Was Cancelling Last Man Standing The Right Decision For ABC?
Many fans are still reeling from ABC's decision to cancel its staple Friday sitcom, Last Man Standing. In fact, at the time of writing this article, over 382,000 people have signed a petition for the network to bring the series back.
See, the reason so many people are up in arms over this decision is because a lot of fans believe that the cancellation goes much deeper than numbers. Last Man Standing was a steady performer, and it seemed like an easy bet to return for season seven.
With solid ratings, many believe that ABC cancelled the series for political reasons. Tim Allen is very outright about his conservative beliefs, and ABC/Disney is very much the opposite. Last Man Standing also echoed many of Allen's conservative stances, leaning a little more to the right than the other programs on network TV.
ABC has come out publicly and given a different reason for the cancellation, but fans aren't exactly buying it.
With the outcry from fans, and the strong ratings backing it up, we've got to wonder; Did ABC do the right thing??
Let's break it down.
Everybody knows that Friday nights aren't expected to draw huge crowds. Most people, especially those in the 18-49 age range, are heading out to the movie theaters or spending time with their friends. Honestly, Friday night used to be where networks would send the shows that were already doomed.
However, that trend has changed lately. Shows like Blue Bloods, McGyver, and yes Last Man Standing, managed to pull strong ratings at the end of the week.
In its fifth season, Last Man Standing pulled in 7.96 million viewers in its 8 pm Friday slot. This last season, the show premiered to 5.95 million, and the finale brought in 6.06. These numbers are slightly down from the last couple of seasons, but still incredibly strong.
You may be thinking that these are just big numbers for a Friday night series, but that's not the case here. In fact, Last Man Standing was the second-highest rated sitcom on ABC's schedule, behind only Modern Family. And we all know that show isn't going anywhere.
So, from a strictly numbers standpoint, the cancellation doesn't make sense. But ABC had a different reason for pulling the plug.prevnext
After the fans started to cry out, demanding an answer from the network, ABC finally broke the silence. Channing Dungey, Entertainment President of ABC, revealed that the decision was more about direction and less about numbers.
"A large part of these jobs are managing failure and we've made the tough calls and canceled shows that we'd otherwise love to stay on the air," Dungey said. "That's the job. I canceled Last Man Standing for the same business and scheduling reasons that I canceled Dr. Ken, The Real O'Neals, The Catch and American Crime. And Last Man Standing was a challenging one for me because it was a steady performer in the ratings, but once we made the decision not to continue with comedies on Fridays, that was where we landed."
The big takeaway from Dungey's statement is that the network wants a different feel for their Friday nights. Instead of anchoring the evening with comedy, there will be a more fantasy/sci-fi approach.
Other networks have had success with this idea in the past, with shows like Grimm and Hannibal posting great numbers in their respective runs.
When you look at ABC's fall schedule, this claim seems justified. The network has moved the ultra-successful Once Upon A Time to Friday night, followed by a Marvel comics power-hour. The Inhumans will air for the first eight weeks of the season, and Agents of SHIELD will take its place when it ends.
In addition to the schedule, ABC has the factor of production costs on its side.
See, for the first six years of the series, ABC didn't pay to produce Last Man Standing. The show was a joint venture with 20th Century Fox, where the latter company picked up the tab.
The contract between ABC and 20th Century was only for six seasons. If a seventh was picked up, ABC would have had to foot the bill. 20th Century Fox would have likely pitched in, assuming the companies signed a restructured deal, but that's still money that ABC wasn't paying before.
While Last Man Standing isn't an expensive series, it wasn't incredibly cheap either. According to E! News, Tim Allen's salary alone cost $4.2 million each season.prevnext
Was Cancellation The Right Call?
Based on the numbers, it's definitely a toss-up. Yes, ABC wants a different feel on Friday nights. And yes, there is a production cost associated with another season. However, is all that enough to turn down a sitcom that's guaranteed to bring in viewers?
This is where the conservative fanbase starts to think that this was a political move. Tim Allen recently made a joke about being a republican in Hollywood, and it caused quite a stir amongst the media. He likened being a conservative in show-business to being part of "1930's Germany."
This was clearly a joke, but it was made in extremely poor taste. From this point on, a large part of Hollywood viewed Allen through a different lens. Fans believe that this, along with the fact that the show wasn't overly-liberal, is the true cause of its downfall.
Did politics cause the cancellation?
When looking at the ratings, you're tempted to say yes, despite the factors working in ABC's favor. However, there are still a couple of things to consider.
First of all, there isn't a ton of return on investment with a series like this. Unlike Once Upon A Time and the Marvel shows, which are much more expensive, Last Man Standing doesn't really have anything but ratings to sell. There isn't really a market for Tim Allen action figures or spin-off comic books.
There's also the other programming decisions to consider. Some argue that this was a move to take away the only show that featured conservative Christian values, and that focused on a "working class family". That seems true on the surface, but made choices that counter this argument.
The network cancelled two other popular comedies, Dr. Ken and The Real O'Neals. Both of these programs featured diverse casts, and both focused on issues like racial equality and sexual orientation. Neither show pulled in the kind of numbers last man standing did, but they were still decent performers.
People are also tending to forget that this same studio is bringing back the definition of a white American sitcom. After years away from the spotlight, Roseanne is set to return this fall. If you were watching TV in the '90s, you remember that Roseanne and Home Improvement - Tim Allen's claim to fame - defined middle-class America.
If you're trying to rid the channel of conservative value, why would you bring back Roseanne?
Honestly, the Roseanne renewal is the biggest factor working against the argument that politics influenced Last Man Standing's cancellation. If anything, those two shows would have provided a spectacular one-two-punch for conservative audiences.prevnext
Unfortunately, none of us will ever really know if the cancellation was a political move. Unless you were one of the ABC executives behind those closed doors, there's no way to find out.
But, ABC has given their defense, and it makes more sense than you may want to give it credit for. Whether you agree of not, what's done is done, Last Man Standing is through at ABC.
If you're a member of the conservative middle class, and you think that you were done wrong with this decision, that's understandable. While Last Man Standing may be gone, your impact has been heard.
The networks have seen the outpouring of love for the sitcom, and it's impossible to ignore the fact that the fanbase is bigger than anyone gave it credit for. These networks are seeing that there is money to be made with this kind of series.
So, keep an eye out for what your channel-of-choice does next. The pilots delivered for 2018 could include quite a few like Last Man Standing.prev