The Last Man Standing finale almost pulled off a Roseanne-style move by bringing back former cast members who played roles now filled by different actors, but it did not happen. Molly Ephraim, who played the original Mandy Baxter during the show's first six seasons, was nowhere to be found in the finale, but showrunner Kevin Abbott said he and the producers thought about it. Ultimately, they decided to go with a different route.
Abbott told TVLine they thought about bringing back Ephraim and Alexandra Krosney, the original Kristin Baxter, for at least a cameo in the finale. "At the beginning of the year, Fox had asked, 'Can you do something that's promotable at the start of the season?' We felt like the time jump was promotable, but it's tough," Abbott said. He added that they were "kicking around ideas" before they ultimately decided on having Tim Allen's Home Improvement character Tim Taylor meet Allen's Last Man Standing character, Mike Baxter.
Ephraim and Krosney would have been interested in coming back, Abbott clarified. However, he was "not certain" that this could have been accomplished. "One of those [recastings] was not our decision… [and] I don't think attitudes have softened during the last four years," Abbott said. The executive producer did not reveal how Ephraim or Krosney would have fit into Last Man Standing now that their roles were both played by different actors. Once they hit on the Tim Taylor-meeting-Mike Baxter idea, they decided that was enough for meta jokes in a season.
If Ephraim or Korensky did make appearances, it could have been similar to Roseanne, which Abbott coincidentally worked on. That show had to recast Becky for Season 6 because Lecy Goranson left. Sarah Chalke played the role for two seasons. In Season 8, both actresses played the part, but Chalke played Becky alone in Season 9. When ABC revived Roseanne in 2018, Chalke came back to play a new character while Goranson played Becky. Chalke's new character, Andrea, also appeared in the first season of The Conners.
Last Man Standing went through several cast changes throughout its run. Krosney played Mike and Vanessa's (Nancy Travis) eldest daughter in Season 1, but Amanda Fuller took over the part for Season 2. Ephraim left the show after ABC originally canceled it following Season 6. By the time Fox revived it a year later, Ephraim was already busy on new projects and she could not come back. Molly McCook took over the part, and early episodes of Season 7 made references to the differences between the two actresses.
The idea of bringing back the original stars wasn't the only idea scuttled by Tim Taylor meeting Mike earlier in the final season. Abbott also told TVLine they thought about ending the show with Tim waking up and realizing that everything that happened on Last Man Standing was a dream, as a tribute to Newhart. Instead, Abbott decided to end the show in a more Last Man Standing way, with one final Outdoor Man Vlog.