other actors on set faced serious threats.
According to the mother of child actor Taran Noah Smith, the three Taylor boys were top targets for pedophiles all over the country. After the FBI briefed them on the situation, the families had to constantly be on their guard.
The unbearable amount of attention contributed to another breakout star leaving the show: during the eighth season, actor Jonathan Taylor Thomas decided he’d rather go to college than stay on the sitcom. It seemed he wasn’t the only one who wanted out either.
At the end of that season, Tim and Patricia got offers of $50 million and $25 million, respectively, to continue. However, they both walked away. With that, one of the ’90s biggest shows ended on a quiet goodbye, but with one silver lining.
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Home Improvement did outlast Roseanne, another working-class family sitcom that provided some fierce competition. But after hearing about the controversy and craziness that Roseanne Barr faced, Tim Allen actually counted himself lucky.
Plenty of actors branch out into successful music careers, but Roseanne was not one of them. At a 1990 baseball game, the sitcom star screeched “The Star-Spangled Banner” to a chorus of boos. She responded by grabbing her crotch and spitting at the crowd.
When casting her series, Roseanne originally eyed her then-husband Tom Arnold to play the role of Dan Conners. But after John Goodman read for the role just once, producers knew he was the perfect man for the job.
Early episodes saw kooky neighbor Crystal Anderson acting as Roseanne’s main sidekick. After actress Laurie Metcalf lit up every scene she appeared in, however, the writing staff phased out Crystal after a few seasons.
Roseanne has a gay brother and sister in real life, so she felt it was important to include LGBT characters in the show. One episode even included a marriage between two men. Controversial moves like these led show creator Matt Williams to depart the show.
Lecy Goranson portrayed Becky Conner until she decided to ship off to college. Sarah Chalke replaced her, but Lecy became sporadically available in the following years. From then on, the show switched back and forth between the two actresses.
On the other hand, producers weren’t going to risk losing Sara Gilbert from the cast. When she was admitted to Yale University, they made special adjustments to their schedule so she could balance both the show and her higher education.
With a run of 10 seasons, Roseanne brought on many actors in guest roles before they made it big. The most notable example may be George Clooney, who played the foreman at Roseanne’s factory.
Most TV pilots never get off the ground, and Roseanne’s almost got shot down for purely logistical reasons. After the show’s set failed to meet fire codes, the crew had to delay shooting for months.
Early producers of the show occasionally took Roseanne in creative directions she didn’t like. When that happened, she wasn’t afraid to self-destruct her own show. The actress once called for a boycott of an episode that included one line she didn’t like!
Roseanne brought on a number of promising young writers to its staff, including Joss Whedon. After he repeatedly struggled to get many of his ideas on-air, he secretly began working on another script. He called it Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Joss was far from the only writer to feel frustrated, as the staff experienced high turnover between seasons. At one point, Roseanne gave the writers shirts with numbers printed on them so she wouldn’t have to learn all of their names.
The revival of Roseanne started as a ratings smash but wasn’t built to last. ABC canceled the show after Barr embarked on a racially offensive Twitter tirade against former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett. She later blamed it on the effects of Ambien.
Besides this brief homage to the 1960s sitcom, what did Roseanne have in common with Gilligan’s Island? Neither show ever won an Emmy, though Barr herself did receive the award for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series in 1993.
Roseanne Barr had no TV experience when she landed her sitcom deal, but one program in particular guided her vision. She always loved All In The Family and envisioned her character as a female Archie Bunker.
Disney purchased ABC in the middle of Roseanne’s run, and they made one unexpected change to the show. To boost ticket sales, they made the writers devise an episode in which the Conners visited Disney World.
Seinfeld has its Superman references. South Park has its aliens. But Roseanne also has a hidden object in nearly every episode: corn. The grain, which appears in wildly different forms, is the favorite food of Dan Conner.
Veteran actor John Randolph appeared a couple of times as Roseanne’s father Al, known for his friendliness and knock-knock jokes. But after the actress opened up about her real-life abusive dad, writers killed Al off and revealed his scumbag past.
Season 9 — the last of original series — alienated a ton of fans with out-of-character plot twists. Chiefly, the Conners’ lives turn upside-down after they win $108 million in the lottery. If that seems unrealistic, you might just be on to something…
The original finale revealed that many events in the series were invented by Roseanne for a book! She came up with the idea of the lottery to deal with depression after her husband Dan died after his heart attack. Of course, the 2018 revival undid this entire timeline.
Have you ever watched a Season 6 episode and noticed that Roseanne looks a little bit…orange? Well, the actress underwent extensive plastic surgery months prior, but her scars hadn’t healed. The makeup department had to go into overdrive to cover them up!
Roseanne shot near Seinfeld, but that didn’t make the two shows happy neighbors. Tom Arnold once got in a parking dispute with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and left a vulgar note on her car!