The Conners isn’t the only TV show from the ’90s spilling onto TV schedules today.
Now, 30 years after it premiered, one of the biggest sitcoms of the ’90s is back — sort of. Home Improvement ran on ABC from 1991 to 1999 and made a star out of comedian Tim Allen. At one point, the future “Toy Story” and Last Man Standing lead had the No. 1 TV show, movie “The Santa Clause” and bestselling book in America.
Home Improvement was really a family sitcom but each episode also included the show-within-a-show, “Tool Time.” This allowed Tim Taylor (Allen) and his more skilled co-host, Al Borland (played by Richard Karn) to grunt around as TV handymen, sharing woodworking tips that often went awry.
Back then, Allen and company were goofing on PBS’s This Old House, the blueprint, if you will, for many DIY shows to follow. The spoof vamped things up, however, adding a Tool Time girl — at first Pamela Anderson, then Debbie Dunning.
Jump forward 30 years, and the cable channel History — not HGTV or other how-to TV options — have reunited Allen and Karn to host a new, 10-episode competition series. The premise is simple: each episode, three contestants have to build some crazy-ass thing suggested by Allen and Karn — from an all season ice melter/leaf blower to a BBQ bicycle –and make it with, as they used to say on Home Improvement, “More Power.”
Joining them on the series is actual do-it-yourself YouTube star April Wilkerson, clearly not the token Tool Time girl from the last century. Allen, Karn and Wilkerson all took part in a recent zoom conference with TV critics.
Allen said he’s had this idea for a spin-off series for a long time. He didn’t think Karn would be interested in joining him at first.
I see Richard socially. I never even thought about it and then one of my management team says, “Why don’t you ask Richard to host it with you?” The only hesitation was I didn’t want to embarrass myself by going, “Would you mind doing, a kind of, look at, fix it?” And he jumped at the chance. And then all of a sudden, it became, the two of us, kind of a live version of “Tool Time,” if you will. We’re very similar to the characters we play in that show.
Karn claims to be fairly handy in real life.
“My dad was a builder, my grandfather was a builder,” he told critics. “I’ve always really respected that part of our society, our minds, being able to do that. Like Tim said, things break around the house and sometimes you don’t wanna throw it away because it might be just a little, tiny thing that’ll fix it and it’ll work perfectly instead of going into a trash heap.”
Allen, who grew up in Detroit, is more into fixing cars than houses. At the time of the zoom call, he was busy in his garage working on a ’66 Chevy Corvette.
“It’s America’s version of the Porsche,” said Allen, 67. “I’ve had some real technical people, some great people at my shop. We’ve been working in my car shop from the day this pandemic started.” Allen says he’s also working on an electric hot rod, “which is blasphemous to the hot rod community,” he admits.
The duo was asked by veteran TCA reporter Howard Benjamin how their Laurel and Hardy-like chemistry developed. “Our relationship kind of happened before we knew what it was,” answered Karn. “We took our cues from audience reaction to us but we didn’t know there was anything really outstanding about how we’re playing off each other. We were just doing our job, and the writers were able to watch that and lean into it and write for it.”
Allen, who went from stand-up straight into sitcom, says he really relied on Karns to guide him into his marks in the early days. “He’s a consummate professional and a genuinely calm-hearted person, and it was a perfect match to pull me out of having to go insane.”
Assembly Required premieres Tuesday, Feb. 23 on History in the US and Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 10 p.m. ET on History in Canada.