United They Stand
After an unexpected cancellation, the principals of Last Man Standing are relishing the show’s second life.
Working as the executive producer–showrunner on Last Man Standing has taught Kevin Abbott a valuable life lesson: be very careful when you leave the country.
Back in spring 2017, he and his wife celebrated their 30th anniversary by traveling to Africa. When he noticed an urgent message from his office, "My mind immediately went to 'That can't be good,'" he recalls. "I thought something had happened to a cast member. It turned out that ABC had canceled our show."
A year later, they were on vacation again, this time on a cruise in the Iberian Sea. When the ship docked, he found a message asking him to call the head of 20th Century Fox Television (which produces the series) as soon as possible.
"I thought this was going to be about Cool Kids, the pilot I'd been working on, getting picked up and that I'd be running it," Abbott says. "But it turns out, the [Fox] network also picked up Last Man Standing and they wanted me to run that . A week and a half after that call, the whole thing had come together and we were back on the air."
The 2017 cancellation wasn't anything he or his cast had expected. After all, the comedy about a sporting-goods store executive (Tim Allen) and his family had run for six seasons on ABC. It was the network's second-most-popular sitcom in the 2016–17 season.
"We were all somewhat shocked," says Nancy Travis, who plays Allen's wife. "Our sixth season had been our best ratings-wise, and we had a solid fan base. We grieved the loss of the show and had some hope it would be picked up somewhere else, but as time passed, that possibility seemed pretty remote."
Allen never gave up hope. "I just didn't feel like we had finished it," says the veteran actor-comedian. "The show wasn't done yet. We still had a lot of gas in the tank."
Some fans suspected politics were driving ABC's decision to cancel it, since Allen's character, Mike Baxter, wasn't shy about his conservative beliefs. The network said the cancellation was strictly business: the series had become too expensive to license from Fox. However, Abbott believes "the politics of our time helped" revive the show.
"There's a certain part of the viewing population that feels their viewpoint isn't represented well on TV," he says.
Even so, he insists Last Man Standing shouldn't be considered a conservative series. Viewers tend to "bring their own prejudices when they watch," he observes. "Very often, people assume we're this hard-core conservative show, and I admit our main character is. Our star is. But we try to bring in characters that have very different views. We want to say there are legitimate points of view on both sides."
In other words, he considers Last Man Standing a uniter, not a divider.
"The best compliment I've ever heard was after our first show of this season," he recalls. "People said, 'This is what my family is going through.' We used the opening to readdress the schisms that are tearing families apart. Sitcoms are sitcoms and I hesitate to put too much weight on one, but if we can have a little resonance, I feel like we've done our job."
It's a job Abbott wants to keep for a while, and he's learned exactly how to do that: "I'm never going out of the country again!"
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 3, 2019