05/12/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT
It has been four years since Richard Karn hung up his tool belt as flannel-clad Al Borland on the '90s hit Home Improvement, but it took a reunion special for him to realize the show's lasting impact. "I looked into the audience and saw that three out of four men were dressed in plaid," says Karn of filming the May 4 ABC special. "When you lead a normal life, you aren't aware of how you affect people."
A normal life is what Karn, 47, has been striving for ever since the show wrapped its nine-year run in '99. Although he regularly bests Home star Tim Allen on their weekly golf outings—"I have more time to practice because Tim is always on location doing movies"—Karn has spent most of his post-Home years nesting in L.A. with his wife, actress Tudi Roche, 47, and son Cooper, 11. He even chose his latest gig—hosting the syndicated game show Family Feud—because it is taped over just 12 weekends a year. "I don't like to be away from my family for long periods," says the actor. Showbiz "can become a tug of war between your family and career, and the family tug usually wins." Still, he admits that taking the helm of the 27-year-old game show has been a fun challenge. "You steal elements from the past," says Karn, who has studied the style of legendary Feud host Richard Dawson, 70. "But I don't have the inclination to kiss the guests. I just give them a hug."