Patricia Richardson begins our phone conversation like any good mother would – by asking about me. How’s life? How’s my job? How’s the family? The 60-year-old actress, who starred as matriarch Jill Taylor on the hit ’90s sitcom “Home Improvement,” proved to be everything I wanted in a TV mom, but nothing I had expected – one part June Cleaver, one part Peg Bundy and splash of Sandra Bullock’s movie version of Leigh Anne Tuohy for good measure.
This week, Disney released the “Home Improvement” 20th Anniversary Collection featuring all eight seasons of the Emmy-nominated show on 25 DVDs in a stylish red toolbox. I caught up with Richardson to discuss her legacy as a TV mom, her penchant for cussing, her beef with “Boy Meets World” and those “very special” sitcom episodes. If Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor was known as the cure for too little horsepower, his wife is about to be known as the cure for the common interview.
You had three kids of your own at home and three sitcom kids on the set — was it ever exhausting that, no matter where you went, you had to play mom?
[laughs] Well, both Tim and I really strenuously avoided having anything to do with parenting those boys on the set, because they had perfectly good parents of their own. And we decided it would be – the last thing those parents needed was for us to interfere in anything they were doing.
I was just an angsty I-want-my-mom-to-leave-me-alone kid when this show was on and, I have to admit, I thought Jill was kind of a nag.
I wanted very much for her not to be a perfect character. I always hated perfect TV moms because I always thought that was unrealistic. I was very interested in having her not be a perfect person. She was quick-tempered, she had tantrums, she threw things, she slammed doors. I wanted her to be human, I wanted her to be real. I wanted her to have faults and have to make mistakes and have to go back and apologize for the things she did wrong. So, yeah, she was a nag sometimes.
What part of your personality and mothering overlap with hers?
That would be a better question for my kids. Probably, they’d say, all the nagging parts. They probably think I’m too nosy.
Yeah, but that’s what a mom’s supposed to do.
They think that I’m too nosy and they have to talk to me too much, but they do talk to me and they volunteer s***. [laughs] I curse too much. I really do. I have a horrible cursing mouth. We all did on the set of “Home Improvement.” It was just awful. I wasn’t as bad as Tim. Of course, he just came off the most foul-mouthed stand-up act and he had to learn to correct that around the kids. It was really bad. He sort of curtailed it, but those boys – let me tell ya something – those boys on that set, they heard a lot of stuff they shouldn’t have heard.
That’s amazing. At least the “dirty” part of Tim’s life didn’t transfer over to the show.
They based so much stuff on my life. Anything that would happen in your life they’d put on the show. Like, my son – we had a big thyroid cancer scare, so the big thyroid cancer scare ended up on the show. And then, I had three sisters, Jill had three sisters. I came from a military family, so Jill had a military father. I’m a little bit Southern, so Jill … everything in your life ended up being on the show.
I remember that cancer episode as one of those “very special” episodes of “Home Improvement.”
Totally! When we did it, everybody made fun of us. When it was first going to come on, people went [in a mocking tone], “Ehhh, a very special episode.” And everybody was rolling their eyes. The network buried the episode because they didn’t want us to do it. The network was like, “You can’t do a cancer episode! You can’t to do that!” So they put it on a night when nothing else was on, so our ratings went through the roof. Then, the network was so excited that the ratings were so terrific and that the reviews were so great and it won all these awards – then they go back and say, “Can you do some more episodes like that?” We need another “very special” episode! So, we later had Jill-has-a-hysterectomy episodes.
Where do you and Tim rank among TV parents?
I would never be so presumptuous as to try and rank us anywhere. We got kind of dumped on by some of the media after we were up against Jerry Seinfeld. They treated us as though we were “Full House.” We were Emmy-nominated many times. Many times! I was nominated four times. And “Full House” was not an Emmy-nominated show. So for them to put us in the same place as “Full House” – pretty insulting. I think Entertainment Weekly did a “best shows of the ’90s” issue a year ago and I saw it and they said the best family shows of the ’90s were “Roseanne” and “Boy Meets World.” We were in the top 10 the entire eight years and we were Emmy-nominated the whole time. And they went to “Boy Meets World”? I kind of feel like people like to dump on “Home Improvement” and I don’t know why.