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Home Improvement aired from September 1991 until September 1999 on ABC

Standup comic Tim Allen , who specialized in macho humor brought his act to television in this comic saga of a man and his tool belt. Tim " The Tool Man" Taylor was a local celebrity in Detroit with his cable TV show Tool Time, a cheerful mix of fix-it advice and humor sponsored by Binford Tools. His answer to every problem: more power! At home he was a bit of a klutz , however, and when he strapped on his tool belt and whipped out his drill like a six-shooter, the kids cleared out. Frustrated wife Jill ( Patricia Richardson) tried to keep him away from the applianences but to no avail; sons Brad, Randy, and winsome little Mark ( Zachary Ty Bryan, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Taran Noah Smith)offered varying degrees of help ; and neighbor Wilson ( Earl Hindman), never clearly seen over the backyard fence, philosophized about the meaning of everything. Al ( Richard Karn) was Tim's knowing helper on Tool Time (" I don't think so Tim"), along with Lisa ( Pamela Anderson), the buxom " tool girl" ( succeeded by Heidi ( Debbie Dunning) in 1993).

Stories revolved mostly around the normal evolution of Tim's stable , nuclear family , especially the friends and dating habits of his growing boys. Brad was the first son to enter high school( 1995), where he became a big man on the soccer team. Serious Randy and his girlfriend Lauren ( Courtney Peldon)became involved in environmental and social issues, at one time boycotting Tim's employer Binford Tools , a major polluter. As for Mark, he spent a season dressed in black, obsessed with heavy metal music; fortunately he grew out of it. There were developments involving the adults as well. Jill pursued a master's degree in psychology , which had her out of the house at times, and doing practice counseling when she was home.Al became engaged to Ilene ( Sherry Hursey), but after a long relationship they broke up. Tool Time girl Heidi, on the other hand , married and became pregnant ( as was actress Debbie Dunning at the time). In a typical comedy of errors, Tim delivered her baby in November 1996.

The first of the boys to leave the nest was Randy , in late 1998, when actor Jonathan Taylor Thomas decided he should devote himself full-time to his real-life college studies. On the show Randy and Lauren left to save the rain forest in Costa Rica. In the highly rated series finale , Tim quit Tool Time after a fight with Binford Tools; Al married his new love chubby Trudy, in the Taylors' backyard
; and Jill acepted a position at a clinic in Bloomington. When she wavered over leaving their beloved home, Tim came up with an ingenius solution: they jacked up the house and took it with them! Or did they? The biggest surprise, however, came at the close of the show, as the cast took their bows and viewers, at last , got to see Wilson's face.

A Review from The New York Times

Review/Television; Sitcom Premise: The TV Handyman Who Isn't

Published: September 17, 1991

Ever since the enormously successful 1984 debut of "The Cosby Show," a television season cannot go by without still another stand-up comic trying to develop his or her standard act into a prime-time sitcom. This year it's Tim Allen, who has used his comedy specials on cable ("Men Are Pigs" on Showtime was one) to expound wryly on, among other things, the virtues of power tools. Enter at 8:30 this evening the new ABC series "Home Improvement," in which Mr. Allen plays Tim Taylor, professionally the host of a cable show called "Tool Time" and at home a repair klutz with a tendency to destroy appliances.

ABC is high on this show, placing it in a most desirable time slot between established top-rated shows: "Full House" at 8 and "Roseanne" at 9. The network carefully notes in its ads that one of the creators of "Home Improvement" is Matt Williams, who was credited with doing the same for "Roseanne." Not mentioned: Mr. Williams was rather ungracefully dumped from "Roseanne" at the end of its first season, and to this day, producer and star would prefer not even to be in the same city. Past credits are not always illuminating.

Mr. Allen falls into the Garry Shandling school of comedy. He even looks a bit like Mr. Shandling, just after a brisk haircut. There is a thread of affable whining in his act, balanced with an innocent smile that suggests a knowing helplessness in the face of life's little absurdities. In the series, the character Tim is genially confident as the host of his cable show, easily pushing the right studio-audience buttons as he demonstrates carpentry tips ("I'll use my awl here to set my drill") and regularly calls for electric tools providing more power. Boosting the juice, Tim preaches, is the real thrill of do-it-yourself amusements.

At home, Tim is just another bumbling sitcom father. His savvy but hapless wife, Jill (Patricia Richardson), begs him not to try to fix things around the house, but Tim plunges ahead, adding more power to every motor he can lay his hands on. The family has the only blender on the block, Jill claims, that can puree bricks. On the sidelines are three young sons, who stand around and watch Daddy's antics with a combination of amusement and horror. Tim's sense of discipline has a curiously nasty edge. "You let go of that rope," he shouts at one son, "or I'm going to hot-glue your head to the garage door." No wonder Jill starts looking for a job, which doesn't sit well with the man of the house.

All of which is fairly routine sitcom fodder. The one touch of originality is provided by the character of Tim's next-door neighbor, Wilson (Earl Hindman), who spouts Robert Bly-like wisdom from behind a picket fence, his face never seen below the eyes. Wilson likes to tell Tim that "it's time for men to reclaim the male spirit, to sit around the campfire telling stories -- naked." Tim is dubious, but he weaves some of Wilson's palaver into his "Tool Time" scripts and the audience seem to eat it up. There's no telling what will work in show business.

And Mr. Allen's sitcom may well work, although by the second episode it already shows uneasy signs of cuteness bloat, right down to Tim ineptly trying to make a swivel-based cookbook holder for his wife. Homer did the same sort of thing this year on an episode of "The Simpsons," only there it was a spice rack and the routine was funnier. A klutz concept has its limits. Still, "Home Improvement" has that enviable Tuesday time slot. But then so did "Chicken Soup," starring another stand-up comic, named Jackie Mason. Remember? Home Improvement Produced by John Pasquin and Gayle S. Maffeo for Wind Dancer Productions, in association with Touchstone Television; Carmen Finestra, David McFadzean and Matt Williams, executive producers. At 8:30 tonight on ABC. Tim . . . Tim Allen Jill . . . Patricia Richardson Wilson . . . Earl Hindman Brad . . . Zachery Ty Bryan Mark . . . Taran Smith Randy . . . Jonathan Taylor Thomas

A Review from Entertainment Weekly

B By Ken Tucker

Despite the best efforts of Edward R. Murrow, Bill Moyers, and Homer Simpson, television watching remains an enduringly guilty pleasure; we rarely admit how much we watch, and we think that much of what we watch is junk. So when a show comes along that attaches some redeeming cultural significance to our tube consumption, it's tempting to succumb to the hype. A case in point is home improvement (ABC, Tuesdays, 8:30-9 p.m.), a sturdy new situation comedy that has arrived weighted down with comparisons-by the show's producers as well as TV critics-to Robert Bly's men's-movement manifesto, the drum-thumping best- seller Iron John: A Book About Men. Golly: a TV show that cribs ideas from a serious book writ-ten by a classy poet. What next? Sandra Bernhard as a wacky Camille Paglia in the sitcom version of Sexual Personae? To be sure, Home Improvement courts its lofty comparisons. It stars stand- up comic Tim Allen as Tim Taylor, host of a cable-TV home-repair show called Tool Time. As a TV host, Tim Taylor is a swag-gering master of the universe, slicing through two-by-fours and hammering home solid advice. But around the house with his wife, Jill (Patricia Richardson), and three boisterous sons (Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Taran Smith, Zachery Bryan), Tim is Dagwood with an attitude, an aggressive goof-up whose masculine pride frequently gets him in trouble with the rest of the family. Or, as an ABC press release puts it, Tim ''forges ahead, secure in his belief that most problems can be solved by merely increasing the voltage.'' When Tim needs some manly advice, he frequently consults with his next-door neighbor, Wilson, a mysterious char-acter whose high fence always blocks his face from the camera. This is Home Improvement's version of Bly's Iron John: the aging, wise repository of misterioso male wisdom. Wilson is a nurturing neighbor who counsels Tim to follow his testosterone to bliss: ''Just as the sander vibrates with the grain of the wood, we men should learn to vibrate in harmony with our wives.'' Home Improvement has proven an immediate hit-one of the few new series this season to make it into the top 10-and not just because the show rests between two bigger hits, Full House and Roseanne. In his sitcom debut, Tim Allen is a natural-not just funny, but an interesting TV presence: charming but a little edgy, a wise guy, but a wise guy with a lot on the ball. Allen's TV character is a domesticated version of his stand-up persona-a modern man so baffled and belligerent about women that he's reduced to beating his chest and making grunting noises. (Most reviewers have said that Allen is making gorilla sounds, but with his small, fierce eyes and long, severe face, Allen has always reminded me of a man-drill when he starts going ''Unghh! Unghh! Unghh!'') In his live performances, Allen's bestial punch line became his trademark; it worked because it simultaneously symbolized and criticized the stand-up misogyny of many male comics. Allen's act was disseminated in its purest, most artistically successful form in the 1990 Showtime comedy special Men Are Pigs. On the basis of the special's hormonal hilarity, the folks at Disney signed Allen to a TV contract before they'd even cooked up a show for him. Home Improvement is a clever vehicle for his talents, and you can hear people trying to reproduce Allen's mandrill whoops all over America. But it turns out that the show, whose cocreators include Matt Williams (Roseanne), is least effective when it turns into a meditation on maleness. For instance, the series' pilot peaked when Tim, in the course of increasing the old voltage over his wife's protests, blew up the family dishwasher. Come on-an exploding kitchen appliance is a sight gag as old as I Love Lucy. Even less funny was an episode in which Tim wants desperately to watch a big football game on TV. He's obliged to take Jill out to dinner, so he brings along a portable radio and sneaks peeks at the game on the TV in the restaurant's kitchen, along with some of the other male patrons. Boy, was Jill steamed-is Roseanne on yet? That episode was weak because it undermined the best thing about Home Improvement: the playful yet complicated relationship between Tim and Jill, the most interesting sitcom marriage since-well, since Roseanne and Dan. Like Lee Garlington in the underrated-in-every-sense Lenny last season, Rich-ardson has taken a terribly trite role-the long-suffering nag with a heart of gold- and imbued her character with wry intelligence and bubbling ambition. These qualities lend even Richardson's quickest, most throwaway scenes some emotional resonance. Improvement is most fun when Jill is shooting holes in one of Tim's man-right/woman-wrong pronouncements; beyond the jokes, there's pleasure to be derived from the way Allen and Richardson grin and gaze into each other's eyes as they argue. As much as Tim grunts and moans, it's obvious he's turned on by the idea that this woman is his equal and then some. Home Improvement is an unfinished project-it has a long way to go before it can tap into the vein of family-life truth that Roseanne hits just about every week. The Tylers' three boys, to take just one example, will have to develop individual personalities beyond being cute little Tim clones. But Improvement already offers a more unpretentious yet problematic view of life than Iron John or its numerous men-are-noble-savages rip-offs. At this point, I'd feel a lot guiltier reading one of those whiny men's-movement books than watching this show every week. B

An Article from The New York Times

TELEVISION; In Touch With the Tool-Belt Chromosome
Published: September 22, 1991

Tim feels lost and confused. His wife has just breezed out the door after forbidding him to rewire the dishwasher. He shuffles out to the backyard, and his neighbor tells him the reason he's having trouble with his wife is because he doesn't know who he is as a man. "You see, Tim, the Industrial Revolution took the adult male out of the home," he says. "Men need to spend more time around the campfire with their elders, like in ancient days, seeking wisdom, telling stories, sharing." Tim interrupts. "Would these men all have to be naked?" he asks.

Well, bang on a drum: the men's movement has come to the television sitcom. Tim Taylor, the central character in "Home Improvement" (Tuesday on ABC at 8:30 P.M.), is the model of a 90's male. He's lived through two decades of feminism and knows he ought to be vulnerable and sensitive. But at the same time he's tired of apologizing for his instinct to be aggressive, analytical or to go ga-ga over the contents of a hardware store.

"He's a man who says, 'I'm a little confused; I don't know where the lines are anymore,' " declares the show's 40-year-old creator, Matt Williams, speaking of the character played by Tim Allen, who is 38. "You go, 'I don't know what I'm supposed to be anymore. I'm trying, damn it, I'm trying to be a good husband, a good father, but I keep screwing up.' I feel that. Tim feels that. A lot of guys in their 30's and 40's feel that right now. And that's what we're trying to capture with the show."

On the series, in which Mr. Allen plays the host of a cable-TV home repair show, Tim will enter some of the boggy depths of maleness in search of the wild man deep inside. He will peel off his sweatshirt and hunker by the garage fuse box. He will try to teach his three young sons to howl at the moon. And he will convene an impromptu men's group, mostly construction workers who attempt to share their feelings.

The appearance right in the middle of network prime time of a show that draws on the so-called men's movement is evidence once again of how fast an obscure phenomenon can be sucked into the stew of pop culture. Only a year ago all-male gatherings in the wilderness or in urban auditoriums were underground events. Then Robert Bly's "Iron John: A Book About Men" soared toward the top of the best-seller list, where it has remained for months. It has been followed by another best seller, Sam Kean's "Fire in the Belly," and by articles in newsmagazines and coverage on the nightly news. In addition to "Home Improvement," at least two other comedies, "Cheers" (NBC) and "Coach" (ABC), will feature material about the men's movement in episodes this season.

On "Home Improvement" Mr. Allen, a stand-up comedian making his acting debut, plays the unctuously rugged host of "Tool Time," a cable television show conceived in the spirit of such PBS fare as "This Old House." While explaining how to make dadoes or install a door lock, Tim Taylor wears his tool belt like a gunslinger. He calls to an assistant for ever more powerful tools ("I smell voltage!"). Or he may punctuate remarks with a trademark grunt -- somewhere between a pig's snort and an ape's growl -- that is gleefully echoed by the gimme-hat-wearing audience.

At home Tim's wife, Jill (Patricia Richardson), is a full-time mother trying unsteadily to return to the work force. Jill knows the manly television fix-it man is a charade; around the house her husband is a klutz.

Across the backyard fence Tim's neighbor, Wilson (Earl Hindman), is a silver-haired stand-in for Mr. Bly himself. Wilson, given to cooking squirrel on the barbecue, offers pithy words of wisdom that come right out of "Iron John," or at least sound as if they ought to. "By nature men are problem solvers," Wilson tells Tim when Tim has upset Jill. "But she didn't want you to solve her problems. She just wanted you to listen while she shared her feelings."

A glint of understanding flashes in Tim's eyes. He grunts like a Neanderthal who has just discovered one of the primal differences between men and women.

The grunting, which regularly punctuates "Home Improvement," is Mr. Allen's signature as a comedian. He developed it for a stand-up act called "Men Are Pigs." In that routine he somehow makes comprehensible entire lines of dialogue as they might be uttered by a baboon on visiting the Sears tool department. In fact, it's not clear exactly what species the grunts represent. Mr. Allen says he acquired the shtick in college when he kept a pet pig.

Before either he or Mr. Williams had ever heard of Robert Bly, they were huddling about a show that would deal with the confusion of contemporary men. Then an acquaintance said that "Iron John" talked about the very subject, and they plunged in. For the woman's point of view on all this, Mr. Williams who is also the head writer, consulted another pop psychology best seller, Deborah Tannen's "You Just Don't Understand," about the differences between the way men and women communicate. Today well-thumbed copies of both books sit prominently on a table in Mr. Williams's office on the Disney lot in Burbank, Calif., beside a sculpture of an American Indian beating a drum with an eagle on his shoulder.

To many, mere mention of the words "men's movement" sets off a slight attack of giggles. The image of grown-ups engaged in communal drumming or mask-making would seem to mark this phenomenon as the latest wacko quest by Americans in search of something to believe in. But Mr. Williams and his two co-executive producers, Carmen Finestra and David McFadzean, haven't set out to mock the men's movement. The show doesn't have the bite of satire, which anyway isn't Mr. Williams's style. Besides "Roseanne," his credits include "The Cosby Show," "A Different World" and "Carol & Co.," heart-warming comedies all.

Both he and Mr. Allen find the men's movement intriguing and personally relevant. "There is a part of me that wants to stand on a mountaintop naked and howl at the moon," says Mr. Williams. "I just thought I'm a crazy Midwestern maniac. Then you go, wait, other people feel this too? Really?"

Mr. Allen says: "It's clear to me that the images of adult manhood given by the popular culture are worn out -- a man can no longer depend on them." As a teen-ager, he lost his father in an accident, and identifies with the material in "Iron John" about the search for inspiring male role models. "Mostly the book is about finding the father, a male mentor," he says. "I missed, just as Bly said, the experience of standing with another man. Just standing there you absorb something of maleness."

Mr. Allen first met Mr. Williams a little over a year ago, after Jeffrey Katzenberg, head of Disney Studios, had called Mr. Williams to his office to watch a tape of Mr. Allen's stand-up act. Mr. Williams, who had a development deal with Disney, agreed that Mr. Allen was very funny, but he, says, he wasn't anxious to jump back into business with a stand-up comedian.

The last time Mr. Williams had developed a show around a comic -- "Roseanne" -- was a disaster for him. From the beginning Mr. Williams fought with the famously temperamental star. Halfway through the first season, Ms. Barr forced him out, saying either he quit or she would. Later she was so incensed that he was given the "created by" credit she fired her lawyers and agents.

Despite Mr. Williams's initial hesitation, it turned out that he and Mr. Allen had a common sensibility. Both were raised in large Midwestern families, both were recent fathers and both possess an evident outward masculinity that is balanced by a sensitive side. Mr. Williams, who is built like the former cornerback he is, went to college on a football scholarship and there discovered a more subtle outlet for expression in the theater.

Ironically for Mr. Williams, ABC has scheduled "Home Improvement" just ahead of "Roseanne" on Tuesday nights. In part, it is the network's seal of approval that the show is expected to become a hit (although critical reception to the show has so far been mixed). At the same time, it is a sign that programmers recognize a thematic tension between the two shows, the blue-collar feminism of Roseanne Conner balanced by the neo-masculinity of Tim Taylor.

More than the men's movement cares to admit, it is a reaction to the decades of feminism, a reclaiming of prerogatives that men have long been made to feel defensive about. Mr. Bly calls men who became wimpified as they went about proving their sensitivity "soft males." And in the show, Tim Taylor is tired of being persecuted for his rabid devotion to television sports or his riding lawn mower. According to Mr. Williams, the message is: 'Quit apologizing because you're a man. Be proud you're a man. Take your shirt off, son, and grunt like an ape.' "

It would be wrong to conclude, however, that the character is simply a brutish lunk. He is more complex than that. He is not Al Bundy. Tim wants to be an enlightened male, particularly as a father and role model to his children.

It's no coincidence that the children are all boys. "We wanted to deal with little men as well as grown-up men," says Mr. Williams. "One of the ongoing conflicts is Jill says, 'I'm raising three future husbands here.' And Tim's argument is 'Yeah, but I also want them to grow up to be men.' Her job -- and this is right from Bly -- is to civilize them. And his is to make sure they grow hair and howl at the moon."

The producers intentionally hired as many women as men for the writing staff. Future episodes will take on such topics as what one female writer calls Male Answer Syndrome: the proclivity of men, when asked a question, any question at all, to give an answer even if they don't have a clue.

Mr. Williams says that even if the men's movement turns out to be a passing fad, in the short term it is raising questions that generate strong passions. "I like this whole thing because it's an extreme point of view. My favorite type of writing is to take a very serious issue and deal with it in a way people can laugh at. Issues like me finding my identity as a man in the 90's in America are funny."

An Article from Time Magazine

Prime-Time Power Trip
Monday, May. 03, 1993



THE BOTTOM LINE: Never mind the macho grunts; TV's new No. 1 sitcom manages to straddle the gender gap expertly.

Hit TV shows often thrive on catchphrases ("Dy-no-mite"; "Kiss my grits"). Arsenio Hall's studio audience made him famous with a catchbark (Woof! Woof! Woof!). But Home Improvement may be the first show ever to rise to the top with the help of a catchgrunt. It's the growl of hairy-chested pleasure (Arrggh! Arrggh! Arrggh!) that protagonist Tim Taylor utters whenever he sees a chance to rev up his trusty power tools.

The trademark is fitting, for Home Improvement is one of those shows that don't inspire a lot of verbalizing. Murphy Brown is more trendily topical; Roseanne has more behind-the-scenes intrigue; Seinfeld appeals more to the thirtysomething opinion makers. All Home Improvement does is draw the biggest crowds. The ABC sitcom debuted last season to solid ratings (helped by a surefire time slot, between Full House and Roseanne). But this season, moved to Wednesday nights, it has powered its way to a new level. For five of the past six weeks, Home Improvement has been TV's highest-rated weekly series. ABC is so enamored of its new smash that in December it gave Home Improvement an unprecedented three-year renewal -- and struck a deal with the show's creators (headed by The Cosby Show and Roseanne veteran Matt Williams) for an ownership share of their next two series.

Home Improvement, in which comedian Tim Allen stars as Taylor -- a husband, father of three boys and host of a TV handyman show -- covers all its bases shrewdly. It combines the ironic edge of Allen's stand-up comedy -- a sort of , macho flip side to Roseanne Arnold's beleaguered-housewife rants -- with traditional family-show sentimentality. It caters to the baby-boom audience while poking gentle fun at it (the kids are puzzled when Mom, played by Patricia Richardson, mentions such names as Edgar Bergen and Ed Sullivan). It toys with the sitcom format in ways both inventive (the little flourishes of animation that divide scenes) and annoying (the episode outtakes that run under the closing credits).

Most of all, Home Improvement straddles the gender fence with the skill of a Cirque du Soleil aerialist. Network entertainment is largely driven by the female audience. Hard-edged action shows have all but disappeared from prime time; the great bulk of TV movies focus on women protagonists with either an empowering story to tell or a rapist on their trail; and most sitcoms have a female orientation, even when they ostensibly revolve around men. (Watch Major Dad get tamed by the women in his life.)

Home Improvement, by contrast, is a show about men, or more precisely about maleness. Tim is a swaggering takeoff on a macho guy who gets his kicks from rebuilding closets and working on his hot rod at 4 a.m. "I can hear my power tools callin' right now," he coos. " 'C'mon, plug us in, we're ready to serve.' " For advice he turns to his next-door neighbor, a Robert Bly disciple whose conversation usually opens with an avuncular chuckle ("Ho-ho- ho-no-no-no, Tim") and ends with an anecdote about tribal customs.

Home Improvement of course makes fun of these men's-movement cliches. The show's chief joke is that Tim, the power-tool nut, is really a klutz around the house; his wife and kids run for cover when he starts talking about rewiring the dishwasher. What's more, he's a sensitive guy deep down. When one of his boys gets into a fight at school, the lad explains that he was embarrassed when Dad hugged him in front of the other kids. Tim proceeds to teach one of those neat sitcom lessons about how men shouldn't be ashamed to hug.

Is it any wonder that Home Improvement, for all its macho strutting, is actually more popular among women viewers than men? (The show typically ranks higher than even Roseanne among women ages 18 to 49.) It is TV's ultimate joke on the men's movement, defusing it with just the kind of '70s "sensitivity" the movement was devised to counter. Ho-ho-ho-ho, Tim. When you can't find refuge even in the tool shed, what's left?

An Article from Time Magazine

Tim At the Top
Monday, Dec. 12, 1994

Tim Allen is still learning the protocols of stardom. On a promotion tour for his new book earlier this fall, he went on a talk show and laughed about the private plane that his publisher, which is owned by Disney, was flying him around in. Known for its thriftiness, Disney hates being made to look like a typical, money-burning Hollywood studio, and a few days after Allen made his remarks, he received a curt memo from headquarters. Never brag about Disney's use of corporate jets, the company's biggest star next to Simba the Lion was told; don't even mention corporate jets and Disney in the same sentence. Now, some stars might have thrown a fit -- or got their agent to do it for them. But Allen reacted like a chastened fifth-grader; he told Disney it was just a joke.

Good thing Allen didn't mention the new four-wheel-drive Porsche the studio just bought him. But then, the Disney comptroller can hardly complain. Allen has made a pirate's galleon of loot for the company during a year in which he has pulled off an unheard-of triple play. Home Improvement, his ABC sitcom now in its fourth season, is TV's No. 1-rated show, earning Disney $400 million thus far in the sale of reruns. His jokey autobiographical book, Don't Stand Too Close to a Naked Man, reached No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list in October and is still riding high in second place (trailing only the Pope); it is the most successful book yet published by Disney's 3 1/2-year-old book division, Hyperion. Now The Santa Clause, Allen's first movie, is the surprise hit of the Christmas season, earning $71 million in its first 17 days and jumping to No. 1 at the box office over the Thanksgiving weekend -- surpassing Tom Cruise's fangs, Schwarzenegger's pregnancy and both generations of Star Trek.

It's a success story as heartwarming as one of those sentimental father-son talks on Home Improvement. Allen, 41, is hardly the most brilliant comedy star of his generation, though some might call him its most brilliant example of multimedia Hollywood marketing. But few superstars seem less inflated by their success. Allen still keeps a home in an unpretentious neighborhood in suburban Birmingham, Michigan, where he retreats for holidays and other family gatherings. He has been married for 10 years to his college sweetheart, who waited for him while he served more than two years in a federal penitentiary on drug charges. And when he throws temper tantrums on the set of his TV show -- "My set! My camera! My props!", he's been heard to shout -- everybody knows it really is a joke. In contrast to stories about some other sitcom stars, like Roseanne and Grace Under Fire's Brett Butler, those about Tim Allen's rampaging ego are all but nonexistent. "He just never lost perspective," says Bruce Economou, an old friend from Michigan. "When he first went to the Home Improvement stage, where they were building the sets, and the people from Disney were walking him through, they told him, 'This is all for you.' Tim looked at it and said, 'Well, if this show doesn't work, can I have the wood?"'

Now Allen can have almost anything he wants. After the success of The Santa Clause, Hollywood insiders predict he will command upwards of $8 million for his next movie (on top of the $5 million he reportedly made this year from the TV series). But talking in his TV dressing room last week, in between bites of a tuna-salad sandwich, Allen said he'd be happy with a small token of his achievement. "It's so cheesy," he says, "but I just want a little plaque that says, no. 1 tv show, no. 1 book, no. 1 movie. Just something for me, because I worked so hard I almost died: 18-hour days getting in and out of a fat suit, typing ((my book)) on my laptop. I looked forward to this day, right before Christmas, when it would all be over."

Or maybe just starting. With The Santa Clause, Allen has joined the tiny fraternity of stars (John Travolta, Robin Williams, Jim Carrey) who have successfully made the leap from TV to movies. Many more -- including the two most dominant prime-time stars of recent years, Bill Cosby and Roseanne -- have conspicuously failed to transfer their popularity to the big screen. Perhaps they are too closely identified with TV roles in which they essentially play themselves. Perhaps their very living-room familiarity makes it impossible for them to be fully convincing on the larger-than-life movie screen. For whatever reason, the stars with whom viewers get cozy around the TV hearth are rarely the same ones they surrender to when the lights go down at the multiplex.

Yet with his white-bread affability and a face as wide open as the Great Plains, Allen seems at home everywhere. On Home Improvement he plays Tim Taylor, a father of three and host of a TV fix-it show. Tim is a guy's guy who gets excited about playing with power drills and rewiring the dishwasher; yet he's something of a klutz around the house. It's an old sitcom formula -- Dad as doofus -- but brightened by the sarcastic, surprisingly adult interplay between Tim and his wife (Patricia Richardson) on the subject of maleness and its drawbacks.

In The Santa Clause, Allen is another all-American befuddled Dad. He plays Scott Calvin, a divorced father who is having trouble communicating with his young son -- until, on Christmas Eve, Santa falls off his roof, and Scott is pressed into finishing the gift-delivery chores. It turns out he is expected to give up his former identity and become Santa for good; over the next few months, he grows fat and acquires white whiskers and white hair. (Is this a Christmas fantasy or a horror film?) Scott eventually reconciles to the idea of spending his declining years at the North Pole, winning his son's love in the process. "Pretty cool, eh?" he tells his ex-wife before catching the last sleigh north. "Your parents thought I'd never amount to anything."

Allen has amounted to quite a bit, considering the misfortunes that befell his typical middle-class suburban upbringing. He was born in Denver, one of six children (five boys and a girl) of Gerald and Martha Dick. His last name was the occasion for a thousand playground taunts, which taught him early on how to steel himself with humor. At age 11, however, Allen faced a far more serious trauma: on the way home from a college football game, his father was killed in a car accident. "My world changed overnight," Allen recalls in his book.

His mother remarried about two years later, and the family moved to the Detroit suburbs, where Allen struggled through high school and barely made it to college. He graduated from Western Michigan University with a degree in TV production, but not long after, got caught up in drugs. He fell in with a fast, hard-partying crowd, started selling cocaine, and in 1979 was arrested and later sentenced to eight years in a minimum-security federal penitentiary in Minnesota.

Allen served just over two years there, and it was a transforming experience. He occupied himself by reading books and writing letters, and slowly faced the realization that he had screwed up his life. "It was frightening, that whole time, how much anger I had," he says. "Then the anger was directed toward me, so I had to take the blame for this whole situation I put myself into." A supportive family helped him through the ordeal. "Tim accepted it," says his mother. "He knew he deserved it, and he didn't fight it. Everyone in the family came out and rallied behind him."

Allen found humor useful in prison. He made the meanest guards laugh by putting pictures of Richard Nixon in the peephole of his cell when they made their rounds. Later he staged comedy shows for the other inmates. Once, while riding a bus to another prison, he managed to slip out of his handcuffs. The only thing he could think to do was bum a cigarette off the old bank robber sitting in front of him. "I reached into his shirt pocket with the handcuff on one hand, and then tapped him on his other shoulder to get a match. He said, 'What's going on?' and I told him I got my handcuffs off and was getting ready to break out. Of course, I still had shackles on my legs and everywhere else. But just that one moment, when I asked the guy for a match, was what I lived for -- the expression on his face."

Returning to Detroit after his parole, Allen went to work in advertising while trying to develop a stand-up comedy act at night. Mark Ridley, owner of the Comedy Castle, remembers how Allen, dressed in coat and tie, stood out from the usual crowd of overage class clowns even in his first appearance. "He was a bundle of nerves," says Ridley, "shaking his hands and pacing himself into a frenzy. But boom, once he was up there, he was in control." His early material, Allen recalls, was full of sexual and scatological references: "It was like turning your guitar up real loud." Eventually he hit on the macho-tool-guy persona that became his trademark. "What really interested me was garages and tools and all that I call 'men's stuff.' The more I started talking about it, the more I would get men to stand up and listen to my comedy. And then women would go, 'He's like that,' and it started getting couples to enjoy the show."

Allen began shuttling to Los Angeles, picking up a commercial agent and eventually breaking into the big-time comedy clubs. After a few TV appearances and cable specials, he was discovered by a group of Disney executives who were having a meeting to discuss new TV projects. "We were sitting in the room practically snoring," recalls Jeffrey Katzenberg, the former Disney movie chief. Then someone put one of Allen's Showtime specials on the vcr: "He set the room on fire," says Katzenberg. "It was like everyone had touched a raw electric wire." Some of the group, including Disney chairman Michael Eisner, later went to the Improv comedy club to see him in person. "It was one of those nights that was magic," Allen remembers. "They came backstage and said they'd like to have a meeting with me at Disney."

The studio's first offer wasn't quite magic: a TV sitcom based on the movie Turner & Hootch, in which Allen would co-star with a dog. Allen turned that down, along with two other proposals. Then he came up with his own idea: a series about the host of a TV handyman show. Disney teamed him with producer Matt Williams (the former producer of Roseanne), who added three kids to the mix and helped turn Home Improvement into TV's biggest family-show hit of the '90s. Allen's first movie went through a similar Disneyfication. The original script, by Steve Rudnick and Leo Benvenuti, was a dark fantasy about a man who accidentally shoots Santa Claus. Eight drafts later, with a more benign death scene and the addition of the father-son relationship, it became a cuddly holiday family film.

"I think what people see in Tim Allen," says Williams, "is a man-child. He's attractive, sensitive and strong, and he's a little impish 12-year-old boy. You feel like he could be you." People might feel the same way about Allen's offstage life. He lives in the San Fernando Valley with his wife Laura and five-year-old daughter Kady. But they travel frequently back to Michigan and just bought a lake house in the northern part of the state, right next door to his in-laws. Allen remains friendly with a clubhouse gang of old neighborhood pals. Ken Calvert, a Detroit disc jockey, still tries to match him in things like power lawn mowers. Calvert cross-cut his yard with twin 21- in.-blade Lawn-Boys; Allen bested him with a John Deere riding mower -- with Baby Moon hubcaps.

Allen's leisure-time pleasures include a collection of automobiles -- among them a '66 Ferrari and a pair of Mustangs. His latest passion is reading books on physics. Allen remains close with his family, though they're seeing less of him. Allen missed his stepfather's ordination as an Episcopalian deacon last June but managed to make it to the Detroit Grand Prix the next day. "You can imagine, we were very disappointed," says his pink-cheeked, white-haired, mother, known as Marty. She is also a little bothered by the chapter in Allen's book in which he makes fun of his original family name. "It's not something I would recommend reading," she says. "I don't like the connotations."

On the set of his TV show, Allen jokes easily and incessantly with cast and crew, who are effusive in their praise of him. "There are stars who have an imperial rule," says Carmen Finestra, one of the show's co-creators. "Tim has made this a great place to work." He can be fussy about scripts, but there are no shouting fits. Says co-star Richardson: "When Tim gets tired or bummed, he gets quiet and stops entertaining the crew. That's the way he keeps himself under control."

Beneath that control is an anxiously competitive man. Allen paces furiously backstage before performances to work off his nervous energy. He scrutinizes each week's ratings and sometimes broods over them. Right now he is unhappy that Frasier -- which NBC moved opposite his show this season -- has been cutting into Home Improvement's audience. "Frasier is killing us," Allen confides. "He's taking away our heat." (Home Improvement still beats Frasier handily, but it has slipped from the No. 1 spot in a few recent weeks.)

Another thing that bothers Allen is that Home Improvement, despite its high ratings, rarely gets much attention from the critics -- or statuettes at the , Emmy Awards. "It hurts because I have so many people ((on the show)) I feel for," he says. "I get rewarded for this, but for the crew and the people who really grunt to get things done on this show -- well, I take it as an affront to all of them. Everybody wants to have what we have and be No. 1. But after you get here, then what do you want? Roseanne said something to me: 'You've already been No. 1. Don't make it your life's goal to stay No. 1, because that will not happen. Move on, strengthen your team, and go forward again."'

Allen has more places to go forward than almost anybody. He seems almost embarrassed at his power. "Now I go to meetings, and if I just start to say something, everybody shuts up. And any idea I say, people go, 'Oh, yeah!"' Among other things, he's writing a movie script about a mad scientist. "It's about how quickly you could change the world and how everybody could do it," Allen explains. "The more I read about physics and science, the more I know that a guy like me of rather average intelligence but a lot of interest could make things happen." As if he already hasn't.

With reporting by Patrick E. Cole and Jeffrey Ressner/Los Angeles and William McWhirter/Detroit

An Article from The New York Times

After Being No. 1, What? Ask Tim Allen

Published: September 14, 1995

Tim Allen, who in the past year has rewritten the standard for success in show business by headlining a No. 1 television show, writing the No. 1 best-selling book and starring in the No. 1 movie all at the same time, said he had been thinking a lot about despair lately. And he's not setting up a punch line.

"Time magazine did a cover story on despair a few weeks ago," he said. "This is the most creative time I've ever had in my life and yet I feel like I'm half empty, the tank is half empty."

Others might see a tank that runneth over with high-octane fame, money and celebrity. Mr. Allen's career is so full he has missed the past two vacations from his show working on other projects. "My wife says they treat me as if I'm a Federal Express package."

Last week Mr. Allen was shipped into New York for a week's promotional tour to talk about his latest projects:

*The hugely lucrative start this week of the syndicated reruns on Fox Television of his hit ABC comedy, "Home Improvement."

*The new season of "Home Improvement," which starts on ABC on Tuesday.

*The forthcoming, and much anticipated, Disney animated movie "Toy Story," in which Mr. Allen's voice stars (along with that of Tom Hanks).

*The release of his best-selling book "Don't Stand Too Close to a Naked Man" in paperback (Hyperion).

In addition to all this, there is the marketing introduction of the sleek, shiny new hammer that he helped design and that he hopes will be the start of a "Tim Allen signature series" of tool and gadget products, with profits to go to charity, much like the line of food products put out by Paul Newman.

But Mr. Allen has more on his mind than an endless celebration of his successes. Though his comic persona, both from his long years as a stand-up comedian and his role as the Tool Man on "Home Improvement," is that of an amiably goofy male chauvinist, Mr. Allen is a thoughtful and highly competitive man, aware of both the power his stardom has brought him, and how fragile that stardom can be.

"All the energy it took to get here," he said, "I don't think I'll have it again. It slides down and that realizaton causes this very subtle but sinister despair."

If he is despairing, it hasn't stopped Mr. Allen from endlessly jotting down ideas for comic bits on any available scrap of paper, or staying in constant touch by Powerbook with his "Home Improvement" staff in Hollywood.

Nor does it in any way diminish a fire that burns with the intensity of a big-time college football coach. He has a thing for being No. 1.

"All of business and all of sports wants to be No. 1," he said. "It's a frightening view from there because there's nothing left. It's a gorgeous feeling but if you don't like looking down, which I don't, there is no place to look."

Mr. Allen's perspective is colored by a feat he calls the "trifecta." He can cite exactly when it happened: the first week of December 1994. That Tuesday, "Home Improvement" finished in its usual No. 1 position in television, and that weekend his movie for Disney "The Santa Clause" became the top movie at the box office. It was also the week his book of observations on male life was at the top of the New York Times best-seller list.

"I'm really proud of that," Mr. Allen said. "That had never been done before, and it's going to be very difficult to repeat it."

Mr. Allen's competitiveness was severely tested this past season by ABC's decision to move "Home Improvement" out of its unassailable position on Wednesdays at 9 to Tuesdays at 9. ABC felt it needed its biggest weapon to stave off the challenge of "Frasier," which NBC had moved against ABC's "Roseanne."

The "Home Improvement" shift allowed ABC to hold on to its winning position on Tuesdays, but it cost Mr. Allen's show a second year as television's highest-rated series. It fell to third place.

"I'm a businessman, and I'm loyal to my network," said Mr. Allen, who added that he had approved the move beforehand. "I saw what NBC was doing. I didn't think 'Roseanne' could handle it." So he told ABC, "I'm with you."

Nevertheless, Mr. Allen feels the sting of losing the top-show title.

"Roseanne told me, 'Tim, you've got to let this stuff go,' " Mr. Allen said. "But even though I love Kelsey Grammer and I like his show, I refuse to watch it and be one of those extra viewers." Mr. Grammer is the star of "Frasier."

What makes finishing third particularly galling for Mr. Allen is that the show on top was NBC's "Seinfeld." Mr. Allen's competitive heart clearly beats fastest of all when that show and star are moved to the television line of scrimmage.

"Home Improvement" and "Seinfeld" went head to head in 1991. "They had a very tough time against us," Mr. Allen noted. "We buried them, in fact."

Now "Seinfeld" is thriving on Thursdays, though Mr. Allen said, "They have a test pattern against them; they haven't been challenged at all."

The extra insult for Mr. Allen is the press's fondness for "Seinfeld" and what he feels is a lack of respect for his show. That same inequality, he believes, plays out in the Emmy Awards, in which "Home Improvement" has been notably snubbed.

Mr. Allen himself was not recognized this year by a nomination for best actor in a comedy. "It doesn't change my money or anything, but it irritates me," Mr. Allen said. "I'm in that group. To say one of those guys is a better actor than the others -- well, who's really acting here?"

Increasingly Mr. Allen is trying to take personal charge of as much of his work as he can. He fought ABC and Disney, which owns his series, to shoot the season's first episode of "Home Improvement" on location in his home state, Michigan (the show is set in a Detroit suburb). He even described the effort to design his hammer, with a company called Hart Hammer, as arduous. "I knew exactly what I wanted. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what I wanted." Still, it took a year and a half for Mr. Allen to be satisfied.

Similarly, he has started to watch closely how the Disney marketing machine cashes in on his hit show. He noted that Disney distributed "Home Improvement" T-shirts nationally. "And so I get a check -- and yes, I'm joking here -- for $68. So I say, 'You're writing off somebody's helicopter rides or the maintenance on that Dumbo thing. I'm just guessing here.' "

Mr. Allen's relationship with Disney remains solid, however. He may do another book for Disney. He has just agreed to make a new film for Disney called "Indian in the City." He expects "Toy Story," the first completely computer-animated movie, to be a big hit.

And "Home Improvement" rolls on. "We're a battleship," he said, though he still worries, of course. Mr. Allen said he was concerned about the reruns of the show playing six days a week and possibly diluting the public taste for his series.

"But I like the term 'well crafted' for our show," he said. "We repeat really well. We're like spaghetti, even better the second time."

An Article from The New York Times

Too Popular for Its Own Good

Published: December 5, 1995

In television, most hit series are like dogs, at least in terms of life spans.

If a show reaches 10 or 11 years, it's a senior citizen. But five years works out to a robust 35, the prime of prime-time life.

That's what makes the plight of ABC's "Home Improvement," the runaway leader in the Nielsen ratings race two years ago, so startling. The show is only in its fifth year. Its star, Tim Allen, is one of the most successful figures in show business. His voice (along with that of Tom Hanks) is featured in the most popular movie in the country, "Toy Story." Yet "Home Improvement" has seen its ratings go into a steep slide this season.

Two years ago, the show, a family comedy in which Mr. Allen plays a television Mr. Fix-It who bumbles his way through life heading a household with a strong wife and three rambunctious sons, was so daunting that rival networks were loath to put any promising show up against it.

Now "Home Improvement" isn't even among the top five shows in television.

It is sixth, trailing the five shows on NBC's powerhouse Thursday-night schedule. But "Home Improvement" has lost about 20 percent of its rating from just a year ago. Through the end of November 1994, it was averaging a 20.5 rating. This season, the average is down to a 17.5, but the figures for the last four weeks are even lower, declining to 16.5. (Each rating point represents 959,000 homes.)

Though some competitors have pointed to a number of reasons for the show's slide, including ABC's risky decision in 1994 to move it from a comfortable slot on Wednesdays to Tuesdays, where it was forced to take on NBC's much-liked comedy "Frasier," the basic explanation is no mystery.

The fact is, "Home Improvement" still has the biggest weekly audience of any show on television. The problem for ABC is that about 40 percent of that audience is watching it on different channels.

As the biggest new hit in syndication, "Home Improvement" has been averaging a 10.1 rating for its repeats, which now play on local stations around the country five or six times a week. That means that on Tuesday nights, the show has, in effect, a cumulative 26 rating.

While that is good news for the Walt Disney company, which owns "Home Improvement," it isn't for ABC, at least not until Disney completes its takeover of that network in January.

The track record of shows that go into syndication while still broadcasting new episodes indicates a pattern of prime-time ratings erosion. Steve Sternberg, a senior partner of BJK&E Media who has done a study on the impact of syndication, said that more than 75 percent of shows syndicated since 1987 lost network ratings during their initial year in syndication.

Ted Harbert, the president of ABC Entertainment, argued that "Home Improvement" was more vulnerable to that phenomenon than other series are because so much of its appeal is to families with children. "I think if kids and teens can get their 'Home Improvement' fix earlier in the evening, they might not feel like they have to stick around for the new episode on Tuesday night," he said.

Many of the local stations are broadcasting it at 7 or 7:30 P.M., directly before the network prime-time hours begin. In New York, for example, the syndicated repeats of "Home Improvement" play at 7:30 P.M. on Channel 5. That station ran a wide promotional campaign this fall telling viewers "Home Improvement" was now on Channel 5.

"We've always had a thing where kids have asked to stay up to watch 'Home Improvement' at 9," Mr. Harbert said. "Now parents can say: 'You already watched at 7, so you don't have to stay up so late.' " NBC's "Seinfeld," by contrast, has achieved far different results this season, also its first in syndication. "Seinfeld," aimed at the 18-to-25-year-old group, is actually up in its prime-time ratings.

Mr. Harbert said that was partly because that show is scheduled on an overpowering night of big ratings for its network, but mainly because the repeats are broadcast in late-night time periods, like 11 P.M., as it is in New York on Channel 11. "Nobody thinks, 'Oh, I'll see 'Seinfeld' later so I can skip it at 9,' " Mr. Harbert said.

Seinfeld" and "Home Improvement" have always been closely associated because they used to be televised head-to-head on Wednesday nights. In those days, "Seinfeld" was drubbed, only to be reborn as a hit when it was moved to Thursdays.

The falloff of "Home Improvement" has been so sharp that Mr. Allen, always an intense ratings' follower, called Mr. Harbert last week, concerned that the show's quality might be declining.

"I told him I didn't think that was true at all," Mr. Harbert said. "I think what I told him about syndication made him feel better."

A spokesman for Wind Dancer Productions, which created the series, said yesterday that the company preferred not to comment.

Mr. Allen said in an interview last summer that he was very concerned about the show's being overexposed by syndication. One other frequently cited factor in the show's recent decline was ABC's decision to use repeats of "Home Improvement" many times over the last two years to help out in other time periods. "That may have diluted the show's audience a bit," said Mr. Sternberg of BJK&E Media.

Mr. Harbert discounted that, saying it was a common programming technique.

Several executives at NBC have said that moving "Home Improvement" to Tuesday nights may have taken a year or two off the prime-time life of the show. At the time of the move, ABC feared that "Frasier" would storm past the Tuesday series "Roseanne," which was already itself in syndication and therefore showing signs of ratings erosion.

But Mr. Harbert said he had no regrets about the decision to move "Home Improvement" to Tuesday. "If we hadn't done it, we'd be in big trouble on Tuesday," he said. "I want to say, 'That's life in the big city.' "

"It still wins its time period," he said, "and that's what I care most about. The show is just as much fun as ever."

An Article from The New York Times

Media Talk; No More 'Improvement,' Its 2 Stars Insist

Published: January 18, 1999

Last winter Jerry Seinfeld told the world he was leaving his NBC hit comedy, ''Seinfeld.'' That kicked off the retrospectives.

This winter Tim Allen is telling the world he is leaving his ABC hit comedy, ''Home Improvement.'' That has kicked off the negotiations.

Mr. Allen could hardly have been more definitive about his intentions in a news conference here. ''It's our show and this is when we want to call it quits,'' Mr. Allen said. Mr. Allen's co-star, Patricia Richardson, was only slightly less definite when asked if anything might induce her to return. ''Nothing I can imagine at this point,'' she said. ''There'd have to be a lot more creative thinking about it.''

In one attempt at creativity, the figure of $2 million an episode for Mr. Allen and $1 million an episode for Ms. Richardson has been been floated. That would add up to $44 million and $22 million respectively.

The stars' comments about wrapping up the show this season came just one day after ABC executives said there were still ''discussions'' going on about whether the show would return next season.

In a news conference here, ABC executives danced carefully away from any clear indication of just how badly the network wants the show back. But in private they acknowledged that the show is a crucial part of plans for next season because ABC is stockpiling promising comedies but lacks a show that could replace ''Home Improvement'' at 8 P.M. Tuesdays. The chairman of ABC Entertainment, Stu Bloomberg , described the issue as ''very delicate.'' It certainly is complicated, despite the fact -- or perhaps because of the fact -- that the show is owned by the Walt Disney Company, which also owns ABC.

The production company that makes ''Home Improvement,'' Wind Dancer, has sued Disney, contending that Disney unfairly renewed the contract for the show with ABC two years ago without seeking a competing bid from another network.

Any open suggestion by ABC that it needs the show desperately and is willing to pay an enormous price for it could have an effect on the suit, which turns on whether the show's profit participants received fair market value two years ago.

Despite all of that, negotiations to continue the series are going on, one executive involved in the discussions said. BILL CARTER

Earl Hindman's Obituary

Earl Hindman dies at 61; played Wilson on 'Home Improvement'

NEW YORK (AP) Actor Earl Hindman, best known for playing a neighbor whose face was forever obscured by a fence on the television show Home Improvement, died of lung cancer Monday in Stamford, Conn. He was 61.

As Wilson, the neighbor of Tim Allen's character on the long-running sitcom, Hindman dispensed folksy advice from behind a white picket fence, with only his eyes and forehead visible to audiences. Before appearing on the show, he played Detective Lt. Bob Reid for 16 years on the daytime drama Ryan's Hope.

He made his name in New York theater, appearing in Dark of the Moon off-Broadway in 1970 and in The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel at the Public Theater in 1971. He also acted in two short-lived Broadway plays and in several movies, including The Ballad of the Sad Cafe (1991) and Final (2001).

He was born in Bisbee, Ariz., and studied acting at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

To watch some clips from Home Improvement go to

For the Official Home Page of Home Improvement go to

For the Home Improvement International Fan Club go to

For Tim's TV Showcase go to

For a Website dedicated to Home Improvement go to

For a look at the crossover between Home Improvement and Soul Man go to

For an article about Home Improvement go to

For The untold truth of Home Improvement go to

For some Home Improvement-related interview videos at the Archive of American Television go to

For 2 great reviews of Home Improvement go to and
Date: Sun March 28, 2004 � Filesize: 81.6kb, 52.8kbDimensions: 597 x 754 �
Keywords: Home Improvement


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