In its second season on ABC, “Home Improvement”–with comic Tim Allen as a macho Mr. Fix-it, whose solution to every household problem is “More power!”–has become a solid Top 10 hit.
Matt Williams, David McFadzean and Carmen Finestra, partners in the Wind Dancer Production Group, are the creators and executive producers of the show, which airs at 9 p.m. Wednesdays.
Williams, who was a writer and producer on “The Cosby Show,” also created “Roseanne” and was a co-creator of “Carol & Company” and “A Different World.”
He says that “Home Improvement” has turned out just as he hoped it would. “In fact, I think it’s even better because of the intangibles that you can’t plan for, like chemistry,” he says. “I know that’s an over-used word in the business, but the chemistry between Tim and his wife, Jill (Patricia Richardson), and between Tim and his handyman assistant, Al (Richard Karn) is a real plus. You can write stories for these guys, you can write jokes. But when you have a chemistry, it really gives you something extra.”
Tim Allen was key to the show’s development, Williams says. His handyman character, host of a show-within-the-show called “Tool Time,” derives from the comic’s stand-up routine, “Men Are Pigs.”
“He was absolutely involved from the beginning,” says Williams. “The whole persona of ‘More power!’ and ‘Power tools!’ is all Tim’s. He came with a huge basket of ideas; the whole idea of hosting some kind of a tool show.”
Williams says he and his partners then came up with the characters to surround Allen and give him personalities to bounce off of. For his family, they decided to stay away from the TV-sitcom standard–boy, girl, and cute youngster.
“We insisted that the family be all boys,” Williams says, “knowing that would be a certain slant on the situation.”
Having a lead character with an attitude, especially one so potentially abrasive to women, could have been troublesome, Williams agrees.
“The risk that we ran with Tim is that in his stand-up act he can be extreme, ” says Williams. “He straps on a tool-belt and says he walks through the house saying ‘Break something, bitch.’ That can be really off-putting.”
Show within show
The dilemma was solved by the show-within-the-show. “On ‘Tool Time,’ he can be extreme because we know he has his tongue in his cheek,” Williams says. “Our job early on was to balance out his home life, and present him as someone who’s not a meathead. He’s not a misogynist. He’s not a chauvinist. He just has an extremely male point of view.”
The audience seems to have accepted that Tim and Jill have a solid and healthy marriage on the show. “He absolutely doesn’t understand the woman’s point of view,” admits Williams. “But he doesn’t hate women. He loves them dearly, as we try to show every week. People like this relationship. They can argue, they can have disagreements, opposing points of view, but it’s never acrimonious. It’s always based on respect and love.”
One of the show’s most popular characters is Wilson, the next-door neighbor who has become the master handyman’s over-the-fence mentor and confidant. Wilson , played by Earl Hindman, is not completely seen. Only his hat and hound-dog eyes are shown when he gives Tim advice.
“We get lots of letters saying, ‘Please don’t show his face. Please keep Wilson behind the fence,’ ” Williams says. “It’s amazing how people have responded to this character. Everybody feels they know him even though they don’t see his face. He is everyone’s uncle or surrogate father.”
The three boys on the show, played by Taran Noah Smith,Jonathan Taylor Thomas andZachery Ty Bryan are being developed further this season.
“The boys are coming into their own now,” Williams says. “They’ve hada season and a half and we, as writers, are writing them for specifically, giving them strong personas, and they’re getting stronger as actors.”
“Home Improvement” has connected with all segments of the viewing audience, demonstrating appeal for women and children, as well as men.
“I think it’s because we’re not just doing sexual innuendo, double entendres and the love dance,” Williams says. “We focus on male-female issues and that’s very identifiable. We get lots of letters from women saying: ‘My husband did exactly that same thing last week.”‘
The producer disagrees with those who suggest it’s impossible to create mass-appeal programs today. “‘Home Improvement’ is aperfect example of a show that has wide-ranging appeal,” he says.
“The only group we have not ever really captured is the over-50 group. They’ll watch ‘In the Heat of the Night.’ But I think you can have mass appeal. Several shows have it right now.
“It is harder today because of all the choices, with cable and everything else,”he says. “But if you write strong characters that people care about, and put them in identifiable situations, a lot of people are going to watch.”