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Old 07-29-2019, 09:05 PM   #1
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Default What happened to Jonathan Taylor Thomas (article)

https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/8...-taylor-thomas

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What Happened to Jonathan Taylor Thomas?
How did the once-ubiquitous star of 'Home Improvement' and 'The Lion King' fade into oblivion? We investigated.


By Ashley Spencer

wenty-five years after Nala and Simba inspired many an unexpected sexual awakening, a new version of The Lion King arrives in theaters this week. Tragically, it does not feature a cameo by the original voice of Young Simba: the man, the myth, the M.I.A. legend that is Jonathan Taylor Thomas.

A floppy-haired moppet of a child actor with a chain-smoker's rasp, JTT reached a stratospheric level of teen idoldom usually reserved for pop stars and boy bands. When painstakingly arranged compositions of Bop and Tiger Beat's finest centerfolds papered tween bedrooms across the nation, his face commandeered the lion's share of 90s real estate. (The average makeup, based purely on my own experience, was 80 percent Thomas, 20 percent Devon Sawa and a gratuitous rotating corner for Andrew Keegan or the kid from Free Willy.)

And then–in his late teens, right around the time of Y2K—he quit Home Improvement, did a couple of indie films, and vanished completely.

Now 37, he hasn't walked a red carpet in 15 years, and has made only a few on-screen appearances. He didn't run from a massive scandal or have a public breakdown, so why did the world's foremost teen idol disappear?

Let's take it from the top

Jonathan Taylor Thomas was born Jonathan Taylor Weiss in the not-so-little town of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, on September 8, 1981, and raised in Sacramento, California. After his parents split, he moved with his brother Joel and mom/manager to Los Angeles, where he finally broke into Hollywood at the ripe age of eight and adopted his brother's middle name as his new last name.

As Thomas began to book modelling gigs and commercials, it became clear to everyone that this was a septuagenarian trapped in the body of a photogenic child star. A devout vegetarian, he was a self-described catch-and-release "fly-fishing nut" who, according to an Angelfire fan page, once caught an 80-pound halibut. He was small for his age and talked like a cool but world-weary philosopher patiently waiting for everyone to get on his level. Which, apparently, was exactly what casting agents adored.

The tiny talent landed his first big role in 1989 playing Greg Brady's son on a Brady Bunch spin-off series. Three episodes of In Living Color followed—including one disturbing "Home Alone Again" sketch in which he played Macaulay Culkin fending off an intruding Michael Jackson—before he scored his career-making gig as Randy Taylor on Home Improvement in 1991.

And here is where our story really begins.

Home Improvement was an instant hit for ABC, and by 12, Thomas was the biggest tween star in America—and already suffering from burnout.

“You have school, friends, learning your lines and making sure your performance is up to speed,” he told People in 1994. “I can’t tell you how many shows I’ve done with full-blown migraine headaches.”

In addition to charming the nation as Tim Allen's wise-cracking middle son, he was also churning out family-friendly films on the side: The Lion King, 1995's Man of the House and Tom and Huck, The Adventures of Pinocchio in 1996, Wild America (a.k.a. Heartthrobs in Nature) in 1997 and I'll Be Home For Christmas with Jessica Biel and Robbie from 7th Heaven in 1998.

But Premiere magazine noted that while Hollywood wanted Thomas to be "the next Macaulay Culkin," he'd prefer to join the DGA and be "the next Ron Howard."

"How serious do you take this stuff? I mean, you should be focused on doing a good job, but... every job has an end," Thomas told the outlet when he was just 14. "I think most [fallen child stars] weren’t prepared for the end. I mean, it’s not the end of your life! You can’t base your life around one thing.”

OMG! It's JTT!

In retrospect, the writing was on the wall from Day One. He loved acting, but he hated the magazine covers. Hated the attention on his personal life. And he definitely hated being called JTT.

"I'm over that. I've always been over that," he politely told Conan O'Brien of his three-initial moniker in 1998.

In fact, looking back at old clips of him being alternately talked down to or fawned over by talk show hosts is painful. Somehow, Thomas spent years graciously answering a stream of inane questions like, "When's the last time Tim Allen took you out for lunch?" (David Letterman) and "Isn't Jonathan's hair the most beautiful color you've ever seen?" (Kathie Lee Gifford).

At a time when straightness was an assumed trait of the Teen Beat set, Thomas was never in a public relationship (though he reportedly dated Dr. Quinn's Jessica Bowman) and deftly dodged any questions about his dating life. He also faced unfettered media probing into his sexuality that would be unheard of for a celebrity, let alone teen star, today.

"Pretty much in Hollywood you're not anyone until it's rumored that you're gay, so I wasn't that upset about it," a 17-year-old Thomas said when Jay Leno asked if the speculation drove him "nuts" in 1998. "Not that there's anything wrong with it, but they're rumors and you should always be kind of careful with that internet stuff."

Leno then proceeded to directly ask him if he's gay.

"No, no, no, no, I'm not. I'm not," Thomas replied, laughing.

Leno hospitably added, "If you want to come out, it's fine."

Two years later, Thomas negated the rumors again in a cover story for The Advocate tied to his roles as a persecuted gay teen in Showtime's Common Groundand a bisexual hustler in indie flick Speedway Junky.

Those slightly edgier parts were the extent of his rebellion against his squeaky clean image. He never emancipated himself from his parents or went on an underage bender at the Viper Room. He even reportedly turned down Jason Biggs' part in American Pie.

Instead, Thomas represented a wholesome, parent-approved version of the 90s and, by all accounts, that's who he was: a well-spoken introvert ( People once labeled him a "Smart Throb") who didn't like the Hollywood scene and struggled with the implications of his fame. For a solid decade, he couldn't go anywhere without an army of teen girls hanging on his oversized sweater du jour. They found him on the backwoods Canada set of Wild America and mid-candle lighting inside St. Patrick's Cathedral.

''You are a part of their life, and there is a lot that is owed them,'' he told the New York Times of his rabid fandom in 1997. ''But it's difficult because you want to make everyone happy, but if you try to do that, you're setting yourself up for failure.''

Taylor vs. Taylor

The most controversial thing Thomas ever did was snub the Home Improvementseries finale.

Two years after his Emmy-deserving cancer scare episode, he chose to leave the sitcom at the start of its eighth and final season. As Randy Taylor jetted off to Costa Rica on an environmental study, Thomas happily returned to his private Los Angeles high school.

At the time, he said he didn't appear on the May 1999 finale because he was "back east" looking at prospective colleges and "the whole timing thing didn't work out." But reports swirled of an outraged Tim Allen and a disappointed cast.

“He said it was about going to school, but then he did some films. Did he want to do films? Did he want to go to school?" Allen told TV Guide. "...I mentioned [publicly] that I was confused. I don’t think he liked that.”

Richard Karn, who played Al Borland, expressed concern over Thomas' autonomy in the decision.

“Jonathan’s life at that point wasn’t necessarily all his own life," Karn said in 2016. "His mom was also deciding what he should or shouldn’t do. That comes down to a particular parental guidance idea that she had. I think Jonathan really would have rather done the episode.”

Mother knows best?

Thomas and his mother, Claudine Gonsalves, were undoubtedly close. Nearly every talk show appearance of his included an anecdote involving her, she answered his fan mail, and filmmakers often recalled her constant presence on set. Still, the extent of her control over her son is unclear.

Message boards and comment sections are filled with fans convinced Gonsalves is the real reason he fled the spotlight. Unsubstantiated claims of her being fiercely protective, controlling and foisting an unhealthy codependency on her son abound. But Premiere observed in 1994 that he was "watched over by a mother seemingly more intent on the development of his brain and heart than his bank account," and the New York Times made a point to note in 1997 that "Mr. Thomas has worked steadily in high-profile projects with the support, but not the interference, of his family."

The Lion King's co-director Roger Allers recalled how he drew on their bond to get enough emotion out of Thomas to react to Mufasa's death.

“Since his mother was always there, and I knew they must be close," Allers told Premiere. "I used her as an example: ‘Think of how this would feel: You’ve just seen your mother fall into a river and now you’ve found her washed up.’" And although Simba's first line in the scene is a heartbreaking "Dad!," Allers said, "‘Let’s go,’ dimmed the lights… and Jonathan said, ‘Mom!’”

Whatever the case, Thomas never expressed any regret over bowing out of Home Improvement early.

Hitting the Ivy League

The aughts were a time of change and discovery for our young hero. In 2000, a 19-year-old Thomas enrolled at Harvard University, where he spent two years studying philosophy and history. He also studied abroad at St. Andrews in Scotland, which the local paper warned put fellow student Prince William's "undisputed heart-throb" status at risk.

Thomas left Harvard in 2002, but eventually returned to academia and graduated (as Jonathan Weiss) from Columbia University's School of General Studies in 2010. "JTT is actually a pretty smart guy, and a good writer," read a rave review from one purported CU classmate.

Despite Kathie Lee Gifford's love of his sandy blonde (dyed) hair, College Jon went brunette and made time for guest roles on Ally McBeal, Smallville, 8 Simple Rules, and Veronica Mars through the first half of the decade. He also worked steadily as a voice actor for several animated TV films and The Wild Thornberrys.

Rumors and sightings

For a wildly famous star who spent time on three different campuses, remarkably little leaked of his collegiate affairs. But reports of Thomas' general activities over the last 20 years range from the sweet and mundane to the oh-please-god-don't-let-it-be-true.

TMZ caught him exactly once: exiting Hollywood's ArcLight Cinemas, where he looked well preserved in tortoiseshell glasses, patiently signing photos and indulging random questions about Simba in 2013.

Redditors claim he used to be a regular at a few LA area dive bars where he always "seemed a little bit sad and distant," and on one Karaoke Tuesday at Los Feliz pub Ye Rustic Inn, "someone sang lion king [sic] and he left."

Since around 2010, Twitter users have also periodically reported sightings of Thomas in Vancouver, indicating he may be at least a part-time resident there, where he enjoys shopping, drinking coffee in a hat and sunglasses, and looking "kind of like a mountain man."

Now, for the troubling: Several sites allegethat he voiced a fetus(!) in an anti-abortion ad. If he did, the video and concrete details surrounding it are virtually nowhere to be found online. Although Tim Allen is a noted conservative, JTT has never publicly spoken about his political or religious leanings, and a rep for Thomas did not respond to my request for confirmation.

A timid resurgence

Around the time of his 30th birthday, Thomas began slowly venturing back to his roots.

In 2011, he consented to a Home Improvement reunion photoshoot for Entertainment Weekly, which marked the first time the rest of the cast had seen him since his departure from the series in 1998.

Any hard feelings were seemingly resolved, and soon after he joined Tim Allen on the set of his sitcom Last Man Standing, guest starring in four episodes and directing another three, most recently in 2016.

"He's just been on the set all the time," Allen said in 2013. "But he's so shy… This is a kid that's really intelligent. He likes directing, he loves this business, but he's not sure that this is what he wants to do."

For now, Thomas is quietly doing Hollywood his way.

In 2017, he was elected by his peers to the SAG-AFTRA National Board. His Home Improvement brother Zachary Ty Bryan says they're working on a projecttogether with Macaulay Culkin, possibly an R-rated pilot of sorts. And it seems highly likely Thomas will continue down the path of directing and finally get that DGA card he's dreamed of for so long.

“I’d been going nonstop since I was eight years old,” he told People in 2013. “I never took the fame too seriously. It was a great period in my life, but it doesn’t define me. When I think back on the time, I look at it with a wink. I focus on the good moments I had, not that I was on a lot of magazine covers.”

He really hated the magazine covers.
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Old 07-30-2019, 12:19 AM   #2
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It’s interesting how these tabloids try to make a former actor’s decision to live an apparently decent life outside of the spotlight sound like a bad thing.
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Old 07-30-2019, 05:44 AM   #3
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It’s interesting how these tabloids try to make a former actor’s decision to live an apparently decent life outside of the spotlight sound like a bad thing.
I remember when JTT was guest starring on Tim Allen's later show, Last Man Standing, some woman (who is apparently, Tarah Noah Smith's mother) went all out in claiming that the real reason for why Jonathan left the spotlight was because of his mom. Or more specifically, his mom being extremely controlling. "Candy" also claims that JTT's mom has something called Narcissistic Sociopath Disorder.
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Old 08-01-2019, 05:50 PM   #4
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It’s interesting how these tabloids try to make a former actor’s decision to live an apparently decent life outside of the spotlight sound like a bad thing.
It doesn't surprise me any.

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Old 08-10-2019, 05:12 AM   #5
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I don't want to go too deeply into this because 1) This isn't the political forum and 2) I don't want to risk posting out potentially slanderous gossip or what essentially amounts to "here-say".

I'll just say that there is "talk" that Jonathan Taylor Thomas may have become persona non grata in Hollywood due to his allegedly extreme political views (he's apparently, not exactly "socialized" and doesn't do good enough of a job disguising it) not jiving with either his family much less Hollywood.

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Old 08-13-2019, 01:36 AM   #6
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I don't want to go too deeply into this because 1) This isn't the political forum and 2) I don't want to risk posting out potentially slanderous gossip or what essentially amounts to "here-say".

I'll just say that there is "talk" that Jonathan Taylor Thomas may have become persona non grata in Hollywood due to his allegedly extreme political views (he's apparently, not exactly "socialized" and doesn't good enough of a job disguising it) not jiving with either his family much less Hollywood.
Incorrect. Patricia Richardson herself says so here and here
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Old 04-30-2021, 04:10 AM   #7
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Why Hollywood Stopped Casting Jonathan Taylor Thomas

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Thomas has always liked life outside the Hollywood bubble

From the very beginning, Thomas was not a huge fan of the culture within Hollywood. In part, this might be because he wasn't raised within its unique (to put it mildly) environs. Thomas enjoyed a normal childhood in Pennsylvania before he began acting, far from the glamour and scandal of the entertainment industry. As a kid, he loved playing outdoors, fly-fishing, and spending time with his friends. In short, his upbringing couldn't have been more different than his life in Hollywood.

Thomas was lucky enough to hold on to his friends from childhood even as his career took off — hanging out with them when he wasn't working gave him a sense of normalcy he lacked when he was on set. This grounding influence was majorly appreciated by the young actor. "You can't be trapped in this bubble called the acting industry," Thomas told Premiere Magazine in a 1996 interview. "The industry is neurotic and weird, and so when I go home and I play basketball with my friends, I'm not Jonathan Taylor Thomas. I'm just Jonathan. I don't like hanging out with other actors and actresses." With comments like these to his name, it's no surprise that Thomas eventually decided that it was time to pack up and leave Hollywood behind for good.

Stressed out on set

With impressive credits like "Home Improvement" and "The Lion King" to his name, Thomas had already assembled a very impressive resume at a shockingly young age. But for a newbie actor, especially one still making his way through childhood, working so hard came at a high price. While there are legal limits to how long child actors are allowed to work in a day, Thomas still felt overtaxed. Between acting, going to school, preparing for new roles, and trying to maintain some kind of social life, the young talent was busy at all hours of the day. This intense workload eventually started to affect his health: He often showed up to work on "Home Improvement" feeling under the weather, simply because he was dealing with so much stress at such a young age.

"You have school, friends, learning your lines and making sure your performance is up to speed," Thomas said in a 1994 interview with People. "I can't tell you how many shows I've done with full-blown migraine headaches." It's clear that Thomas rarely had a moment to himself during this time in his life. Coming down with migraines at the age of 12 due to extreme burnout definitely seems to have played a role in discouraging Thomas from continuing to act full-time as an adult.

The burden of constant attention

Thomas' status as one of the biggest teen idols of his era might seem enviable. But attracting that level of constant, insatiable public attention isn't all it's cracked up to be, as Thomas discovered first-hand.

”It's sometimes distracting to look over and see a whole group of girls staring and giggling," Thomas told the New York Times in 1997, after a crowd of fans showed up near the set where he was filming "Wild America." He continued, ”You are a part of their life, and there is a lot that is owed them. But it's difficult because you want to make everyone happy, but if you try to do that, you're setting yourself up for failure.”

In a 1998 interview with Conan O'Brien, Thomas said that being approached by fans at inopportune times could get awkward. He went on to recount a particularly uncomfortable encounter, in which an eager fan approached him in St. Patrick's Cathedral. When O'Brien asked him if he was still going by the nickname "JTT," Thomas replied, "No, I'm over that, I've always been over that." As an adult, he prefers to live a very private life, which is a luxury he certainly did not have when he was younger.

Thomas never assumed that he would be an actor forever

Thomas became very successful at a young age due to his natural talent for acting. But even during those years when it seemed like he was absolutely destined to continue acting into adulthood, Thomas remained open-minded about pursuing other career paths.

At the height of his fame, Thomas was clear-eyed on the reality of his life options as a child star. In his 1996 conversation with Premiere, he discussed one of his most impressively mature beliefs: Namely, that the reason so many child actors struggle to deal with the demands of the industry as they get older is because they have never considered that acting might not be the right career choice for them after all. Even in 1996, with his career at its apex, Thomas resisted putting all of his eggs in one basket. In fact, he believed that doing so would mean courting failure.

"I mean, you should be focused on doing a good job, but ... every job has an end." Thomas detailed in his interview. He continued, "You can't base your life around one thing. So that's why I focus on school, I play sports, I learn the technical side of [filmmaking]. Because sometime it'll change, and I'll have my education to fall back on."

Thomas took time off to finish high school

Thomas always worked hard in school, just as he worked hard when he was acting. But eventually, he realized that it was becoming downright impossible to balance both — especially while holding himself to a high standard. Ultimately, Thomas decided that he needed to take some time away from acting in order to finish his high school education. When Thomas came to this momentous realization, he was still working on "Home Improvement." The popular young actor knew that leaving would be a disappointment to the show's legions of fans, but he had to make the best choice for his future. So, in 1998, Thomas left the sitcom for good.

After Thomas graduated from high school and set his sights on college, he reflected on his choice — and realized that he had absolutely made the right call. "It's been a very demanding year," he said in an interview at the 1999 Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards, "and, you know, looking back, I made such a good decision, because had I stayed at the show and tried to do academically what I'm doing now, I would've, you know, put myself in an early grave."

Thomas' abrupt exit from Home Improvement became a sore spot

Although Thomas' reasons for skipping out on "Home Improvement" were understandable and deeply wise, his co-stars still felt disappointed by his sudden exit. Thomas' choice to focus on school rather than coming back to say goodbye to the show in its finale became a particularly tender spot for his colleagues, and it seems like he may have burned some professional bridges as a result.

"It's a pretty sore point around here," Patricia Richardson, who played Thomas' mom on the show, told TV Guide in 1999 of his decision to skip the show's ending. "I think there were a lot of bad feelings all along. I don't think it's a good idea that he didn't show up, but I don't always think he gets the best advice."

Tim Allen was also upset by Thomas' refusal to return for the show's highly anticipated finale episode. Allen stated that when he inquired into Thomas' decision, Thomas became irritated, leading to some hard feelings between the two actors for some time. "He was a little miffed at me," Allen told TV Guide. "I was a little confused at why he didn't want to do this whole year." He continued, "It got mixed up in the translation. I mentioned [publicly] that I was confused. I don't think he liked that."

Thomas wanted to travel and go to college

Thomas could have probably continued acting full-time after finishing high school, had he been interested in doing so. But instead, he chose to go down a different path. "I'd been going nonstop since I was 8 years old. I wanted to go to school, to travel and have a bit of a break," Thomas said in a 2013 interview with People.

That's exactly what he did: Instead of getting back in front of the camera, Thomas decided to pursue higher education. He had always worked hard to earn good grades in school, even as he juggled homework with time on set. Suddenly, he had the opportunity to simply focus on academics without juggling acting as well. Thomas' college years were richly multifaceted: He enrolled in Harvard, and was eventually able to study abroad at St. Andrew's University in Scotland. Later on, he ended up at Columbia University, where he graduated from the School of General Studies in 2010.

Thomas thoroughly enjoyed his time in college. "To sit in a big library amongst books and students, that was pretty cool," Thomas said. "It was a novel experience for me." Indeed it was, given his childhood spent under studio lights. That he relished the experience as much as he did is a testament to his flexibility and ambition.

Thomas' choice of adult roles was limited

There's no denying that Thomas was a major teen idol. But time marches on, and every teen idol has to grow up at some point. As many of them discover, early fame doesn't always translate to success in one's adult years. Thomas proved to be no exception.

”It's very hard to make a teen idol type into an edgier type as he gets older,” said talent agent Judy Savage, when asked about Thomas' future in a 1997 interview. ”It's not in their souls." Compounding this problem was the fact that while Thomas' fans weren't necessarily ready for him to grow up, he was looking to take on more challenging roles that took him out of his comfort zone. However, he was also at peace with the idea of moving on to something new, if going in a different artistic direction wasn't in the cards for him.

”I would like to do edgier material, because that's what seems to be respected,” Thomas mused in that same 1997 piece. ”Maybe this will last forever. Acting will get you to a lot of places, but there are a multitude of things I can do later on. Acting is just one of them.”

Thomas chose to walk away from fame

When Thomas reflects on his career today, he says that he doesn't regret leaving fame in his past. "I never took the fame too seriously," he said in a 2013 interview with People. "It was a great period in my life, but it doesn't define me."

But even though Thomas chose to step away from the spotlight, he remained interested in writing scripts, directing, and working behind the camera in some way. Exploring these avenues was an interest he held for years, in fact: In his 1996 interview with Premiere, he mentioned that he might want to have a career like Ron Howard's. In time, he did indeed try his hand at directing: Thomas has directed several episodes of the comedy series "Last Man Standing."

Thomas has also continued to stay connected to Hollywood — albeit in a very different way than he used to. Even though he hasn't resumed acting full-time, he does spend time in Los Angeles, the beating heart of the entertainment industry. His life is a full one: "I watch a lot of movies, I hike, I stay up on shows and theater," Thomas told People. While he does not want to focus solely on acting, he still has an appreciation for the industry that he grew up in, and the craft of acting itself.

Choosing to be a guest star

Though it might seem otherwise to the casual observer, Thomas did not actually leave acting after exiting "Home Improvement" and enrolling in college. He has occasionally appeared in movies, albeit minor ones, and voiced Tyler Tucker for a short run of episodes on the hit Nickelodeon cartoon "The Wild Thornberrys."

Although Thomas has never again been a regular on a TV series after his time on "Home Improvement" came to an end, he has continued doing a wide variety of guest spots. You might have spotted Thomas on shows like "Smallville," "8 Simple Rules," or "Veronica Mars." "Home Improvement" fans were particularly thrilled to see Thomas appear alongside his TV dad Tim Allen on four episodes of "Last Man Standing." However, Thomas has not acted since 2015, when he wrapped up this short role.

If we were to take a guess as to the origins of this hiatus, it seems like Thomas continues to enjoy acting, but only when the right opportunities come up. He also seems to prefer not to commit to long-term roles or feature films. Perhaps this will change at some point in the future – Thomas likely has many years ahead of him. But for now, he seems to be content living his life largely outside of Hollywood's glaring spotlight.

A potential pilot?

Today, Thomas does occasionally keep in touch with some his "Home Improvement" co-stars. While some tension did erupt after he chose not to participate in the show's finale, it certainly seems like it has dissipated over the course of the ensuing years. In fact, Thomas and Zachery Ty Bryan, who played Brad Taylor, Randy's older brother, even worked together to come up with a pilot episode for their own TV show.

In 2016, Patricia Richardson revealed to fans on Reddit, "I do stay in touch with Zach and Jonathan who in fact have written a really wonderful pilot that is sort of R rated and are shopping it around town." Naturally, this sparked quite a bit of excitement amongst fans. However, it doesn't seem like this pilot was ever picked up — Richardson let this gossip slip several years ago, and no pilot from Thomas and Bryan has ever materialized. While fans would love a chance to see it, it looks like this project is one of many pilots that has never made it to the small screen. Still, the future is unwritten — who knows where that pilot, or Thomas and Bryan's collaboration, might end up?

Becoming a producer

Fans who loved Thomas when he was younger might be wondering if he's currently working on any upcoming projects. If you're hoping that he'll pop up on your favorite TV show or in a new movie, you're probably out of luck. But take heart: He is busy working on fascinating new projects, in exciting new roles to boot.

Most enticingly, Taylor has been hard at work as an executive producer on the show "Master of Ceremonies." This eye-popping series promises to take viewers on a journey through 1980s America by exploring the wild, wicked, and weird world of Chippendales, the era's infamously raunchy all-male dance revue. The series is an adaptation of the memoir of the same name, which chronicles author David Henry Sterry's time as the master of ceremonies at the Chippendales show in Manhattan. The series does not yet have a release date.

Maybe Taylor has a bright future as a producer, or maybe he'll consider returning to acting one day. He's never limited himself to Hollywood, but for the right role, perhaps he would get back in front of the camera. Whatever comes, fans can be certain he'll keep marching to the beat of his own drum.
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