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Fox made a lot of changes to its original programming recently, with several choices sending viewers over the edge, such as Brooklyn Nine-Nine's cancellation (which was then reversed with a pickup at NBC). On the flip side of that, the network decided to perform its own resurrection by acquiring a new season of Tim Allen's former ABC sitcom Last Man Standing. Many have questioned what went into that decision, and according to Fox TV CEO Dana Walden, fans can thank the overwhelming success of ABC's Roseanne revival. In Walden's words:
Everyone took a good hard look at the success of Roseanne. It reminded us we have a huge iconic star in our Fox family in Tim Allen. And we have been talking to Tim through the year. . . . So yeah, we were emboldened by the performance of Roseanne.
Roseanne might not have been the first guess to come to everyone's minds, considering Last Man Standing getting a new season after a single year off the air isn't on the same level of revival as Roseanne Barr's comeback, but it certainly makes all kinds of sense in hindsight. Fox's most recent comedy slate has been mostly acclaimed by critics and viewers, but on the whole, the eclectic assortment hasn't brought in the large and steady audiences that traditional sitcoms do. Meanwhile, Roseanne came out of the gate crushing everything in its path, largely adhering to the same blueprint that made it a hit in the '80s and '90s, complete with studio audiences and real-world plots. And even though that initial audience dropped steadily over the following weeks, it's easily going to be one of the most-watched shows of the season and year.
And sure, Fox could have started developing a new multi-camera sitcom from scratch, possibly with other top-tier TV stars as the leads. But because 20th Century Fox TV produced Last Man Standing -- with ABC's lack of ownership over the show playing a role in the decision to cancel it -- bypassing Tim Allen and Nancy Travis' family comedy for anything else would have been short-sighted. Particularly since the show's dedicated fanbase strongly railed against the cancellation. Last Man Standing came close to living on at CMT, but the cable channel was unable to commit to funding a new season, a problem that Fox can afford not to have.
Dana Walden stated in the conference call ahead of Fox's upfronts presentation (via Deadline) that Roseanne's performance made the network's execs realize that bringing an established star to the multi-cam format would be a better move to bring new viewers in than by adding another serialized series to its ranks. Walden pointed out that even without much promotion, Last Man Standing had impressive numbers for ABC's Friday night schedule, and she brought up that the show still wasn't prioritized at ABC despite its success.
Fox intends on capturing the same audience that tuned into ABC, having confirmed Last Man Standing will be leading its Friday night programming, which was formerly home to genre dramas and thrillers like The Exorcist. It's not much of a coincidence, either, that the network is pairing the show with The Cool Kids, a new comedy tailor-made for an older demographic, which could still appealing to younger viewers; it stars TV veterans David Allen Grier, Vicki Lawrence, Martin Mull and Leslie Jordan. I'm almost surprised that Lawrence's Mama's Family hasn't been primed for a revival. (Yet.)
Roseanne's influence on other networks (as well as at ABC itself) is hardly surprising, and Will & Grace's renewed success at NBC is also proof that familiarity is a big way to win audiences over. And winning over such a big audience was something that Roseanne showrunner Bruce Helford was happy to experience. That sitcom immediately earned itself a new season, so you can bet that Fox is hoping Last Man Standing's initial viewership is massive enough to keep Tim Allen around for years to come.