Dark secrets the cast of Home Improvement tried to hide

Very few shows are as synonymous with the '90s as Home Improvement. The ABC hit sitcom put Tim Allen on the map and had magazine cutouts of Jonathan Taylor Thomas taped to millions of bedroom walls. Home Improvement was consistently one of the highest-ranked shows of the decade. It was so popular, in fact, that the White House seriously considered having then-First Lady Hillary Clinton appear in a cameo. "The outreach would be enormous and it would present Hillary in a very likable light I believe," Clinton's former press secretary Lisa Caputo wrote in an internal memo (via Politico).

During the show's eight-year run from 1991 to 1999, the family-friendly sitcom racked up 34 Emmy nominations, nine Golden Globe nominations, and four straight People's Choice Awards for favorite comedy series. America couldn't get enough of the power tool-obsessed Tim Taylor trying to raise three rambunctious boys with his no-nonsense wife.

But while the show won audiences over week after week, behind the scenes, things weren't as always rosy as they appeared. Let's peak over the fence like Mr. Wilson at the dark secrets of the cast of Home Improvement.

Tim Allen was a coke dealer in the '70s

In 1978, Tim Allen was arrested at a Michigan airport for possession of 650 grams of cocaine, according to CBS News. He was reportedly a well-known dealer at the time, which made him an easy target for an undercover sting operation. Despite turning informant, Allen would spend two years and four months in federal prison, which encouraged him to clean up his life and focus on his burgeoning stand-up comedy career that would ultimately land him on Home Improvement

However, the days of being in a prison still haunt Allen. "When I went to jail, reality hit so hard that it took my breath away, took my stance away, took my strength away," he told Esquire. "I was put in a holding cell with twenty other guys — we had to crap in the same crapper in the middle of the room — and I just told myself, I can't do this for seven and a half years. I want to kill myself."

But Allen's time in prison didn't entirely scare him straight.

Tim Allen also got a DUI during Home Improvement's run

After spending two years in federal prison, you'd think Tim Allen would've learned his lesson about breaking the law. But on a May night in 1997, during the height of Home Improvement's success, Allen was picked up "zooming his 1988 Ferrari at 70 miles per hour in a 40 miles-per-hour zone," according to E! News. Things went from bad to worse when Allen failed a field sobriety test and had a blood alcohol level above the legal limit. To his credit, he didn't contest the charges and entered rehab as part of his sentencing in 1998. He's spoken glowingly about Alcoholics Anonymous ever since.

"A physician friend of mine told me a long time ago, he said you've just got to ask for help," Allen told the HuffPost in a 2013 interview. "One of the best pieces of advice I've heard recently was, if you want help, it's the first thing you go to in the phone book, and it's free. How can it be simpler? It's a program that's always got its doors open, there are no dues or fees, there is no leader, there's no organization. You've just got to go!"

Tim Allen was kind of a jerk to Jonathan Taylor Thomas

While there's no doubt that Home Improvement rocketed Tim Allen into Hollywood fame, it was almost equally as a much of a career boost for Jonathan Taylor Thomas, better known as "JTT" in teen magazines during the '90s. But unlike Allen, Thomas became weary of the spotlight and bailed on the eighth season to prepare for college. "I'd been going nonstop since I was 8 years old," he told People. "I wanted to go to school, to travel and have a bit of a break."

Thomas' on-screen mom Patricia Richardson was supportive at the time. "I think that it was very fortunate that Jonathan is so smart and well balanced," she wrote during a Reddit AMA (via E! News). "When he left the show, he ended up going back to school and got a really good education and thought a lot about what he wanted to do with his life."

Allen, on the other hand, was not happy that Thomas chose to focus on his education instead of the show. Things got so bad, that Thomas skipped the series finale after the two had a confrontation while filming a holiday episode. "I mentioned that I was confused [about the reasons for his departure]," Allen told TV Guide. "I don't think he liked that."

These Home Improvement stars turned down insane money for a ninth season

After Jonathan Taylor Thomas left the show, Patricia Richardson made the decision not to return for a ninth season despite being offered a whopping $25 million. She "didn't want to take the gig for money alone," according to E! News. Tim Allen was offered $50 million to return, but he refused to do the show without Richardson. "This is a kind of decision that at some point you will regret," Richardson said.

Home Improvement would tearfully end after eight seasons, but according to an interview with Richard Karn (Tim's now-famously bearded assistant Al Borland), Allen decided going out on top was the best way to end the series. "Tim was ready to go. He really wanted to do other things and at that point it was also when Michael Jordan was leaving the NBA," he explained. "Jordan made a big thing about wanting to go out on top and Home Improvement was the number one show on ABC when we left."

However, Allen reportedly had seconds thoughts after finding out the grass wasn't always greener. "I think immediately Tim regretted that," Karn said. "Sometimes you get in a kind of tunnel vision of life when you're doing this and you don't realize how wonderful the situation is until you're outside looking back."

Poor Taran Noah Smith

Of the three child stars on Home Improvement, no one suffered the pitfalls of early fame more than Taran Noah Smith, who played Mark, the youngest of Tim Allen's on-screen sons. In 2001, Smith ran away from home at the age of 17 and began a series of legal battles against his parents to gain control of his $1.5 million trust fund, according to People

To further complicate matters, that same year, Smith questionably wed vegan chef Heidi Van Pelt who, at age 33, was 16 years older than Smith. Van Pelt had been welcomed by Smith's family before she began encouraging him to make a move for his trust fund. Things went to bad from worse when the couple divorced in 2007. Smith's completely trashed house was foreclosed, and he'd later be arrested for DUI and drug possession in 2012.

However, Smith eventually rekindled his relationship with his mother, and in 2016, the two wrote a book together to help other families navigate the often precarious entertainment business. In an interview with HNGN to promote the book, Smith seems genuinely remorseful about his rougher years and acknowledges the unhealthy nature of his marriage to Van Pelt. He now works as an artist and assists in disaster relief.

The Home Improvement boys were the top targets for predators

In her book, Stardom Happens, Taran Noah Smith's mother Candy Bennici recalls a terrifying anecdote about her son's time on Home Improvement. "In his first year, Taran was 7 years old, we were in Santa Monica, and a man grabbed my arm. Taran was maybe 20 feet from me. He said, 'Listen, I need to talk to you. I work for the FBI, and the three boys from Home Improvement are the top target of pedophiles in the world. You can't just leave him alone. Don't ever let him out of your sight.' It was something that did not come into my brain. You're in the fun of it, and you're not thinking about things like that. Unfortunately, you need to be aware of those situations."

Yikes! Granted, this could just be an outrageous claim to sell copies of her book. However, former child stars like Elijah Wood have warned of a predator problem in Hollywood, so we wouldn't be surprised at all if Bennici's story is actually true. Tinseltown has always had a dark side to it.

Zachery Ty Bryan made a really bad Thor movie

While Jonathan Taylor Thomas' exit from Home Improvement seemingly broke the show, and Taran Noah Smith got trapped in the pitfalls of being a child star, Zachery Ty Bryan, who played oldest brother Brad, continued to find steady acting work on TV. However, his career came to a grinding halt in 2009 after appearing in the SyFy TV movie, Thor: Hammer of the Gods, based on the actual Norse god and not the Marvel character played by Chris Hemsworth.

Reviews for Thor: Hammer of the Gods were not good. "An assembly line of clichéd plotting, visual effects hampered by the usual budgetary restraints, and a lead actor so absurdly miscast it should have been obvious to everyone long before the cameras began rolling," wrote Dread Central. "Honestly now, who the hell thought it was a good idea to cast the eldest son from Home Improvement as the legendary Thor?" Ouch.

According to Fox News, Bryan gave up on acting and now focuses his time as a producer. But not before trying his hand at a business venture that taught him a lesson about who to trust in Hollywood.

This Home Improvement star opened an unfortunately-named sports bar

Shortly after Thor: Hammer of the Gods prompted Zachery Ty Bryan to give up acting, in 2010, he sued two of his business partners for allegedly siphoning funds from Big Wangs, a sports bar that Bryan co-owns in Hollywood. 

According to TMZ, Bryan claims his partners used the restaurant as their own piggy bank to "live high off the hog" by buying expensive cars, trips to Hawaii, and even a house in the Hollywood Hills. Bryan also alleged they even used money to open a competing restaurant.

Bryan claims all the purchases were made on the company's American Express card, and they even blew through all of 750,000 Membership Rewards points. No record exists of how the matter was settled, so hopefully Bryan resolved the issue and learned a valuable lesson about working with questionable business partners. Also, if he opens another restaurant, maybe choose a name that's a tad more subtle. We're just saying.

Pamela Anderson became, well, Pamela Anderson

Most people might not remember this, but Pamela Anderson made her acting debut on Home Improvement as Heidi, the original Tool Time Girl, before leaving the show after two seasons for her more prominent role as lifeguard C.J. Parker on Baywatch. However, in 1995, Anderson would make headlines for something other than her blossoming acting career: that year, an intimate video she made with then-husband Tommy Lee was leaked onto the internet after the couple allegedly became a nightmare client for a contractor renovating their Malibu mansion, according to Rolling Stone.

Since then, Anderson's whirlwind romances with such Hollywood bad boys as Kid Rock and Rick Salomon have been tabloid fodder for years. While speaking with People in 2017, she even hinted at a relationship with controversial WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, just in case it wasn't clear that Anderson is the most scandalous Home Improvement alum of them all.

Tim Allen admits Last Man Standing is a Home Improvement rip-off

After the sitcom ended, Tim Allen found commercial success with roles in Toy Story and The Santa Clause, but what he longed for most was ... another Home Improvement? "I don't know why we would not do a version of the same show, rather than put me in a legal drama – and there were several of those...and there were some shows – and I can't even tell you because it's too embarrassing," Allen lamented to NBC San Diego while talking about the projects he was pitched following Home Improvement.

Eventually, Last Man Standing was born. "It isn't rocket science, what I'm doing," Allen said. "Instead of tools, it's sporting goods and guns and ATVs and boats, and I come home to four women." Allen said the show was a "flip‑flop" of Home Improvement. "I just really wanted to investigate what it would be like to be around four women that are intelligent and strong and fun and loving and a family," he explained. "I have two daughters, a strong wife, and a mom and sisters, and I just love to be able to be in that world consistently."

Does this mean Allen was a pioneer in Hollywood's all-female reboot trend? Wild.

Don't rule out a Home Improvement reunion show

While the cast of Home Improvement may have had their ups and downs grappling with the success of the show and its aftermath, in 2011, everyone gathered together for a happy Entertainment Weekly photo shoot — with the exception of Pamela Anderson and the late Earl Hindman, who played Wilson, the next door neighbor with the always hidden face.

A few years later, Tim Allen and Jonathan Taylor Thomas would show that they officially buried the hatchet after Thomas appeared on a much-publicized episode of Last Man Standing. Patricia Richardson would later appear on the show in 2016, which only further fueled rumors of a Home Improvement reunion down the road. And with Last Man Standing's cancellation in 2017, a revival a la Fuller House could be just the project Allen's looking for to add "more power."

In the summer of 2020, it was announced that the cast of Home Improvement would be reuniting for a new show. Well, sort of. According to TV Line, Allen and Richard Karn are set to host a "building-themed reality competition series" for the History Channel called Assembly Required. "Let's face it — we're living in a throwaway society," Allen said in a statement. "So I've created a show to remind people of the satisfaction and pride that comes from rebuilding something on their own. And who better to join me than my buddy from the old Tool Time days — Richard Karn!"

Zachery Ty Bryan was arrested for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend

On Oct. 16, 2020, Zachery Ty Bryan was arrested in Eugene, Ore. after allegedly assaulting his 27-year-old girlfriend, the Associated Press reports. According to the Eugene Police Department, Bryan "impeded her breathing, and took her phone away when she tried to call 911." Upon their arrival to the scene, police found Bryan sitting outside and his girlfriend, who "denied medical assistance," at a neighbor's apartment.

Sources told TMZ that the victim was a woman with "whom he has a relationship," adding that Bryan reportedly "put his hands around her throat and squeezed." The insider claims the woman was finally able to escape and call 911. Bryan was then "arrested without incident" and booked on charges of "strangulation, fourth-degree assault and interfering with making a report."

TMZ reports that after a spending a night in jail, Bryan was released "on $8,500 cash bail" and "required to stay away from the alleged victim and can't contact her in any way" after being issued a no-contact order.