In preparation for next week’s release of its television schedule for the fall, ABC Network made the announcement that it was cancelling the Friday night sitcom “Last Man Standing”, starring Tim Allen. The decision was a mild surprise given that the show was sporting strong ratings and was the network’s third-highest rated scripted program.
A number of conservative outlets have given voice that this was done as a rebuttal to President Trump, given the show has a defined right-of-center tone featuring Allen (himself an avowed conservative) as a family valued business man with Christian principles. He is often in scenes with a liberal son-in-law discussing socio-political issues, giving platform to views not commonly displayed in prime-time. But is this a political hit job by liberal Hollywood on a conservative show?
That accusation withers under examination. For one issue this is not a new program denied a chance to thrive. “Last Man Standing” has been on the network for 6 seasons — hardly a sign of political intolerance. It is not as if ABC (owned by Disney with liberal-supporter Bob Iger) was surprised by the show’s content. It was a known commodity.
“Last Man Standing” was the anchor of its Friday night lineup, but at least one other Friday sitcom – “Dr. Ken” — has also been cancelled, indicating a probable shakeup of that night’s schedule. This is hardly the sign of a targeted hit. If the network is being politically vindictive it would be doing so at the expense of numerous other titles in its lineup. It is hard to see executives so spiteful of one particular show they would undercut numerous programs, and compromise one entire evening of its schedule.
More of an explanation for cancellation comes from the contract terms shifting this year. “Last Man Standing” is produced by 20th Century Television — for now.
The Tim Allen-starring multi-camera sitcom often had gone down to the wire on renewals, with ABC and producing studio 20th Century Fox TV wrangling over the series’ license fee. ABC is supposed to cover the cost of the show at this point in its run.
The terms of the agreement with ABC was that beginning next season the production costs would be taken on entirely by the network. This becomes especially burdensome for two reasons. First, star Tim Allen has a hefty contract. Secondly, as they grow older all shows see an increase in salary for the remaining cast. The network was facing taking on the cost of a show that held diminishing returns.
The variable in all of this is syndication. While that market has been on a down slide “Last Man Standing” has been a rare instance of a show not only performing well but growing at a strong rate in the replay market. This brings about the likelihood of the show finding a home with another network. The Fox Network could be a sensible home, but also a cable outlet, such as CMT, could be a fit. That network took over another comedy years ago — Reba — which saw a ratings bump after its move.