When television network ABC announced that they were canceling comedian Tim Allen’s popular sitcom Last Man Standing, many people — including the show’s star — were shocked. After all, it was the third most-watched scripted show on the network, behind Grey’s Anatomy and Modern Family, and received solid ratings:
Stunned and blindsided by the network I called home for the last six years. #lastmanstanding
— Tim Allen (@ofctimallen) May 16, 2017
Some commentators accused ABC of canceling the show due to its conservative bent: Allen played an outspoken conservative on who often riffed on political issues such as Obamacare on the sitcom. Tim Allen’s personal politics somewhat mirrored the character’s, as the former Home Improvement star is a Republican who attended Donald Trump’s inauguration. A petition that garnered more than 300,000 signatures on Change.org claimed the show was canceled because it was the only entertainment program that was not constantly shoving “liberal ideals down the throats of the viewers”:
Despite consistently high rankings, especially considering the time slot in which it is aired, Tim Allen’s show “Last Man Standing” has been cancelled by the network on which it is aired, ABC.
Last Man Standing stands out in the sea of network television sitcoms. It is a show that appeals to a broad swath of Americans who find very few shows that extol the virtues with which they can identify; namely conservative values.
Last Man Standing was not just selling conservative ideals though, as some of the characters in the show are clearly of the liberal persuasion, yet the characters on the show all manage to get along and take care of one another, despite their politically opposed views. The show is about more than politics though, it is about family. In fact, politics is only a secondary part of the show, but one in which many Americans can readily identify.
Last Man Standing is one of the only shows on broadcast television, and the only sitcom, that is not constantly shoving liberal ideals down the throats of the viewers. And sadly, that is likely the real reason the show has been cancelled.
Inevitably, this accusation was boiled down into a meme eventually shared by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin (a Republican):
Allen described his experience at Trump’s inauguration during an appearance on the late-night talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live, saying that he was “almost afraid” to say he had been at the event. However, his support for Trump was already well known, making it unlikely that the show’s cancellation was directly related to his attendance at the inauguration.
Although it’s true that Last Man Standing drew solid ratings, Vox took a closer look at the circumstances surrounding the show’s cancellation and found that a variety of reasons why the series might have gotten the axe. For one, Last Man Standing just finished its 6th season, and the show’s cast and staff were likely in line for a pay bump which would have made the show much more expensive to produce:
After season five, if a show isn’t a blockbuster (like The Big Bang Theory or The Walking Dead), every additional season becomes harder and harder to procure, even if the ratings are pretty good on the whole.
The reason is simple — actors, writers, technicians, and other people who’ve stayed with the show for its full run begin to earn pay bumps, usually seeing solid raises in seasons six and seven especially. (You’ll often hear about studios agreeing to new “two- or three-year deals” with certain cast members post-season five, and that’s often to lock those cast members in at a rate the studio can live with for future seasons.)
This makes a lot of sense. Traditionally, seasons four and five are when a studio starts to make back the money it’s invested into a series, from syndication and other means. And Last Man Standing has both lucrative syndication and cable rerun deals with various networks, which have paid off in solid ratings that fed back into the main program (which actually saw viewership increases in season six — almost unheard of).
But it also probably caught the show in a weird Catch-22. Last Man Standing was successful — but not successful enough. It was doing well enough to justify better pay for the cast, especially, but it wasn’t doing well enough for the studio to demand more money from the network (more on this below).
In addition to renegotiating contracts with the cast of Last Man Standing, ABC may have also had to look at its licensing deal for the show. ABC doesn’t actually own Last Man Standing; rather, they license the show from 20th Century Fox:
There’s one big reason this might be the case: Since ABC doesn’t own the show, it doesn’t get any of the show’s ancillary revenues — from streaming services and syndication and cable reruns and international broadcasts. Those all go to the studio, Fox. ABC pretty much just collects ad revenue at this point.
Thus, ABC has no incentive to keep making more episodes of the show from a financial perspective, where Fox has huge incentive to do so. It’s easy to see how that situation could have grown unsustainable.
ABC also recently announced that the tremendously popular American Idol program would be returning to their network lineup, which may have forced them to move or cancel other shows to make room for it.
ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey said on a press call with reporters that she canceled Last Man Standing for the same “business and scheduling reasons” that led to the cancellation of other shows:
On a call, ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey called the decision to not renew Last Man Standing the type of “tough calls” she needs to make in her job. Asked whether the show’s content and the fact that Allen is a prominent Republican played a role in the decision, she said, “I canceled Last Man Standing for the same business and scheduling reasons I canceled The Real O’Neals, Dr. Ken, The Catch, American Crime.”
“It was a challenging (call) because it was steady performer but when we made the decision not to continue with comedies on Friday that’s where it landed,” she added.
ABC’s Friday comedy block will be gone next fall, replaced by Once Upon a Time and Marvel’s Inhumans/Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. for a fantasy/sci-fi block.
Did the fact that Last Man Standing is not owned by ABC — it comes from 20th TV — play a role in its demise?
“The truth of the matter is that there are many factors that go into the decision-making process: ratings, critical acclaim. Of course we look at ownership structure, I don’t think we are alone,” Dungey said, quickly noting that the network has shows from multiple independent studios, including Warner Bros. TV and Sony TV. “I wouldn’t say that was the deciding factor.”
It’s unlikely that Tim Allen’s politics were the sole or primary reason behind the cancellation of Last Man Standing. However, when asked whether politics played a role in deciding the network’s lineup, Dungey said:
There’s a lot of news, and I think that people are definitely looking to television as a place they want to feel, they want to laugh, they want to cry … the mood of the country has told us that television is a little bit of an escape … What people want to do now is connect and experience and to feel … that did frame a lot of our development thinking this season.
Despite these claims, the network will soon have another Trump supporter on the air. The network is reviving Roseanne, which will star Roseanne Barr, who once said she became a Republican because of Donald Trump:
Y I became a Republican: Because Trump was th ONLY candidate who talked about the working classes, not just the middle classes. When was 1/2
— Roseanne Barr (@therealroseanne) November 18, 2016
In May 2018, Fox announced they would be bringing back Last Man Standing for the 2018-19 television season.