Allen, now 67, and Karn, now 65, starred together in the hit comedy series for eight seasons from 1991-1999. They played Tim Taylor and Al Borland, respectively — hosts of the fictional television series “Tool Time.”
Now, the pair are reuniting for a new reality series, “Assembly Required,” for the History Channel, which will see them oversee contestants fixing up and refurbishing everyday household items.
At the show’s TCA panel on Thursday, the co-stars reflected on their on-screen chemistry.
“When we started doing ‘Home Improvement,’ we had audiences watching ‘Tool Time’ that hadn’t seen the show at all,” Kern recalled. “Our relationship kind of happened before we knew what it was. We took our cues from audience reactions to us, but we didn’t know there was anything really outstanding about how we were playing off each other.”
The actor added that he and Allen were simply doing their job, but “the writers were able to watch that and lean into it and write for it.”
Kern also recalled Allen once admitting that he’d “never be friends with Al” early in their time working together.
“We really weren’t in the same circle of friendship at that point, but they kept writing into it, leaning into it,” he added. “And as we got to know each other, I think that relationship just flowered.”
Allen then praised his co-star, calling him a “consummate professional and a genuinely calm-hearted person” that helped him transition into the live format of “Assembly Required.”
The “Last Man Standing” star said that their relationship now is very similar to what it was during the “Home Improvement” days.
“This is the most unusual experience,” said the comedian of filming a reality show. “But [Karn] was able to bring it back down and be exactly like we were at ‘Tool Time.’ It’s amazing how this is an expansion of that relationship.”
Reuniting after three decades was a big deal for the duo as well, though when Allen was developing the show, he “never” thought about involving Karn until someone suggested he reach out and offer him a co-hosting gig.
“He jumped at the chance,” shared Allen. “It became the two of us, kind of a live version of ‘Tool Time,’ if you will.”
Allen also addressed whether he’s truly a handyman himself, and while he said he likes “taking stuff apart” and even has a shop at his home, there is one home improvement project that always seems to stump him.
“Oddly enough, I’m very confused about plumbing. I don’t know what it is about plumbing,” he admitted. “We just had our big sink plug up and found a wad of something in there. … Plumbing is my big problem.”
The star said that his interest in handiness was a “natural thing” for him, as he followed in the footsteps of his late father, a car enthusiast.
“I’ve always loved shop class, I’ve always liked building stuff and I’ve always run around shop teachers who spend an inordinate amount of time in the setup and clean up part of it,” he shared.
One difficulty the duo faced was filming amid the coronavirus pandemic, which they did remotely, filming from people’s own shops. However, it wasn’t all bad as it turns out.
“It was an unintended positive consequence, going to these peoples’ shops,” Allen explained, noting that “all protocols were kept in place.”
Karn added: “Because we were forced to do it in our separate space, you also realize around the country that wi-fi and that ability to access the outside world is not as easy for everybody. I mean, schools are finding that out right now. But we … sometimes had to wait a while to make sure that the wi-fi and the cameras and everything, we’re feeding us back all the information.”
He explained that seeing the projects remotely before seeing them in person resulted in “a little bit of a disconnect” as they realized that contestants’ projects were more intricate than they originally appeared.
Filming was an emotional experience as well.
“It got pretty emotional. I’m not a big fan of judging art or movies or anything, and this was really difficult because the interest and the dedication for these men and women was unbelievable,” Allen said. “However, we set the show up to have a winner and it got very difficult for me … to judge people.”
“Assembly Required” begins airing on Feb. 23.