Tinkering with 'Home' causes identity crisis THE NEW SHOWS

TV REVIEW

September 17, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

If you know any 8-year-olds who are into Robert Bly and the men's movement, have them tune in to "Home Improvement" in the weeks ahead. It's the perfect show for them.

That's not meant as a total put-down of the new ABC sitcom, which stars Tim Allen as the manly male host of "Tool Time," a TV show aimed at do-it-yourselfers. Allen's a very funny guy and tonight's premiere (8:30, Channel 13) is very funny as well.

The problem is that ABC doesn't know what it wants this show to be. The producers handed the network a pilot that was both yuk-yuk funny and spiced with smart satire on male-female relationships and the men's movement. It was a show adults wouldn't have to feel embarrassed about liking.

But ABC then scheduled it at 8:30 on Tuesday nights after "Full House," which it had moved from Friday. "Full House" is a bona-fide hit, but most of its audience has not yet entered middle school. So here's a sophisticated new show that for ratings reasons has to hold this huge audience of preteen viewers at 8:30. What's a network to do?

You'll see if you compare tonight's pilot with next week's episode. ABC had the producers shift the emphasis away from the relationship humor between Tim Taylor (Allen) and his wife, Jill (Patricia Richardson), to their three children.

Whereas tonight's episode is about Jill getting turned down for a job and Tim's ineptitude as a handyman, next week focuses on the youngest boy's fear of telling his father that he broke one of Dad's tools.

In short, "Home Improvement" goes from grown-up to goop in the space of a week. And ABC says the kids are going to remain at the center of "Home Improvement" as the

result of retooling research done after the pilot was made. Like "Frank's Place" on CBS a few seasons back, this has the earmarks of a potentially great show being ruined by network meddling.

Still, tonight's premiere is one of the funniest pilots of the new season. Don't miss it. Its best moments include Tim rewiring the dishwasher for "more power" and Tim seeking manly male counseling from the Robert Bly-like next-door neighbor, identified only as Wilson (Earl Hindman), who speaks of "males gathered around the campfire" and "men reclaiming the male spirit."

But be warned. You'll laugh tonight, and then be angry next week when you see what they did to your show.

'Murphy' update

For those fans of "Murphy Brown" who have been waiting all summer to find out whether or not Murphy (Candice Bergen) was pregnant, the answer came last night with the start of the show's new season.

Murphy Brown, 42, is pregnant.

The father is Jake Lowenstein (Robin Thomas), Murphy's ex-husband. They have, though, decided not to remarry. But Murphy says she is going to have the baby.

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