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ABC decision to cancel Tim Allen vehicle Last Man Standing was one of the biggest shockers of the upfront season.
The multicamera comedy produced by 20th Century Fox Television was in its sixth season and had carved out a solid viewership on little-watched Friday nights. For the uninitiated, Fridays are typically earmarked for programming with reduced viewership expectations, where a comedy like Last Man Standing and its 1.7 rating among adults 18-49 and 8.3 million viewers is seen as impressive.
“A large part of these jobs are managing failure, and we have made the tough calls and canceled shows that we would otherwise love to stay on the air. That’s the job. I canceled Last Man Standing for the same business and scheduling reasons that I canceled Dr. Ken, The Real O’Neals, The Catch and American Crime,” ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey told reporters Tuesday ahead of her upfront presentation to advertisers. “Last Man Standing was a challenging one for me because it was a steady performer in the ratings, but once we made the decision not to continue with comedies on Fridays, that was where we landed.”
Dungey stressed that star Allen’s conservative leaning (he’s pro-Trump) did not factor into her decision to cancel the series and noted that the Disney-owned network axed programming from multiple studios: Sony Pictures Television (Dr. Ken, Imaginary Mary), Warner Bros. Television (Time After Time) and even its own ABC Studios (The Catch, American Crime).
“There are many factors that go into the decision-making process: ratings, critical acclaim … of course we look at ownership structure,” Dungey said of the rising importance of ownership at all of the Big Four broadcast networks. Ultimately, Dungey stressed that Allen’s political affiliation — he has compared being a conservative in Hollywood to “‘30s Germany” — did not play a role in the decision to ax the comedy. “I wouldn’t say that was the deciding factor,” she said.
From a financial point of view, ABC did not own Last Man Standing and had been reducing licensing fees on many of its aging shows — including Sony’s The Goldbergs, ABC Studios’ Once Upon a Time and 20th TV’s Modern Family — in a bid to reduce costs amid dwindling viewership and ad dollars.
Stunned and blindsided by the network I called home for the last six years. #lastmanstanding
— Tim Allen (@ofctimallen) May 16, 2017
It’s also worth noting that of ABC’s new 2017-18 slate, the network did renew 20th TV bubble comedy Fresh Off the Boat — which has greater critical appeal vs. Last Man — when the bulk of its schedule is produced in-house by ABC Studios. (ABC, unlike NBC and Fox, did buy new programming from outside studios this season.)
Additionally, that Last Man was wrapping its sixth season meant Allen would need to renegotiate his contract — adding an additional costs to the aging series as ABC also was set to shoulder a larger share of the overall price tag on the comedy.
Another factor, as Dungey noted, was ABC’s move away from comedy on Fridays. Next season, ABC will open the night with former Sunday staple Once Upon a Time, followed by Marvel drama Inhumans (and subsequently Agents of SHIELD). Both Once and SHIELD have a 22-episode seasons and will be followed at 10 p.m. by Shark Tank. ABC will open the fall without a multicamera comedy for the first time in years after axing Last Man and Dr. Ken.
Keep track of all the broadcast renewals, cancellations and series pickups with THR’s handy scorecard.
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