Perhaps no other stand-up comedian in the industry left more of an impact on television sitcoms than Denver, Colorado native, actor, and voice-over artist Timothy “Tim” Allen Dick (born June 13, 1953). From 1991 to 1999, Allen’s show Home Improvement, created by Producers Matt Williams, Carmen Finestra, and David MacFadzean, continued to win countless awards, including several Top TV Series awards (even after the show’s termination), Kid’s Choice awards, People’s Choice Awards, TV Guide Awards, and a Young Star Award. The show featured the adventures of the often dysfunctional Taylor family: Tim Taylor (Allen), wife/mother Jill Taylor (actress Patricia Richardson), and their three sons Brad (Zachary Ty Bryan), Randy (Jonathan Taylor Thomas), and Mark (Taran Noah Smith).
As the power-loving host of the “low-rated” cable tool/home improvement show Tool Time, the oft uncouth and inept Tim Taylor would begrudgingly rely on the knowledge and talents of his personal assistant Al Borland (played by actor turned game show host Richard Karn) to resolve many a dilemma. Tim’s uncanny ability to wreck, destroy, or explode every building or repair project became the comical norm for the show. But besides giving Allen and co-star/tool girl Pamela Anderson the beginning of their television careers, Home Improvement also saw dozens of non-actor cameos over the years.
Race Car Drivers Johnny Rutherford, Robby Gordon, Mario & Michael Andretti, Al Unser Sr., Jr., and III
One thing to be said about Home Improvement, as well as Allen’s character (who was largely based on the comedian’s own tour material), was that it certainly reinforced the cultural stereotypes of men during the nineties as lovers of all things fast, furious, powerful, and unhealthy. From power tools, muscle cars, and speedboats to potato chips, liverwurst, and beer, Tim Taylor stood out as a man of many tastes. But as a tool show host, Taylor knew how to please his audience with special guests and, on more than one occasion, brought on several speed demons, including and most notably Italian-born, father & son racing duo Mario and Michael Andretti. During the Andretti episode, Tim humorously played to the unspoken competiveness between father Mario and son Michael, much to the approval of a laughing studio audience, suggesting the two challenge one another in an automobile race.
Additionally, Tim would regularly bring his own classic hot rod vehicles onto the show for discussions and tinkering with many of the aforementioned drivers. And, as was the case in nearly each episode, his clumsiness and comical antics often destroyed something. Interestingly, as a real-life lover of building classic cars from the ground up, Allen’s on-show hot rods were those from his own personal life as a collector of vintage automobiles.
Bob Vila: Real-Life Home Improvement Host of This Old House (1979-1989) and Home Again (2005-2007)
Cuban-American home improvement TV show host Bob Vila (born June 20, 1946) made guest appearances in dozens of episodes during the course of the series, beginning with season one’s “What About Bob?” (a play on the title of the 1991 movie of the same name, starring actors Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss, directed by master puppeteer and voice artist Frank Oz of Sesame Street and Star Wars (Yoda) fame). In true Home Improvement comedic style, Vila and Tim Taylor constantly clashed as rivals, with Bob always being cast as the more knowledgeable and capable home repair guru. Much to Tim’s frustration, his loyal friend and Tool Time co-host Al Borland made it abundantly clear what a huge Bob Vila fan he was, and was always seen gushing at the very sight of his home improvement hero. During Vila’s first appearance on Tool Time, he shakes hands with Al, who calls him “Mr. Vila.” In a lighthearted and courteous manner Bob says, “Please, call me Bob”, to which Al replies, “I can’t.”
In the Season Two’s “The Great Race”, Tim challenges Bob to a riding lawnmower race, one which, naturally, ends in catastrophe and pain for Tim-even though Tim believed his super-amplified riding mower (which he outfitted with a jet engine off of a Chinook helicopter) would beat anything Bob pulled up to the starting line with. Season Three’s “The Great Race II” found Tim and Bob locked in a hot rod challenge: Tim’s 1933 blue Ford Roadster convertible (nicknamed “The Blue Goose”) vs. Bob’s custom-built, hot-rod yellow Plymouth Prowler. Although they were neck-and-neck during most of the quarter mile drag line, Bob managed to win by an inch or two, as Tim held back for fear of pushing his newly built engine over the red line.
Robert Picardo: Best Known as The Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001)
Having made two appearances on Home Improvement, Emmy-nominated actor Robert Picardo played Tim’s annoying neighbor Joe “The Meat Man” Morton in the episodes “A Sew, Sew Evening” and “Blow-Up” (early in the third season). It was revealed early on that Joe was married to Jill’s best friend Marie, who often dropped by the house to pig out on chocolate with Jill and talk about her marital problems (which usually tended to circulate around issues concerning Joe). Picardo vanished after his second cameo appearance and, in the fifth season episode “Jill’s Surprise Party”, it was explained that he had left Marie “for a younger woman.” (Home Improvement TV Series on Wikipedia: www.wikipedia.org).
Picardo’s short run on Home Improvement is attributed to his gaining the role of the EMH (Emergency Medical Hologram) Doctor in the highly-acclaimed sci-fi series Star Trek: Voyager, which ran on the UPN television network for several years. Voyager was the first and only Trek series to feature a female starship captain: Captain Kathryn Janeway, played by actress Kate Mulgrew.