Tim Allen returns to TV this fall -- it's ABC's loss, and Fox's (and America's) gain.
TV networks are slowly realizing that if they want to be broadcasters -- appealing to a broad audience -- in an increasingly crowded marketplace of niche-programming suppliers, they'll have to learn how to speak more to the middle of the country (or at least all those bits that aren't major cities and university towns).
CBS has always kept a focus on that, but it's been more of a challenge in recent years for the other three networks, who have worked harder appealing to young, hip and urban viewers.
With its cancellations of "The Middle" and its reboot of "Roseanne" (which is being reconfigured without its controversial star; we'll see how that goes), ABC is having a particularly tough time. It didn't help that the network also canceled Tim Allen's popular comedy "Last Man Standing," which ran from 2011 to 2017, despite high ratings.
The fall of the ax shocked Allen and his many loyal fans, who began with him in ABC's "Home Improvement," and came back to see him play Mike Baxter, a traditional man with conservative views, who works at a Denver sporting-goods store, and has a wife and three daughters at home.
The cancellation happened in part because the show is a production of Twentieth Century Fox Television, instead of one of ABC's affiliated studios. But, Fox Broadcasting Company stepped in and picked up its sister studio's show, which returns to the airwaves on Friday, Sept. 28, at 8 p.m. ET/PT.
Here's how Allen reacted in a statement back in May:
“Excited? Team LMS was in the sixth inning, ahead by four runs, stands were packed, and then for no reason, they call off the game. It leaves you sitting in the dugout, holding a bat and puzzled. Now we get the news from Fox that it’s time to get back out on that diamond — hell yes, I’m excited!
When I heard the offer to create more episodes of Last Man Standing, I did a fist pump so hard I threw my back out. It’s the fans! I could not be more grateful for the fans who wrote petitions and kept up the passion and incredible support for the show. And a fist pump, ouch, for [Fox Television Group CEOs] Dana Walden and Gary Newman at Fox for not only listening to the fans, but for making the bold move to bring Last Man Standing back.
I'm sure audiences will be curious to see what we look like after all these years. Oh, has it only been one year? Well, just goes to show you — a lot can happen in a year.”
There will be some changes. Molly Ephraim and Flynn Morrison, who played Mike's middle daughter Mandy and grandson Boyd, respectively, opted not to return. Both roles are being recast, but no word yet on the replacements (since production usually begins for the fall in July, they'd better hop to it).
The rest of the core cast is back, lead by Nancy Travis as Mike's wife. Also on board is Hector Elizondo, whose competing pilot, "Guess Who Died," got a pass from NBC. Show-runner/executive producer Kevin Abbott is also back.
"Last Man Standing" reflected Allen's own conservative views, but it was known for presenting many different viewpoints.
From Tony Rossi of Catholic organization The Christophers:
One of the strengths of “Last Man Standing” is that it manages to give valid arguments to both its liberal and conservative characters. Not each one is right all the time – and it is a comedy so laughs are paramount – but the writers ably walk the fine line of political debate that still respects the humanity of its characters. In that sense, it’s a more successful entity than the United States Congress and many online comments threads. As a viewer, I appreciate the fact that I’m not being hammered with an agenda, but rather being told an entertaining story with some implicit relevance to today’s times.
The show is also faith-friendly. Mike Baxter is a churchgoer and a man of faith, as is Allen, in his own way.
Here's Allen, who was raised an Anglican, in the transcript of an ABC News interview, quoted in this blog last June:
Allen’s father died when he was hit by a drunk driver when Allen was just 11. The comedian says that after that, he questioned whether if he had prayed harder or had been with his father that fatal day, he could have prevented his death.
“For years, I just did not like this idea of God, church,” he said. “(I was) still a churchgoer, but constantly a cynic.”
But the cynicism didn’t last. Today, he calls God, “The Builder.”
Allen also told Parade magazine that he and his second wife, actress Jane Hajduk -- with whom he has a daughter -- attend church on Sundays, and added:
On a philosophical level, I’m very religious. I call myself an intellectual Christian.
Here's a Father's Day video from last month with Allen, in character as Mike Baxter, talking about fathers and sons ...
Image: Courtesy ABC/20th Century Fox Videos
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