Tim Allen's "Home Improvement" sitcom jockeys between the No.1 and No. 2 slots as the most-watched show on TV.

His book ("Don't Stand Too Close to a Naked Man") came out recently, and it's a best-seller.And "The Santa Clause," his debut movie for Disney, is doing a land-office business.

How does he feel?

"I'm in total denial," Allen says, "otherwise I'd be an absolute mess to be around."

He still flies commercial airlines, though he probably could take the company jet.

"Can you imagine if I believed this stuff?" he says. "I'd stay in my trailer, with an ascot around my neck, folded neatly inside my silk robe, waiting to be called...."

His family keeps him grounded in reality, he says.

"When I told my mom I was writing a book, she said, "Who are you to write a book?' Suddenly, I drop my head, and I'm 14 again. . . . `I don't know, Mom, I'm sorry.'

"Then, I start to think: There are people who write books on how to become a tomato farmer, or how to shoot a good video. So I start to defend myself. This is how you do it when you are 42 and your mom's a real important part of your life."

On a tour to launch his new book recently, Allen discovered just how accessible TV makes you.

He acts out a typical encounter: A fan gives him a hefty slap on the back and bellows, "How are you?"

Allen replies: "Just fine, except for a dislocated shoulder."

"It's different when you're in films," Allen continues. "I went to dinner once with Clint Eastwood, and I was so impressed being with a superstar, I wanted to touch him. He's so big that people didn't venture over to the table. Instead, they'd walk by and sneak a look."

Why is "Home Improvement" so successful? "Our TV family represents a functioning American family. The Taylors fight all the time, just like at my house, and then they make up. The things about your wife that you don't like aren't going away. You just deal with them better. It's not all sugar and sweet, and Tim Taylor never gets over his problems. He keeps stumbling over the same thing, but there is comfort in that."

`A prof at UCLA told me it's also powerful imagery - a show with a guy building things with his hands. It's why everyone likes make-over shows. I love to see those guys make over women's hairstyles, and I say, `Wow, what a difference!' Or, you make an old house into a new house. Anytime you improve something, it's really powerful to watch - like Liza Doolittle in `My Fair Lady.'

"In today's world, people don't work with their hands much, so they like to watch do-it-yourself shows and see how to make things - like a turkey stuffer out of a cattle prod, it's interesting."

Ask Tim Allen Dick (his real name) how long he and the former Laura Deibel have been married, and he sheepishly stalls. "Let's see now, oh boy, she's gonna kill me. Wait, wait just a darn minute, it was the day the Detroit Tigers pitched a no-hitter. That's got to be April 7, and ... and ... it was 1984. That's got to be the date. Gosh, it can't be 10 years."

It may take a while for him to get the date, but he sure remembers proposing: "I gave her an envelope with two airline tickets to Switzerland in it. I told her if she married me, we'd go to Zurich for our honeymoon." Her first answer was "No!"

Two days later, Laura gave him a little gold watch, inscribed, "I reconsidered - YES." So they got married, but didn't honeymoon in Switzerland. "The deal was, she had to say `yes' the first time," Allen says.

Their 4-year-old daughter likes to visit Dad on the job. She was all sparkly eyes when she visited the enormous three-story Santa's workshop Disney built in Toronto for "The Santa Clause." She didn't want to leave, because there were 150 kids dressed as elves, all working on toys.

"I don't blame her," Allen confided, "I spent every free minute wandering around inspecting the toys."

Even though Allen wore a fat suit that made him 90 pounds heavier and spent four hours in the make-up chair having prosthetics applied to his face, along with a wig of white hair and a full beard, his daughter arrived on the set and pointed, "That's Santa Daddy. He's just pretending."

"She also understands that it's me playing Tim Taylor in `Home Improvement,' " Allen says, "and me as Santa in the movie, but she still thinks the Power Rangers are real. . . ."

Allen recalls his favorite Christmas. "Me and my two older brothers decided to wait up all night to see Santa. It was a Norman Rockwell painting: three little boys with their heads hanging out the openings in the banister looking downstairs at the fireplace. We were so tired, we once thought we actually heard sleigh bells."

As for this year, Allen says he's received his wishes: a happy family, a good job, and a print of his favorite movie: Steve Martin in "Cyrano."