BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - Actor Kyle Bornheimer knows how to change a tire. But that's about all he knows about the workings of the world. The star of such sitcoms as "Worst Week," "Perfect Couples" and "Romantically Challenged" pauses when asked if he knows what a spark plug is.
"I know what a spark plug does. I could probably find a spark plug. That'll be my mission today. Instead of being intimidated that the fact that I don't know how to fix a car maybe this month I will just learn everything about the spark plug."
This maintenance-challenged persona is being transferred to the screen in ABC's new comedy, "Family Tools," premiering 8:30 tonight. Bornheimer plays a guy who doesn't know a lug nut from a cotter pin but who inherits his family's repair service.
"I need to fix things," Bornheimer muses. "You save a fortune, feel better about yourself. You can foster that in your kids. It's not just about fixing stuff, it's about problem solving in general - you want to be a more robust thinker."
His wife, Shannon Ryan, a TV marketing executive, is no better than he at replacing a washer, attaching a dimmer-switch or installing a door knob. "I wouldn't say either of us is particularly good. We're good at calling the necessary people to do it for us. But we're not very good at really fixing things or being all that handy."
It's a good thing he can act. But even there Bornheimer was a late bloomer. The Indiana native grew up loving movies and always harbored the dream he might have something to do with entertainment. And while he wasn't the class clown, he was often in trouble at school for mouthing off.
"I was probably just restless in high school and wanted to be a (jerk)," he says. "I was a good student. It was fun. There was the opportunity to make comments and I can't let it go. 'This would be a funny one-liner.' It was probably just an energy bursting from me that had to be let go. Thankfully I got into entertainment where that's acceptable to do that ... It hurt my grades. In high school I was really quite obnoxious and my parents had to come down to school on more than one occasion to talk to teachers about me disrupting classes."
Writing and directing were his goals. And he quit Purdue University after six months to test his luck in Los Angeles. "I was probably too serious about my career at that time, even though I had no career to be serious about. I was serious about starting a career and so I didn't have any money. But I wanted to write and direct and in about five years, started acting. And then after I started acting, that's when I got patience. I said, 'Oh, well, this could take a while. At least I know I'm heading somewhere.' With the writing and directing I hadn't figured out any plan for that, but for acting I saw a plan."
Part of his plan was to star in a series of commercials. He became the laughingstock in ads for Geico, Staples, Imodium and T-Mobile. "I had several jobs at the time. I waited tables and worked at a casting office and worked in a video store and did telemarketing - all the stuff that many actors-writers do out here. I was getting jobs up to the time I booked my first TV series. I still remember having a talk with my wife about quitting my survival job and her being very nervous about it and me being nervous about it. 'I think this year I'm going to quit all my survival jobs and make a go of it. I have a good feeling about it, and free myself up to be a little more available.' That was 2008, I moved out here in '96."
He says Ryan was reassuring. "She was employed and very supportive and giving about my career and very confident in me. Her confidence never wavered during any of that, but we were starting to build a family and talk about that. I think it was more courageous for her to be confident than for me. She had to take a leap of faith more than I did."
The couple has two sons, 4 and 2. That marked a seismic shift in his life, Bornheimer, 37, says. "You graduate to fatherhood, you just graduated to a whole new sense. I just remember everything just kind of making sense a little bit about what I was supposed to do. There was a whole new sense of purpose. Anyone who has children will know what I mean and anyone who doesn't, there's no use explaining it to them."
Premieres 8:30 tonight on WPVI-TV 6