For putting in two hectic seasons on Home Improvement, JTT was a showbiz pro - and really into the work mode." He just didn't want to stop, and for the next couple of months, he didn't.
He appeared in the TV show "A Bush Gardens Sea World Special," which was filmed at the Florida theme park. It was a one-hour special about animals and taking care of endangered species. He hosted a cable special, Wild and Crazy Kids, and did a guest spot on Nickelodeon's Double Dare in Orlando, Florida. There, he and Zach got to meet and mingle with the cast of The Mickey Mouse Club, which was really cool. "We wanted to meet them, but they wanted to meet us, too," he gushed.
It was also during this hiatus that Jonathan got his first taste of lending his celebrity to charitable events and organizations. It was the first time that his participation might inspire people to donate money or work on behalf of a favorite charity. To young JTT, this was by far the coolest part of being a star. Two of his favorite events were the Earthday Everyday music video for the environmental organization EarthTrust, in which he appeared with thirty-six other young stars, and the SEGA Star Kids Challenge, which benefits a group of charities every year.
Something else happened during this hiatus. Jonathan got more involved in his "second career" - voice-overs. Many of Jonathan's fans don't realize he can be heard even more often than he can be seen. Jonathan, who'd started doing voice-overs for commercials and cartoons before he got on TV, was in constant demand.
It may sound simple, but doing voice-overs isn't always easy. When actors are working on TV or movies, they react to another person in the scene. When they do voice-overs, however, they are often in a room all alone with just a microphone, reading along with what's happening on the screen. It's a special skill that takes timing and a lot of practice to do it convincingly. The challenge has always appealed to Jonathan. "It is fun," JTT explained of the experience. "It's just you. The director and producers are on the other side of a glass wall, and you don't know what they're saying. So you don't know if you were good or horrible. But it's kind of cool because you don't have to depend on other people to get their lines right - it's all you." Starting with commercials, Jonathan has compiled an impressive body of work in that field.
The voice-over kid has many other animated series/cartoons to his credit: The Ivy Cottage, Chuck the Beaver, and Little Wizard Stories, which is based on the Wizard of Oz books. The premise of these tales is that Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, and the Lion had children - the Oz Kids. There's Dot and her brother Neddy, the Tin Boy, two Lion Cubs, and a Scarecrow Junior - that's Jonathan. Right now Little Wizard Stories is being seen oversees but may appear on TV in the U.S. or be released on video.
He has starred in a four-volume video series based on the children's book character Spot, the dog. Originally published and translated to video in England, the stories are based on author Eric Hill's classic chronicles of Spot's adventures. Disney bought the United States' rights to the Spot videos and hired Jonathan to do the Americanized voice of the famous puppy. Aimed at preschoolers, the Spot videos are extremely popular.
Jonathan has also completed a CD-ROM game from Electronic Arts called Scooter's Magic Castle. Jonathan is the voice of Scooter. In this game, which is targeted at four- to seven-year-olds, Scooter has to explore a ghost-filled castle. Jonathan explained it to an interviewer, "It's a computer game - Scooter has a magic castle, and he takes you around it. It's real interesting. There is a typing program and a memorization program to help you learn easily. Also, it has songs you can write if you want to be a musician. It's nice because it has different levels of difficulty, so if you're not real experienced at this game, you can put it on the easy level and as you get better, increase it. Working on Scooter was great and a lot of fun. It's edutainment - it provides education and entertainment at the same time."
Another one of Jonathan's most popular cartoon voices is the character George on the USA network's series, The Itsy Bitsy Spider, the tale of a little girl named Leslie who is befriended by a spider named Itsy. Russell Marleau, the producer of The Itsy Bitsy Spider recalled how Jonathan got involved with the series and ever, got his character, George, more work. "When the show began, we wanted our main characters, Itsy and Leslie, to meet a boy there that they could relate to. So we brought in a bunch of boy actors for auditions. We listened to them all, and I immediately recognized Jonathan's voice because I watch Home Improvement. I thought he'd be great. Everyone liked him, and anyone who'd seen Home Improvement also knew he could actually act. So we went ahead and cast him, and he was so good, we decided to use him as a recurring character. George sort of evolved. In the episodes he would be in, he and the little girl, Leslie, would go on adventures. George is a bit of a wimpy character. He's always holding back because he thinks things are getting too dangerous. So Leslie and Itsy are always encouraging him. We used George more because Jonathan was that good, and he was fun to work with. He's such a little professional."
Back Home Again
With all that voice-over work, before Jonathan turned around, it was time to go back to Home Improvement for season three, 1993-94. Well, not quite. There were a few things to iron out first. Unfortunately, they weren't pleasant.
The show itself was doing phenomenally well - better than ever, in fact. It had ended on a high note: the number three of all prime-time series. The writers, cast, and crew were "powered up" and ready to roll over the competition and make the new season the best ever.
As the third season began, the time slot for Home Improvement - Wednesday 9:00 P.M. - remained the same, but there were changes for the characters. In addition to her work as a researcher on Detroit Magazine, Jill Taylor got even busier with a library fundraiser project. And when her sister discovered she was pregnant with a girl, Jill contemplated adding a new member to theTaylor clan - maybe a girl, also. There were changes on the set of Tim's Tool Time show, too. Pamela Anderson left and was replaced by Debbie Dunning as the "Tool Time Girl." Tim's costar on the show, Al (Richard Karn), decided he wanted to settle down and get married, so the wife watch was on. Back at home, the boys started expressing their personalities more. Brad, who had begun junior high, signed up for home economics instead of shop and shocked everyone until Tim realized the method to his eldest son's "madness": there are more girls to meet in home economics than shop - Arghhh! Mark discovered that when Jill was pregnant with him, she wanted a little girl, and he questioned if he was a "disappointment." Randy turned into more of a rebel and, in an effort to appear "cool," started making his dad the butt of his jokes. The mood on the set was full of excited anticipation, and Executive Producer Carmen Finestra commented, "I'm hopeful our audience will continue to grow. The scripts are better than ever, and we think our third season is going to be our strongest yet."
It all sounded like a bang-up new season, but everything was almost put on hold. The reason centered around the boys. In a surprise move, all three - Zach, Taran, and JTT - did not show up for work on what should have been the first day on the set. Their absence led to much controversy, all of which was described in laborious detail in major newspapers and magazines around the country. Most of what made the papers, however, was pretty onesided. All three boys were totally slammed for what was perceived as a "walkout." The reports made them look bad, while the more balanced real story was never really explained to the public.
The newspapers said the boys were "on strike" for "big raises" and, further, that one kid's dad de manded a part on the show. It was also stated that the boys wanted major "perks," that they didn't want to walk to the commissary for lunch while the adults had their food delivered. Zach, Taran, and JTT were portrayed as little ingrates, and one executive was quoted as saying: "Instead of being grateful for a successful show, they were asking `How much more can we get?'." The boys were even dubbed "the brat pack" by some observers, and one of the showbiz Bibles, the Hollywood Reporter, claimed that the powers that be on Home Improvement were actually ready to replace the boys on the series and had gone so far as to put out casting calls.
The real story was very different. The boys and their families were concerned with issues of safety and health. Each day during lunch, the boys were allowed recreation time, but their designated area of play was actually the truck and fire lane outside the Home Improvement set! A basketball net was set up there and when the boys were shooting hoops, they had to watch out for delivery cars and trucks coming through. The boys and their parents had been lobbying for a safe area to play for two years - they still hadn't gotten it.
There was also a health concern for the past two seasons. The boys' three director's chairs were in a row next to their teacher, but the chairs themselves were chained together - with a lock. The result was that no matter what the circumstances, Zach, Taran, and JTT were practically on top of each other. If one had a cold or was somehow under the weather, the other two were exposed to his germs. If two of the boys had a spat and needed a little space from each other, it was impossible to get away. They wanted to be treated as individuals.
And they wanted to be treated with respect as professionals, too. All the adult actors had specific director's chairs assigned to them, with their names on the back. Between takes the boys sat in chairs with the logo "Home Improvement" on the back. It seemed as if they were considered interchangeable and not treated with respect.
For two years the boys' parents asked for remedies to these problems but received no response. At the beginning of the third season, the requests were rerenewed. As it turned out, Jonathan really was sick at the time. When the controversy broke out, Jonathan's manager explained, "My client has been ill, and we're hoping he recovers soon and reports back to work."
Though things finally worked out - the boys returned to the set, a new, safe play area was built, the chairs were unlocked, and each young actor's name was put on the back - Zach, Taran, and Jonathan still had some hurt feelings. The press reports made them look greedy and egomaniacal. No one had bothered to ask them for their side of the story, and only the teen magazines bothered to follow up. Later on, when Tim was queried about the problem, he shrugged it off because it was all after the fact. "It won't affect the show because by the time anybody knew about it, it was over," he said.
Ever the professional, Jonathan took the whole uncomfortable episode in stride. Once the adults had settled matters, there was no noticeable tension on the set because of the flap, and everyone picked up as before. Home Improvement went on to overpower the competition. Its third season, in fact, became its most successful ever. Some of the cast members turned this success into further stepping stones to individual fame and fortune. Tim Allen landed the lead in his first movie, The Santa Clause, which was a major box-office success. Patricia Richardson got nominated for an Emmy. Jonathan, though he hardly knew it would lead to his emergence as a superstar, landed a part in a movie that would end up being his big breakthrough.
Funny enough, it was voice-over, not a live action film. It was, however, a feature film, something Jonathan hadn't done before. It was, of course, The Lion King.
Part of The Jonathan Taylor Thomas Archive - JTTArchive.Net
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