Fox’s “Last Man Standing” is going big in its final season, with an episode featuring Tim Allen in his leading role of Mike Baxter and reprising Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor, the iconic character he played on ABC’s “Home Improvement” for eight seasons from 1991-1999.
The bit will come in the second episode of “Last Man Standing’s” upcoming ninth season, when Vanessa hires a home improvement repairman who bears an uncanny resemblance to Mike, who is struggling with an idea for his Outdoor Man 10th Anniversary vlog. And the idea for this epic half-hour, which airs Jan. 7 on Fox, came about because the broadcast network wanted to kick off the sitcom’s final season with something flashy.
“We had already broken the first seven episodes and our intention was to have the ‘Time Flies’ [flash-forward] be the first episode. And Fox came to us and said, ‘We’d love it if you could come up with some big promotable event.’ And I always hate that, especially on this show, where we tell smaller stories about family interaction,” “Last Man Standing” showrunner Kevin Abbott told TheWrap. “Plus, it’s difficult to come up with some huge promotable event that happens in our little world.”
Abbott continued, “And so as I was bitching and moaning about it, my writers were actually thinking about it. And Jon Haller came back and said he’d been thinking about stunt casting and said, ‘You know, we’ve had almost all the names from “Home Improvement” on the show and the one we really haven’t had is Tim Taylor.’ And I went, ‘That is just brilliant. That is brilliant.’”
Abbott calls the idea one of those ones “where it’s like, how did we not think of this before?”
“It seems so obvious, so great and yet we didn’t think of it before. So we all got very excited about it,” he said, adding, that he “felt good that we’d be able to land the actor.”
And, of course, they did, but Allen was very particular about how he wanted his beloved “Home Improvement” character to appear on “Last Man Standing.”
“So the first hurdle you have to jump is to get Tim to sign off on it. I want to make sure that he wanted to play it — which he did, he fully embraced the idea, with the proviso that we would honor that character, not make fun of him or anything, which we would never do,” Abbott said. “I really liked ‘Home Improvement’ and Matt Williams and David McFadzean and Carmen Finestra, who created ‘Home Improvement,’ were really kind and generous in allowing us to use the character and certain iconic symbols from the show and bits. So we were going to bend over backward to not give them any reason to regret allowing us to do that.”
Though Abbott says his “first instinct” was to go negative (Tim Taylor’s “gotten divorced and he’s down on his luck and he’s now just a handyman”), he “got disabused of that notion pretty quickly.”
“I love working with Tim, so I say that kiddingly because it’s a very collaborative process,” he said. “We kept going at it and talking about it and talking about it until we got to a place where we thought this was funny and interesting. Tim was telling me it really kind of affected him because what that episode is about in terms of fear of moving on — and fear that you’re going to be less-than and you’re going to be losing — and when you’re in a spot where you love something, moving past it is difficult. And we’re in our final season, so a lot of this resonated with Tim. And it was really great. It was a fun episode to do.”
After getting the blessings of the “Home Improvement” creators and Allen, the “Last Man Standing” team still had to wait it out to see if Fox would be able to get permission from Disney (the company that holds the rights to “Home Improvement”) to use the Tim Taylor character for the episode, which is aptly titled “Dual Time.”
“It took a while. There are bigger legal hurdles than you would think in all of that. It was the day before the table read that I got permission to actually go forward with the episode. And that was only because I threatened, ‘I’m reading it anyway.’ So they finally agreed to it,” Abbott said, laughing.
Abbott and his writers know the ins and outs of Mike Baxter going into the ninth season of “Last Man Standing,” which aired its first six seasons on ABC before it was canceled and then revived at Fox, but they obviously weren’t familiar with writing Allen’s career-making role.
“Tim gave me one of the box sets of ‘Home Improvement’ so I watched a bunch of those to remind myself what the character was like and everything,” Abbott said. “And they’re different, so trying to make sure that we differentiate the characters was challenging. And Tim wanted to make certain that we were telling a story about Tim Taylor as well. That we weren’t just bringing in somebody to have in the moment and then move on, that there had to be a back story and a reality to that character as well. And it took a lot of discussions to land where we landed on everything, because he wanted to make certain that we did it right. That it sounded true to him that that’s what happened to Tim Taylor.”
So what did happen to Tim Taylor — who, last we saw on the “Home Improvement” series finale, was living in Detroit, Michigan with his family — and how did he make his way over to Colorado for this episode of “Last Man Standing”?
“I can’t remember how much stayed in after the edits, but Tim Taylor now works for Binford Tools,” Abbott said. “He’s a high muckety-muck in that company and he travels around doing quality control at the various Binford Tools. You may have noticed their stores on the corners [in ‘Last Man Standing’]. But Binford has franchised out a place now that has several locations and he was in town visiting the Denver store and checking them out. And he’d been told by a lot of people that there is a guy that does this vlog called ‘Outdoor Man’ that he looks exactly like. So he had to go see this guy, he had to go meet this guy. And boy, they do look alike.”
“Last Man Standing” airs its ninth and final season premiere this Sunday before moving to its regular Thursday time-slot next week. With a good chunk of the season already broken, Abbott knows how he wants to wrap things up — but is still in the process of crafting his ending.
“I do have an idea what the series finale is and I can tell you it’s Mike’s journey this year. A lot of times over the series we’ve had Mike as a huge force in other people’s journeys, that Mike is kind of this constant. This year, it’s about Mike Baxter and the pandemic has made him reassess things, reassessing where he wants his life to go moving forward and what does he do about ‘Outdoor Man.’ I’m already fiddling around with it, because things do change as we go forward, but I believe it’s going to give the audience a sense of closure and a sense of hope.”
Season 9 of “Last Man Standing” will premiere Sunday, Jan. 3 at 9:30/8:30c on Fox. The show will make its time-period premiere at 9:30/10:30c on Thursday, Jan. 7.