Testosterone is the power behind 'Home Improvement' TURNED ON IN L.A.

January 12, 1995|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

There's Tim as "The Naked Man," Wilson as Iron John, Al as the guy who so worships women that he can't bring himself to actually talk to them.

And, then, there are the three Taylor boys, each wrestling with adolescence and trying to learn what it means to be an American male in the 1990s. Call it Guy Television.

ABC kicked off its leg of the winter press tour in Los Angeles yesterday by presenting star Tim Allen, the producers and the cast of "Home Improvement," the most popular show on American television.

When a show reaches the status of No. 1 in Nielsens and is watched week in and week out by 33 million people, it's time to try to figure out why. And there were a lot of obvious and easy answers given during the press conference: Allen is funny, viewers like the family aspect of the show and the writing is among the best on TV.

At the very end of the session, however, Patricia Richardson -- the only leading female character on the show -- was asked: "Doesn't being surrounded by all that testosterone get to you sometimes? Don't you just want to reach over and smack Tim?"

"No, I just have to pump up my testosterone," Richardson laughed.

"She's very comfortable in her male sexuality," Allen said. "Just as I am very comfortable with my feminine side."

The comic groan from the others on the stage and the critics in the audience provided a fun ending for the session. But the jokes also suggested part of the reason "Home Improvement" is so smart and successful.

"The male sensibility is definitely key to the success of this show, and something we are consciously working with each week and trying to explore," said executive producer Elliot Shoenman.

"There's the Wilson type, the Al type, the Tim type, and each of the boys are even a type without being caricatures. One of the great things of this show is that the creators found that male niche and they ran with it as an offshoot of Tim's [stand-up] act," Shoenman said.

Ted Harbert, the president of ABC Entertainment, concurred on the importance of being male when it comes to the success of "Home Improvement."

"That male point of view and all the different images offered of what it means to be male are absolutely part of what makes 'Home Improvement' such a smart show," Harbert said. In part, he said, it was just a matter of good fortune that such an exploration of being male came to be a hit sitcom on ABC. The network wanted Allen, and Allen's act was all about being a guy in post-feminist America. The sitcom grew out of Allen's comic persona.

Despite the fact that programmers are always talking publicly about reaching female viewers (presumably because women still do more buying), there is a concerted effort by all the networks to reach more men.

"Women, you can usually count on to watch. But getting men to watch network television is harder," Harbert said. "Men are just more difficult to get into network viewing. So, when you do get them to watch with a show like 'Home Improvement,' it is profitable."

The profit comes because TV advertisers will pay a premium to reach the young men with their ads for cars, tools, movies, beer and life insurance.

Shoenman says "Home Improvement" is sticking with its male power. One episode this month will have Tim throwing a Super Bowl party, while Jill (Richardson) is sick. Tim's friends wind up watching the game on the TV set in Jill's room when the main set breaks. There's a February episode about Al (Richard Karn) being named one of the 10 most eligible bachelors in Detroit. Another February topic will be Brad's (Zachary Ty Bryan) first boy-girl party, with Tim helping him plan it.

And, since nothing inspires imitation like being a Nielsen No. 1, you'll be seeing more guy shows in coming months on all the networks. CBS, for example, will premiere "Under the Hood," a sitcom about two brothers who own an auto repair shop and have a radio show on how to fix cars, like National Public Radio's Click and Clack. That show stars George Wendt, formerly of "Cheers."

"There have always been shows with strong male points of view, like 'Cheers' or 'Coach,' " Shoenman said. "But, sure, there are going to be more imitations. They, though, don't have Tim Allen."

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