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25 Years Since Home Improvement's Final Episode

After last week's article about the 40th anniversary of the final episode of Hart to Hart, it's a fitting time to reminisce about the anniversary of the final episode of another television show that reached millions throughout its 8 seasons.  My family is, and was, proud to be a small part of those millions of viewers who tuned in each week to watch Home Improvement.  The show was very special in my household when I was young, and I'm eager to discuss it a little today.

A quarter of a century ago, on May 25, 1999, Home Improvement signed off the airwaves for the final time.  I can remember watching the episode with my parents that evening, bringing nearly a decade of what we considered appointment viewing to a close.  For reference, I had just started second grade when the show debuted in 1991, and by May 1999, I would have been finishing up my freshman year of high school.  

Like several other families in America (I assume), we often called Home Improvement by the wrong name.  We always just called it  "Tool Time."  Tool Time was actually the name of the fictional home improvement show "within the show," and that just became what we called the whole thing.

Immediately following the debut episode, Home Improvement became appointment television for us.  We watched only a handful of sitcoms together while we were young, and Home Improvement made the cut.  Back in the early 90s, my parents were strict about the content on television in our home, and Home Improvement was wholesome family television.  We all watched together, and that made it special for me.  We enjoyed it as a family, which many families don't do anymore now that everyone is in a different room with their own streaming device.

Dad was (and is) very handy and a pro with power tools and for a time in the 80s and 90s, he even owned his own "home care" business.  He always watched shows like Bob Villa and This Old House, so naturally, he liked Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor.  We all did.  If we were going out of the house on a Tuesday night for some reason, my Dad happily spent the 18 minutes it took to program a VCR to record it.  

The show is so important to my childhood that it was easily the first show I selected for my "Holidays on..." sitcom series.  That series was started on the defunct Retro Network website, but you can find the older articles in the "Collections" tab, as well as other sitcoms covered only here on YesterYear Retro, like Roseanne, Frasier, and Full House.  

Not much can transport me back to my parent's living room like watching an old episode of Home Improvement.  All four of us laughed along with the Taylors, often so hard that Granny would complain the next day that she could hear us from next door!  

It wasn't just about the power tools or the renovations for us.  It was about the family, as we all followed Tim, Jill, and the boys navigate the challenges of raising their three boys.  The show resonated with us, and millions more, because it presented fairly realistic situations relatable to a modern 90s family but with a very healthy dose of humor.  The show would also cover some surprisingly tricky topics for a sitcom of that era, like self-esteem, bullying, and changing family dynamics.  Of course, as I'll mention in a bit, the show (in my opinion) went off track towards the end of its run, covering this kind of topic in a little too much detail without much of the laughter of the earlier seasons.

The show debuted on ABC on September 17, 1991, to 28 million viewers.  Over the course of the series, the show would peak in Season Three with an average of 35 million viewers per episode.  By 1998, and the start of Season Eight, total viewership had dropped to an average of 17 million per episode, dipping as low as 13 million at one point.  The three-part finale, however, brought in 17 million for "The Long and Winding Road (Part One) on May 17, 1999, and a whopping 35.6 million viewers for Parts 2 and 3 that aired on May 25.  

I can easily see why the ratings took a steep decline towards the end of the show, and I readily admit that the final season or two wasn't so great.  The show became pretty "heavy," dealing with issues like death, illness, and divorce.  

At the end of Season Seven, Jonathan Taylor Thomas announced he was leaving the show and his role as the middle son, Randy, wishing to concentrate on his college education.  In the second episode of Season Eight, Randy left for Costa Rica with his girlfriend in a school-run volunteer program.  

Tensions flared amongst the cast when he refused to return for the series finale at the end of the season, although he did appear briefly during the Christmas episode that final season.  

Patricia Richardson told TV Guide at the time that his not returning was a "pretty sore point" for the cast and that she "didn't think it was a good idea that he didn't show up," claiming he frequently received poor advice from family and friends.  Tim Allen said that he thought JTT refused to appear because he (Allen) had questioned whether education was truly the reason for his decision to leave the show.  Tim Allen and others questioned his true motives when Thomas appeared in several films immediately following his exit from Home Improvement, such as "I Woke Up Early The Day I Died," "Walking Across Egypt," and "Speedway Junky."  

Still, after his exit, Thomas attended Columbia, Harvard, and Scotland's St. Andrews.  Whatever the rift between Allen and Jonathan was, it appears to have been mended when, in 2013, JTT made multiple appearances on Allen's sitcom, "Last Man Standing."  

When JTT left the show, the dynamics of the entire family changed.  The bickering eldest and youngest son quickly became friends, and Jill's school and work life became more demanding on the entire family.  The stresses of major life changes, while somewhat realistic to a viewer's everyday life, caused the show to become too heavy for such a lighthearted comedy escape, especially when Jill and Tim became viscously combative all too often.  

Rather than the comedic content fans were used to, the show featured serious issues for the Taylors.  Tim and Jill weren't the only ones who experienced "marital issues" when Tim's younger brother Marty revealed that he was separated and getting a divorce from his wife in Season Eight's episode "Thanks, but No Thanks."  Suddenly, Tim and Jill find themselves raising young children again after they offer Marty and the girls a place to stay.  It all got to be too much for them, leading to much bickering.  

In a two-part episode toward the start of the final season, Jill requires an emergency hysterectomy after it's revealed that she's been "too busy" to visit the doctor over the past several years.  Tim initially helps her face her fears, but he is then faced with the fear of potentially losing her when complications arise during surgery.  Once recovered from surgery, her hormonal changes created even more discord in the Taylor house.  

In the Season Eight episode titled "Not-So-Great Scott," Jill breaks her patient-doctor confidentiality when she tells Tim that one of her patients described having a tryst with a married man who looked and sounded an awful lot like Heidi's (the Tool Girl on Tool Time) husband, Scott.  Tim tells Heidi, who confronts her husband and winds up getting a divorce because of his cheating ways.  

In episode 20 of Season Eight, Al tells his mother, Alma, that he'd proposed to Trudy.  Immediately, Alma gets upset, has a heart attack, and passes away.  The episode is also called "Dead Weight," a funny yet somewhat cruel joke at the expense of the rather rotund Mrs. Borland.

These are just some of the things that brought the show down as the show came to a close.  

I won't even get into the oft-discussed Halloween episode in Season Seven, where Mark makes a school-project film in which he murders the entire family.  Or the Season Seven episode arc in which Jill contemplates cheating on Tim with a man from the gym.  Or the episode in which Tim almost loses his friendship with Wilson when he gets angry that Wilson won $10,000 on tickets that Tim had given him.  Who could forget the downer episode where Randy (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) volunteers at a hospice center in Season Seven when he sees so much death that he questions his religion.  Or the episode from a previous season when Randy may or may not have cancer.  Or when Brad hurts his knee and can't play soccer and basically tells his Dad that he's dead to him because it happened during Tool Time.

I mean, I understand that not every episode is going to be happy-go-lucky, but come on!  Toward the end of the series, there was just one downer after another.

Immediately following Al's mother's death in episode 20, we head into the two-part finale, "The Long and Winding Road."  

Part One of "The Long and Winding Road" aired on May 18, 1999, and set the stage for the final episode.  In this one, Tim's new producer, Morgan, stages a fight on the show to "pop" a rating, much like you'd find on the (then) insanely popular talk show, The Jerry Springer Show.  When Tim discovers Morgan staged the fight and that his friend and old boss, Bud, has left Binford Tools, Tim quits in disgust, and Al and Heidi follow his lead.  When he returns home, he finds out that Jill has been offered a well-paying, prestigious job working with a well-known psychologist.  Unfortunately, the job is in Indiana, far from their home in Detroit.

Part Two was technically a clip show.  It aired the following week, on May 25, 1999, at 8PM in the show's usual timeslot.  Centered around a ride to school in the morning, the boys discuss the great memories the Taylor family shared over the years.  New scenes were shot for the ride to school as the boys set up each highlight package.

Part Three aired immediately after the clip show at 8:30PM Eastern and was the meat and potatoes of what every one of the nearly 36 million people tuned in for.  We all wanted to know what would happen to the Taylor family.

When Jill initially told Tim about her job offer, he quickly shut it down and refused to consider moving.  As Tim has done in nearly every episode, he seeks advice from his neighbor, Wilson, who reminds Tim that Jill gave up everything for Tim's job at one point.  Tim tells the boys (minus Randy) about the job offer.  Naturally, they are hesitant at first but then realize that if it's best for their mother, they agree to move to Indiana.  

Meanwhile, Jill is outside talking to Wilson, seeking his advice.  He tells her, "Jill, there is no limit to what you can accomplish, but if you want me to stand here and sell my best friends on leaving, I really cannot do that."  

For Tool Time's final episode, the new producer wants Tim, Al, and Heidi to set fire to the set to grab ratings.  Tim, Al, and Heidi refuse and instead bring back many old friends and guests of the show, such as the boys from K&B Construction.  They reflect on the past and say goodbye, but because Tim is Tim, he accidentally sets fire to the set anyway.  

Afterward, Al Borland is getting ready to marry Trudy.  The wedding is set to take place in the tiny side/back yard of the Taylor house, and Tim and Wilson agree to take down the fence between the houses to create more space for the wedding.  Just when fans think we'll finally see Wilson's face, the gag continues.  

The producer offers Tim even more money to return to the show, but Tim turns it down.  He doesn't tell Jill about the offer, but the producer spills the beans at the house before the wedding.  Jill kicks the producer out of the house as she realizes what Tim is giving up for her.

After the wedding ceremony, Jill pulls Tim into the garage to talk in private, as they have many times over the course of the series.  Jill thanks Tim for quitting the show for her but tells him she has changed her mind and doesn't want to move.  Just then, the boys enter the garage, and the entire family sits in the hot rod that has taken Tim nearly a decade to build.  

After the reception is over and the house is quiet, Tim and Jill are alone in the backyard.  They share a tender moment before Jill says, "I just can't imagine leaving this house."  This gives Tim an idea.  

He looked over the house briefly and said, "Well, if we ever decide to move, maybe we won't have to leave the house."  

It's up for debate whether the final scene is either reality or fantasy, but we see Tim and Jill in the cabin of a truck driving down the road.  Behind them, on a massive trailer, sits the entire Taylor house en route to their new lives in Indiana.  

The "true" final episode of Home Improvement aired later that night, titled "Backstage Pass."   In yet another clip show, ABC provided several never-before-seen vignettes, including behind-the-scenes footage, cast interviews, and outtakes. 

Most memorable for many fans was the cast's final curtain call after filming the last episode... including the reveal of Earl Hindman's (Wilson) full face!  My family was blown away that they finally let you see it!  Before the wide use of the internet, it was pretty easy for him to keep his face a secret, a feat that would be impossible today.

You can watch the entire final curtain call below, including the reveal of Wilson's face.

It has been reported that Tim Allen turned down an additional $50 million (and Patricia Richardson said no to $25 million) to complete a 9th season.  Tim Allen said the show had run out of fresh ideas, and he was ready for a break.

Over the last 25 years, the lives of the cast of Home Improvement have taken a few twists and turns.  Let's take a look, shall we?  

Tim Allen (Tim Taylor): The show's central character continued his successful career in film and television, continuing to star in the Disney/Pixar franchise "Toy Story" as the voice of Buzz Lightyear and the "Santa Clause" film franchise.  He began what he calls a "spiritual successor" to Home Improvement with the sitcom "Last Man Standing" on ABC from 2011 to 2017.  

Despite consistent ratings, ABC used an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel's late-night talk show, where Allen jokingly compared being a conservative to living in Nazi Germany, to cancel the series.  He was asked about his real-life political leanings (Allen is a Republican) and mentioned that being a conservative in Hollywood (and elsewhere) is "akin to being in 1930's Germany.  You gotta be real careful around here, you know.  You'll get beat up if you don't believe what everybody else believes."  

Despite the show delivering consistent ratings on Friday nights, ABC President Channing Dungey canceled it.  Later, Dungey pivoted that canceling the show was "challenging because, while it was a steady performer..." added that once ABC decided to not continue with comedy on Friday nights, the show was not worth moving.  Allen insisted to Variety that the show was canceled because a "funny conservative character is dangerous."  Weeks later, FOX picked up the series for one final season, looking to capitalize on the publicity (good or bad) surrounding the show.

In 2022, Allen debuted a show on the History Channel called "More Power," reunited with Richard Karn, covering the history of tools.  

In March 2024, Allen posted on Facebook that he was working on a new sitcom for ABC titled "Shifting Gears."  In it, he will play a widowed owner of a classic car restoration shop.  His estranged "politically polar-opposite" daughter and her teenagers move in with him.  Kat Dennings (Two Broke Girls) is expected to play his daughter.

Patricia Richardson (Jill Taylor):  The voice of reason in the Taylor household, Richardson has continued to act in various TV shows, including "The West Wing" and "Grey's Anatomy." She is also a successful theater actress and advocate for various social causes.  She appeared a handful of times on Allen's sitcom "Last Man Standing" and has spent the later years of her career performing on stage.

Richard Karn (Al Borland):  Tim's loyal sidekick on Tool Time, Karn has remained active in television, appearing in shows like "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch" and "NCIS: New Orleans."  He also hosts a podcast and continues to do voice acting, as well as serving as host for several infomercials.  Karn also hosted a show on The History Channel with Tim Allen, titled "More Power," in 2022.

Zachery Ty Bryan (Brad Taylor):  The eldest Taylor son, Bryan had appeared in film and television, including roles in "Veronica Mars," "Smallville," "Touched by an Angel," "Burn Notice," and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." He also appeared in the 2006 film "Fast and The Furious:  Tokyo Drift."  

Since then, he's faced several rounds of legal problems.  In October 2020, Bryan was held on several charges, including felony strangulation, misdemeanor charges of fourth-degree assault, and interfering with making a police report after an argument with his girlfriend.  He pleaded guilty to two charges, while the other six were dismissed.  He was sentenced to three years of probation.  

In June 2023, he was accused of running a fraudulent agriculture-technology startup scheme.  Four sources told The Hollywood Reporter that the scheme involved giving Bryan payments between $5,000 and $25,000 in exchange for fake contracts that held no value.  He was said to have earned $50,000 from this scheme.    

He was arrested in July of 2023 for domestic assault, and recently, in February of 2024, he was arrested again following a traffic accident for alleged DUI.  He was charged with a felony for operating a vehicle under the influence and a misdemeanor for contempt of court.  

In March of 2024, it was revealed he had also received an additional felony charge related to driving under the influence after having three or more DUI convictions in ten years.

Jonathan Taylor Thomas (Randy Taylor):  The middle Taylor son opted to focus on his education after leaving the show.  He acted occasionally, with minor roles on television in "8 Simple Rules" and "Veronica Mars."  Following Veronica Mars in 2005, his acting credits went dark until he made several appearances on Tim Allen's "Last Man Standing" between 2013 and 2016.  Since then, he hasn't appeared on screen.  

Taran Noah Smith (Mark Taylor):  After portraying the youngest Taylor son for eight seasons, Smith mostly left acting and has chosen to live a private life.  He occasionally attends fan conventions and reunions.

Debbe Dunning (Heidi Keppert):  After taking over for the original "Tool Time Girl," Pamela Anderson (READ ABOUT THAT HERE) Debbe Dunning continued to act in film and television once Home Improvement ended.  However, her acting credits on IMDB ended in 2006.  She occasionally appears at fan conventions.  

Earl Hindman (Wilson W. Wilson Jr.):   After the show ended, Earl made two appearances on Law and Order between 2000 and 2002.  Sadly, Earl passed away in 2003 after a battle with lung cancer.

As I write this, in 2024, Tim Allen recently raised eyebrows when he mentioned that a return to Home Improvement may be in the works.  Patricia Richardson (who also roped in Jonathan Taylor Thomas) quickly commented that nobody had called to ask her about it and that there were no such discussions of bringing back Home Improvement.  She brought up Zachary Ty Bryan's legal trouble, mentioned that JTT and Taran Noah Smith are no longer acting, and that Earl was dead, so "there was no point."  She also added that she wouldn't want to return to a show that featured her and Tim (Allen).  

I'm just reading the tea leaves here (and there's a chance I'm wrong), but one look at her personal Twitter account, and you'd have to assume her political opinions heavily influenced her desire to not work with Tim Allen again.  What do I know, though?  I'd just like to see a one-off reunion episode, just for old time's sake.  Apparently, Tim does, and she doesn't.  Oh well, maybe someday!

Home Improvement's memorable characters, funny moments, and a change in modern family dynamics have all left a lasting legacy in television history.  It still finds new fans around the world today, living on through reruns and streaming services.  It can currently be seen on Hulu or Disney Plus or on regular television through regional or smaller syndicated channels such as Laff.

It's still hard for me to believe that 25 years have passed since the cast waved goodbye for the final time.  As we celebrate this special anniversary of the final episode of Home Improvement, I'm reminded of the impact of this sitcom.  This sitcom was not just important to my family but was a cultural phenomenon for nearly a decade.  It blended family-focused humor, Tim's sometimes explosive mishaps during home construction, and of course... MORE POWER!