Monday, May 24, 1999

Allen and cast move away from 'Home'




BY JOHN KIESEWETTER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        There's no place like Home, not after Tuesday. Tim Allen's Home Improvement, among the dying breed of wholesome family situation comedies, will vacate the premises after eight years.

        “I love doing this show, but it's time to move on,” said Mr. Allen, 45.

        Unlike Mad About You, Roseanne, Ellen or The Nanny, ABC's Home Improvement will depart at the top of its game, rather than limping to an embarrassing finish. Tuesday's one-hour conclusion (8 p.m.) with clips from past shows will be followed by cast interviews and bloopers (9 p.m.).

AWAY FROM 'HOME'
  Home Improvement cast members are making plans after leaving Home:
  • Tim Allen (Tim Taylor): His Boxing Cat Productions has options on six films. He'll star in three and produce the other three. He also has his own Tim Allen Signature Tool line, and has been “building a couple of hot rods.”
  He may return to TV: “My partner in television, Jeff Nelson, and I have a million ideas for the network,” says Mr. Allen, who has considered hosting periodic TV specials like Bob Hope did for years.
  • Patricia Richardson (Jill Taylor): Wants to star in movies, start her own production company and direct. “I've got a whole world of things out there waiting to explore,” she says.
  • Zachery Ty Bryan (Brad Taylor): Will star in Carrie 2 this fall and another film and play lots of soccer.
  • Taran Smith (Mark Taylor): Still debating whether to drop out of show business and finish high school, “so I can get into college and become a director.”
  • Earl Hindman (Wilson): Says he may star on Broadway.
  • Richard Karn (Al Borland): Will star in Disney's The Pooch and the Pauper and another film
        Though ratings have slipped slightly this year (to No. 14), with the move from 9 p.m. to 8 p.m., the quality hasn't suffered. Home Improvement writers have consistently nailed big laughs for fix-it fanatic Tim Taylor (Mr. Allen) and his understanding wife (Patricia Richardson), who never believes Tim's solution (“More power!!”) will work.

        “Every time you fix something,” she said in the 1991 premiere, “the fire department shows up.”

        Rounding out the cast are their three sons, their wise but eccentric neighbor (Earl Hindman) and Tim's sidekick (Richard Karn) on their Tool Time show-within-a-show.

        “It would have been my choice to end it last year. It seemed like that was the right time to go, when we were right in the Top 5,” said Mr. Allen, who wants to make more feature films.

        “I knew they were going to move it to 8 p.m., and I knew that was going to diminish the (ratings) a little bit, but it was going to help the network start off Tuesday night.

        “Personally, I love doing films. And I can't do both.”

Loves the set
        Speaking to reporters at the Home Improvement set at Disney Studios in Burbank, Calif., earlier this year, it was clear that Home is still where his heart is.

        For eight years, he has lived the manly life he talked about on his Men Are Pigs Showtime special, which inspired the ABC series.

        “I'd like to live this life. I wish I lived in this house,” said Mr. Allen, seated in front of the expansive living room and kitchen. “I designed the Tool Time set (in) the third year (1993), with all the tanks overhead and armed forces stuff.

        “I'm happier here than I am almost anywhere else — other than my bathroom,” he joked.

        As with any hit show, Home Improvement was blessed with a bit of luck. First Mr. Allen was hooked up with Matt Williams, David McFadzean and Carmen Finestra (The Cosby Show, Roseanne).

        Their timing was perfect: In 1991, networks eagerly wanted nuclear family comedies, which have been replaced by sitcoms about young, single friends.

        “If that show was pitched to a network today, nobody would take it,” Mr. Williams told the New York Times recently. “This show was created to celebrate the American family, and I'm not sure you can do that in the same way now.”

        The Home guys had the good fortune to hire Ms. Richardson — just three months after giving birth to twins, and one day before shooting the pilot — when Frances Fisher and Bonnie Hunt were rejected for the role.

        “She's the perfect foil for me,” said Mr. Allen, whose favorite episodes were when Jill made it clear that father didn't know best.

        “Whenever she fires off at me, I get nervous, because she's so mad! You know you've hit it home when it gets uncomfortable ... when she and I have these fights like you do when you're married, and you get unruly and you get unreasonable.”

An incredible decade
        His TV life as Tool Man Tim Taylor was quite a contrast for the former Tim Dick, the former Detroit advertising man who spent time in prison for selling cocaine in 1978.

        “My life has been totally turned upside down. It's been a decade of pretty incredible things happening to me,” he said.

        He earned more than $1 million a show this year. He has won a record eight straight People's Choice awards for favorite male TV performer.

        His sitcom consistently beat Seinfeld and Frasier head-to-head on Tuesdays and Wednesdays — although it never earned the critical praise it deserved for the robotic camera, clever animated transitions, and funny flubs during closing credits.

        His successful Home run also has led to his own Tim Allen Signature Tool Line, two books and immense clout in Hollywood. TV Guide dubbed him “the most powerful man in television” in 1995, after The Santa Clause and Toy Story (for which he voiced Buzz Lightyear).

        “I can make the movies I want to make. I am in an enviable position,” he admitted. His Boxing Cat Productions has options on six films.

        Mr. Allen said he began planning the final season last summer with Ms. Richardson. He also took more responsibility for the show as an executive producer last fall, which led to his decision to quit.

        “This year has been tremendously fatiguing for me. In the last year I did a movie, wrote a book, and I had no time for my family,” he said. “I let my family slide. I wasn't seeing my daughter (Kady, 7) at all.”

        Even after Mr. Allen announced the end in January, Disney tried to lure him back with a $50 million deal, TV Guide reported. But money wasn't his motivation, he declared last winter.

        “When it's just about money, and just about ratings, it's just about over,” he said.

        When it's over, how does he want the show remembered?

        Mr. Allen, who restores hot rods for a hobby, said loyal viewers will admire the small details:

        “This is a very inventive show,” he said. “I think the transitions were cool. We were first to make outtakes a powerful part of the show.

        “A lot of the details on this show go unnoticed. I think that's why we've done so well on reruns.

        “I'd like to think that, technically, someday somebody will look at the show and say "Boy, it's shot very well. It was acted very well. And written very well.' It wasn't a flash in the pan.”

        He's right. There's no place like Home Improvement.

        John Kiesewetter is Enquirer TV/radio critic. His column appears Monday and Wednesday. Write: 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202; fax: 768-8330.