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The Real Reason Al From Home Improvement Was Recast

Oh, the 1990s — a decade in which network sitcoms like Friends and Seinfeld ruled the airwaves and made audiences laugh, cry, and everything in between. Home Improvement, based on Tim Allen's stand-up comedy material, was among the most successful shows of the era — right up there with the quirky New Yorkers doing all sorts of things ... and the other quirky New Yorkers doing absolutely nothing at all. Even with its good fortune, though, Home Improvement did face some casting issues with one of its principal characters: Al Borland, who very nearly didn't exist.

Home Improvement premiered on September 17, 1991, and stuck it out until May 25, 1999. Its impressive eight-season run was chock-full of memorable moments, one-liners, and home repair projects that didn't always pan out. Allen was already a successful comedian at the time ABC ordered the Home Improvement pilot in early 1991, but the show's success catapulted him to a new level of stardom. And Allen's leading turn as Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor was just part of the reason why Home Improvement worked so well; the series' charm was found in its cast's chemistry. Viewers didn't just tune in for the jokes — they also tuned in for family struggles, at-work tension, and plenty of neighborly wisdom from across the fence.

The most fondly remembered scenes are often the ones between Allen's Tim Taylor and his television partner Al Borland, played by Richard Karn. The two foils had a comedically antagonistic relationship on their show-within-the-show, Tool Time. At the end of the day, though, Tim and Al were still friends who grew to care about one another and formed a tight bond over their years working together. 

Interestingly, fans have Home Improvement's rocky start to thank for the blossoming of this on-screen relationship. As it turns out, Al wasn't Tim's original Tool Time sidekick. A different character was — with a different actor portraying him. Here's how Al Borland was created for Home Improvement, and the real reason Richard Karn ended up in the role.

Al Borland was created as a temporary place-holder on Home Improvement

During the development of Home Improvement, casting troubles resulted in changes to the show. The original script included a character named Glen to act as Tim's sidekick on Tool Time. John Bedford Lloyd almost took the role – but he was also being eyed for the part of Wilson W. Wilson, Jr., the Taylors' elusive but wise neighbor, and he wanted that role more than he wanted to play Glen. After landing the part, Lloyd's attitude changed when he realized the catch to playing Wilson: His face wouldn't be shown on screen, instead obscured by Wilson's tall fence. Lloyd ultimately exited Home Improvement prior to the start of shooting, and actor Earl Hindman wound up playing Wilson instead.

From there, the Home Improvement folks sought out Stephen Tobolowsky to play Glen. Surprise, surprise — more difficulties arose. Tobolowsky was working on a movie at the time, and couldn't step away from that production to shoot the Home Improvement pilot. Thinking on their feet, the Home Improvement team devised a temporary character to serve as Tim's Tool Time assistant until Tobolowsky was able to board the series full-time. Karn tested for the role, and thus Al Borland came into existence.

As Karn explained in a June 2016 interview with News.com.au, "The actor [who had been cast as Glen] by the name of Stephen Tobolowsky got a movie and couldn't do the pilot. Because they knew me, they hoped that I would be okay with just doing the pilot and if the show got picked up, they would bring Stephen back for the series." 

In essence, Al Borland was conceived purely as a temporary patch to cover for Glen until Tobolowsky cleared his schedule, since it was agreed that "The Tool Man" needed a foil for his humor on his fictional show. But Karn obviously worked on the series for much, much longer than intended. What happened? Well, Tobolowsky's schedule didn't ever clear up, with the actor deciding that he wouldn't have time to commit to playing a series regular on a sitcom. 

Instead of going through the recasting process, the producers made Karn a permanent cast member from that point on and wrote Glen out, with the character never again seeing the light of day. This left those behind Home Improvement with no choice but to create a whole new character for the inaugural episode.

So, while no one else but Richard Karn was ever intended to play Al Borland, Al Borland wasn't originally meant to be Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor's permanent Tool Time assistant. Karn replaced Tobolowsky as that character — and though he had a different name, his job was exactly the same: create hilarious moments on the set of Tool Time and a lasting friendship in the real (but fictional) outside world of Home Improvement