MARCH 19, 2015 | 06:00AM PT
Senior TV Editor
Mr. T pities the fool who doesn’t know the first thing about home renovation.
“You can’t just knock down everything. There might be electrical wiring. There might be a gap open,” he cautioned in a recent phone interview. “You have to take your time. You have to scout things out. If you do the wrong thing, it’s going to be a disaster.”
Once known as one of Hollywood’s tough guys, the one-time bouncer and mohawked member of TV’s “The A-Team” will show a tender side as he helps people in need of redoing kitchens and living rooms as part of a new show on Scripps Networks’ DIY. Mr. T’s “I Pity the Tool” is the latest in a growing series of programs on the cable network that place celebrities in the midst of tricky home repairs and remodels.
Daryl Hall, Vanilla Ice and William Shatner are among the famous folk who have come to DIY to show off their skills in taking homes apart and rebuilding them. And the network has good reason to supplement fare like “Rescue Renovation” and “Rehab Addict,” said Kathleen Finch, president of Scripps’ home-category networks HGTV, DIY and Great American Country. “We are bringing people to the network for reasons other than just watching a demolition or a construction project,” she said.
The celebrity method has popped up in other parts of the Scripps empire as well. Valerie Bertinelli has been spotted in Food Network’s daytime lineup, while programming featuring rapper Rev Run and actress Jennie Garth has been featured on DIY or HGTV. Scripps has gained a reputation for turning chefs and home-arts experts into stars, but the company has also realized it stands to gain by making use of people whose fame is already established.
SEE MORE:William Shatner To Star In Home Renovation Series For DIY
When viewers tune in Mr. T’s new program, the first episode of which is slated to debut in 2015, they will also get something else: a sentimental tale. The pilot will show Mr. T. helping out an old associate, a man whom Mr. T visited when the guy was a teenager and had broken his neck while playing in the snow (the man is back on his feet again, with a large family). Future episodes, slated for 2016, are expected to also show Mr. T. lending a hand to people who need it, like military veterans or people going through hard times.
“I am tough, but deep inside my toughness, I like to let people know I’m an old-fashioned mama’s boy,” said Mr. T, who has spent recent years working on commercials, a short-lived reality series on Viacom’s TV Land and a book. “I have a heart of gold, but I’m really a marshmallow in my heart.”
Scripps and DIY are set to unveil the series as part of the company’s presentation for the “upfront” market, when U.S. TV networks try to sell the bulk of their advertising for the coming programming season. DIY’s celebrity series, Finch said, helped the network grow ratings among its target audience, people between 25 and 54, more than 8% in 2014.
“These people have built-in fan bases that come to see their heroes do things that they didn’t really know they could,” she said.
Mr. T.’s route to “I Pity the Tool” was not direct. The head of Michael Group, the production company behind the program, had been an ardent fan of Mr. T — and even had her picture taken with him when she was a child. The executive, Michael Weber, ran into Mr. T in Chicago and the two agreed on the concept. Eventually, Mr. T ended up getting busy with a hard hat, sledgehammer and overalls to make a sizzle reel for TV executives. “You have to tear down before you can build up,” said Mr. T.
The man who played “Clubber Lang” in “Rocky III” said he worked demolition jobs before making it big in movies and TV. He learned brick masonry and cabinet making in high school, he recalled: “I was hands-on.”
Just as he did in his mid-1980s Saturday-morning cartoon show, Mr. T will have a team helping him in his endeavors. In “I Pity the Tool,” assistance will come in the form of Tiffany Brooks, an interior designer and an “HGTV Design Star” winner.
The series has not yet been scheduled officially for 2016, said Finch, because the network needs to determine how much time is necessary to produce episodes. Each renovation has its own peculiar timeline, she noted, and Scripps typically waits until projects are complete before determining the course of a series, and even the number of episodes appropriate for it. For similar reasons, she said, DIY needs to wait to determine if enough material exists to warrant additional cycles.
In 2014, DIY launched “The Shatner Project,” in which William Shatner, the star of series such as “T.J. Hooker” and the original “Star Trek,” remodeled his home, along with his wife, Elizabeth. But a second season didn’t seem to make sense, said Finch. ”We don’t want to milk something to death,” she said. “We want to make an event of our celebrity programming.”
As Mr. T himself is fond of saying, “Enough jibber jabber.” Viewers will want to see him get to work before making a final decision about the show.