THE MEN'S MOVEMENT AND "Home Improvement"
It's on the cover of Newsweek. It's on the best-seller lists. And it's sweeping the country -- on talk shows, in workshops, around the water cooler, around the dinner table. It's the men's movement of the 1990s, and every day it seems that more people are talking about it.
This fall, a family comedy called "Home Improvement" will debut in millions of homes nationwide. Its main character is a man -- and a husband and father -- who's fast approaching middle age with all the questions about what it means to be "a man" still unanswered. Feeling abandoned by modern society's precepts of masculinity, he's on the quest to recapture his male spirit, like many other American men are today.
But far from running to catch op with the men's movement bandwagon, "Home Improvement" is actually part of the ground swell itself. Its genesis is rooted in the comedy routines that star Tim Allen has been doing for several years -- long before authors like Robert Bly and Sam Keen hit the bookstores with their best-selling treatises on male culture.
"I didn't know who Robert Bly was," says Allen, "until my minister asked me to read his book one day, because he's seen my act and he said, 'There's so much Robert Bly in how you present yourself.' So, about eight months later, I bought the book, and about a year after that, I went on vacation and actually read it. And I loved it."
Says executive producer Matt Williams, "If people say we're capitalizing on the men's movement, that's fine. But we had worked on this thing for nine months before Bly's book ('Iron John') became a best-seller. It's just fortuitous that we happened to be on that track when his book and Sam Keen's book, 'Fire in the Belly,' came out."
Sensing they were riding a powerful undercurrent in the spirit of the times, Williams and colleagues David McFadzean and Carmen Finestra began researching the material that was emerging on the movement.
"We actually passed the tape around first of Robert Bly with Bill Moyers," says McFadzean, referring to Moyers' 1990 PBS documentary, "A Gathering of Men." "Then all three of us bought 'Iron John,' and told Tim to read it, and we bought 'You Just Don't Understand,' by Deborah Tannen, and told Tim to read that. 'Fire in the Belly' was another one, and there's a new one, 'Dark Hearts,' that we've been looking at. That's why we knew we were onto something right. We needed something like this in the show, so we said, 'What's out there' and found all of this."
Says Williams, "Actually, Deborah Tannen's book probably has more to do with this series than Robert Bly, because her book deals with the fact that men and women speak different languages. They'll never be able to communicate, because they approach the world from different points of view. That right there is the piston that drives this television series. Jill and Tim will never do the same thing the same way, and both sides are valid. Somewhere in the middle, between their opposing views, lies the tension that motivates out show."
And Williams is the first to point out that you can't sustain a series over a period of years if its premise is based solely on a momentary fad. "The male movement is part of this series, but it's not what the series is all about," he explains. "We're also dealing with parenting. We're dealing with how a mother tries to raise three boys to be civilized adults and good husbands, and how a father wants them to be all that and be good men, too. So you're talking about the yin and yang of a family situation."
Adds executive producer Finestra, "I thing it's refreshing to see these kinds of books out. I think we went through a whole period there where men kind of felt like they were being beaten up. And now, this movement is basically saying, you can be proud to be a man and also get in touch with feelings that you have. I think that's good. And it would be nice if we could generate that kind of feeling in the show."
Williams says that the element that will make "Home Improvement" appealing to both men and women is identification. "I think women will elbow their husbands and say, 'Honey, that's you!' And I think guys will go, 'That's what women do -- my wife does the same thing!' Our job is not to provide answers -- we can't be that smug or arrogant to think we know all the solutions. All we can do is, in a very humorous way, and in a very identifiable way, expose what those questions are we're all wrestling with."
Thanks to Touchstone Television for providing the information.