It’s that time of year when network television renews or cancels some of your favorite shows, and now there’s a cancellation that has fans upset for an unusual reason. Soon after ABC announced it was yanking the Tim Allen sitcom Last Man Standing after six seasons, a segment of that series’ most vocal supporters believed they knew why: Because Allen is a vocal Hollywood conservative.
The right-wing blog Dailywire.com ran a story late last week headlined, “Despite High Ratings, ABC Cancels Trump-Friendly Sitcom Last Man Standing.” Wisconsin governor Scott Walker linked to that story and tweeted at Allen, “Looks like ABC is playing politics with your show despite decent ratings. Sad.” Glenn Beck of the Blaze muttered darkly during an interview with Bill O’Reilly on Beck’s online radio show last week that he was “going to start looking into why this show got canceled.”
So, is it true? Is Last Man Standing a new example of authoritarian entertainment political correctness? Last Man Standing, for those of you who don’t watch network family-hour Friday-night TV, told the tale of Mike Baxter (Allen), one of the heads of an outdoor sporting-goods store in Denver. Married with three children, Mike was presented as part of a supposedly vanishing breed: the proud straight, white, monogamous, Christian, gun-shooting male. He spoke fondly of hunting, belittled men around him whom he considered too soft and sensitive, and railed against political correctness. Everyone around him treated Mike as one might a much older, senile person — with kindness, care, and perhaps a little pity.
Last Man Standing wasn’t a ratings blockbuster, but when you’re on ABC on Friday night, you don’t need to be — that time period simply requires that you remain competitive with the shows around you and don’t lose viewers year-to-year in a big way. In this, Last Man succeeded. Paired with the Ken Jeong sitcom Dr. Ken, Last Man was a solid performer for ABC and also did very well in syndication. Deadline reported that Last Man was “the third most watched ABC scripted series overall behind Grey’s Anatomy and Modern Family.”
So why was Last Man Standing canceled? ABC has offered no reason, but one may be a now-common TV-business motivation: The show was produced by 20th Century Fox, not ABC itself, at a time when the networks like to own all their series for maximum profits. Another reason may be a scheduling strategy: Because ABC also canceled Dr. Ken, you could also conclude that the network wanted to give its Fridays-at-8 hour a fresh start in the fall, with new programming there. Fresh blood and all that.
What are the arguments for a politically motivated cancellation? Dailywire says the show is “one of the very few aimed to appeal to America’s heartland.” Deadline claims Last Man is a “blue-collar comedy appeals to viewers in the Heartland, a constituency that helped elect Donald Trump as president and has been energized postelection as evidenced by the ratings success of new USA drama Shooter.” One thing these labels do is reduce Last Man to a lesser show than it was: If you actually watched the show past its first season, you’d see that it became a slightly more interesting thing — a show about maintaining common sense in a world gone a bit crazy, and one in which its female supporting cast (led by Nancy Travis as Allen’s wife) was heard from just as forcefully as Allen’s Mike was.
If all of the above is true, you’d think ABC would be motivated to renew Last Man, not cancel it — appealing to a wide audience; isn’t that what network television is supposed to do? So I think there might be something to the notion that the show’s traditional-values theme got it canceled. If you’re ABC in 2017, you’re looking at your primetime schedule and hoping to gain some traction, become more of a player in a TV world in which all the buzz is going to cable and streaming services, where programming is hipper, more adventurous, more artistically risk-taking. If you’re an executive, you probably haven’t watched Last Man Standing since screening the pilot six seasons ago — you wouldn’t be caught dead laughing at the antics of a 63-year-old comic like Allen. More to the point, you want your shows to attract younger, more diverse viewers — and Last Man isn’t really for that crowd.
When you combine this with the notion that what’s being pushed on Last Man would strike most cool-kid Los Angeles TV execs as a backward-looking social agenda, Last Man Standing becomes a much easier show to cancel than, say, American Crime, which lost many more viewers than Last Man did in the past season but which possesses a prestige, progressive aura and Emmy Awards. Crime was, indeed, canceled as well, but you can bet more hands were wrung over that decision than over yanking Allen’s comedy off the schedule.
So, yeah, I think that, if you want to be brusquely reductive, Last Man Standing could be said to be a victim of its conservative-in-every-sense image. I sincerely doubt that politically motivated protestors of the cancellation such as Gov. Scott Walker and Glenn Beck are regular viewers of the show, but if they, and the show’s true fan base, want to turn this into the thousandth “the media is totally left wing” cause, have at it. Just don’t expect it to make one bit of difference to ABC.
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