Tim Allen has been living inside our TV sets for three decades.
He started “Home Improvement” in 1991 and will end “Last Man Standing” at 9 and 9:30 p.m. Thursday (May 20) on Fox. In a 30-year stretch, he spent 17 years with those two shows; also, TV kept rerunning his movies – especially “Galaxy Quest” and all the “Toy Story” and “Santa Clause” tales.
Now Allen’s overload is ending. “I had health problems, letting go of this one,” he said. “It’s been three or four weeks (since the finale was filmed) and I’m literally just feeling better” now.
Nancy Travis, who plays his wife, had a similar reaction. “I still feel a bit aimless,” she said. “I am still, sort of, getting in my car and, before I realize it, I’m driving to Studio City.”
This notion of being canceled is new for Allen, whose “Home Improvement” quit after eight seasons, still on top. “The network really was pleading with us to keep that going,” he said.
Before that, his life had a slow start – colleges (Central Michigan University and Western Michigan University, where he graduated in 1976) … heckling in a Detroit comedy club … open-mike nights and an emerging stand-up career … then two-plus years in prison for drug trafficking.
After returning, he did more stand-up … then found his distinctive theme: He talked of the caveman-like instincts of guys and their tools.
That scored in comedy clubs and a cable special, then was adapted into his Tim Taylor character on TV. “I was a neophyte in ‘Home Impovement,’” Allen said. “I was just a comedian doing a TV show. I had no idea that you couldn’t go in there and say, ‘This script stinks.’”
Mostly, the scripts turned out well. In its first three seasons, “Home Improvement” was No. 4, No. 3 and No. 2 in the Nielsen ratings; it was in the top 10 for all eight of its seasons, quitting near the top.
When Allen returned to TV a dozen years later for “Last Man,” his character matched some of his own conservative views. This is “Archie Bunker with a college education,” Allen said.
The other actors and writers didn’t have to share those views, said producer Kevin Abbott. “We were a workplace that did blend very different ideologies.”
But “Last Man” wasn’t about politics anyway. It was about a guy’s-guy, moving between his macho job and his way-less-macho home with a wife, three daughters and, eventually, some geeky sons-in-law.
It ran six seasons on ABC, getting solid Friday ratings, then was canceled. “There’s nothing like that afternoon, sitting in the car going, ‘That was weird!’” Allen recalled. “It didn’t feel like the end of it.”
It wasn’t. The show is owned by Twentieth Century Fox, which was making money from its reruns. At that time (but not now), the studio also owned the Fox network. Allen said he talked to network chief Dana Walden (presumably about the money issues) and said “maybe we can restructure it.”
“Last Man” had one good Fox season on Fridays, before wrestlers took over the night. The show was banished to no-win timeslots for its final two years; this year, its ratings plunged more than 40 percent.
This cancellation may feel milder, because everyone had an interim year off: During the change of networks, “Last Man Standing” skipped an entire season.
In that year, Allen followed the example of Jay Leno, who knows about losing a too-busy job.
“Jay was a big help,” he said. The two comics “both do Vegas in almost the same venues …. And he got me into a lot of charity events for the police officers, the military. I followed his lead there and restructured my touring.” He also continued his mechanic shop and built two new hot-rods.
Now he’ll have more time for that. At 67, Allen can live the life Jay Leno or Tim Taylor would savor.
Now he’ll have more time for that. At 67, he can live the life that Jay Leno or Tim Taylor would savor.