'Last Man Standing': Fox Eyes Revival of Tim Allen's ABC Comedy

LAST MAN STANDING S06E05 Still - Publicity - H 2018
Tony Rivetti/ABC

ABC's loss is Fox's gain.

A year after Disney-owned ABC canceled the Tim Allen comedy Last Man Standing, Fox is in early talks to revive the multicamera effort for a seventh season. Allen, sources say, has signed on and has been — with producers 20th Century Fox Television — the driving force behind the revival. Discussions are also underway with producers and stars from the former ABC comedy to return. Insiders stress the talks are on the early side and could break down ahead of the network's May 14 upfront presentation to Madison Avenue ad buyers. Fox and 20th Century Fox Television declined comment.

Fox's move to revive Last Man Standing comes after Allen and the network's studio counterpart 20th TV attempted to find the series a new home after ABC's shocking cancellation last year. Viacom-owned niche country music-themed cable network CMT was in talks to bring the show back for a seventh season for either a short-order or multiple-season/20-episode revival. But those negotiations ultimately broke down given the sizable price tag that came with the series. (CMT airs reruns of the show in syndication.)

Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter after last year's upfronts, 20th Television's Howard Kurtzman singled out Last Man Standing as the most disappointing and surprising pass. "If there's a way to bring it back, we will explore those opportunities," he said.

Fox's move to bring it back would, at least for now, give the network ownership of the comedy (should a deal close). At the time of Last Man's cancellation, ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey stressed that the show's ownership structure — the network had to pay a sizable licensing fee to 20th TV — was behind her decision to drop it. Also playing a role in its cancellation was the fact that Allen's contract was up after season six and a new deal would have increased the cost of the aging series at a time when ABC was poised to shoulder a larger share of the price tag on the show. Dungey emphasized the cancellation had nothing to do with Allen's political affiliation after the actor compared being a conservative in Hollywood to "'30s Germany." The actor has since voiced his support for President Donald Trump (and attended his inauguration).

A deal to revive Last Man Standing could arrive as Disney — not Fox — may ultimately wind up owning it. Should regulators approve Disney's $52.4 billion deal to buy Fox assets — including 20th TV — the Mouse House would find itself in the opposite situation of where it was last year: owning the show on an outside network, with Fox having to pay Disney a licensing fee. 

When Last Man Standing was canceled last May, it ranked as ABC's second-most-watched comedy (behind only Modern Family). Since then, the TV landscape has changed following the blockbuster ratings success ABC found with its Roseanne revival. Roseanne's ratings have illustrated the larger value of programming shows for middle America. Starring Roseanne Barr, who has been vocal about her support for the president, the Roseanne revival made the debate over Trump part of its storyline as it looks to explore subjects facing working-class America and open a larger dialogue. Dungey, for her part, has been vocal about ABC's need to program to audiences that go beyond affluent white viewers with series including Roseanne. (Fox on Wednesday also picked up a pilot about a family set in middle America that is in contention for midseason.)    

Asked following the Roseanne revival's spectacular ratings if she had plans to revive Last Man Standing — which could have been paired with Roseanne for a multicamera comedy block with conservative stars — Dungey said the network "had talked" about it, but there were no immediate plans to bring it back.

Roseanne was ABC's lone multicamera comedy during the 2017-18 season as the network made a decision to take a step back from the format. Multicamera comedies are less expensive to produce — a boon in an era of dwindling viewership and ad dollars — and faster to produce. Roseanne and The Big Bang Theory this season are the two most-watched comedies on broadcast — and both are multicams. This pilot season, the genre heated back up again.

For his part, Allen — who played conservative Mike Baxter, the father of three girls on the family comedy — has remained vocal about his disappointment over ABC's cancellation of his show. "I always wanted Last Man Standing to be like [All in the Family's] Archie Bunker," Allen said in September. "Archie Bunker pushed boundaries, but Carroll O'Connor was not that guy at all. I am a version of that guy. But there is nothing more dangerous, especially in this climate, than a funny, likable conservative character. He is mitigated on the show by a family of women who had a difference of opinions, but [Mike Baxter] was a likable guy and a principled guy about work and ethics and all this stuff." 

The actor, who previously spent eight seasons starring as Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor on ABC's Emmy-nominated Home Improvement, also took the broadcaster to task, noting the network "could not have handled [the cancellation] worse." "Second biggest show, [ABC] hadn't won a Friday night in 15 years. They put us out to pasture on Friday and we won Friday. Big night for us. Big night for them. I would have put Roseanne after us. Use us just to launch shows, if nothing else," he said.

Allen acknowledged the revival Thursday on Twitter: 

Keep track of all the latest renewals and cancellations with THR's scorecard and of all the pilot pickups with our handy guide. For complete coverage, bookmark THR.com/upfronts.