Al Borland Was Originally a Place Holder on the ’90s Sitcom, But Richard Karn Changed That

In the 1990s, Home Improvement took the world by storm. The series became known for Tim Allen’s stand-up comedy bit about men being ill-equipped cavemen who’s joy in life revolved around power tools. But fans also celebrated the show for the iconic guttural sigh of dads across America and Richard Karn‘s portrayal of Al Borland. Oddly enough, Al almost wasn’t a character on the hilarious ’90s sitcom. 

Tim Allen and Richard Karn
Tim Allen & Richard Karn | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives

Richard Karn’s career took off after ‘Home Improvement’ 

Home Improvement fans know and love Karn as Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor’s (Allen) Tool Time assistant Al Borland, the sensitive guy in touch with his emotions. Allen’s hyper-masculine portrayal of Tim “The Tool Man” made the duo a perfect pair. 

Thanks to Home Improvement‘s success, Karn became a recognizable face, warranting him several commercial deals and guest spots in the 1990s. When Home Improvement ended, Karn continued to work in films and shows like Family Feud and Bingo America

Karn also had roles in the Air Bud franchise, including Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch and MVP: Most Vertical Primate. More recently, Karn appeared in two episodes of The Bold and the Beautiful and in the Hulu original series PEN15

Despite his success after Home Improvement, Karn might be best known for his scenes in the beloved ’90s sitcom. It’s funny to think that the role of Al was almost cut out of the series entirely. 

Al Borland wasn’t Tim Taylor’s original ‘Tool Time’ sidekick

Al is a Home Improvement character many fans grew to love. But when Home Improvement was in development, Tim’s sidekick was a man named Glen. 

Initially, casting directors wanted John Bedford Lloyd to play Tim’s right-hand-man (via Looper). But they were also looking at Lloyd for the role of the elusively wise neighbor, Wilson W. Wilson, Jr. Ultimately, Lloyd decided he liked the neighborly role more — until he found out how much of his face would be hidden. 

After finding out most his face would be covered by the fence between Wilson and Taylor’s yard, Lloyd backed out of the series. In the end, he was replaced with actor Earl Hindman. Still, the show needed a sidekick for Allen’s role.

Al Borland was a temporary ‘Home Improvement’ character

When Karn was called for his audition, it wasn’t because they had a spot for him — it was in case the show had a role for him in the future. During his audition, Karn read for the temporary part of Al Borland/Glen.

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“I got a call about two or three weeks later from the casting director asking if I still had my beard,” Karn explained to an Australian news outlet

Karn also explained how the actor originally cast for Glen/Al’s part, Stephen Tobolowsky, landed a movie deal and was unable to do the pilot. That’s when he stepped in to do the show.

Richard Karn’s audition landed him a permanent role on ‘Home Improvement’ 

“Because they knew me, they hoped that I would be OK with just doing the pilot,” Karn added. “If the show got picked up, they would bring Stephen back for the series.”

Fortunately, Karn’s performance won showrunners over. Tobolowsky never returned, and fans quickly fell in love with Karn’s portrayal of Al Borland. 

Janelle B. Smith

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