Tim Allen says he tries not to get caught up in focusing too much on ratings and competition for his ABC “Last Man Standing” sitcom because, he says, “I’m kind of a worrywart.” Still, he is obviously well aware of what’s going on. Though TV pundits expect the show to get a fourth season renewal, things could be better — and should be better, as far as he is concerned. He points out, “We’re winning our timeslot Friday, which is a very difficult night. So that’s what it is. ABC — I think we’re one of their best products. I think we’re very undersold. Believe me, if four million more people saw the show, it would be amazing. We’d be in the top rung. I think it’s a top-rung show. It’s so well produced, so well written.”
Indeed, as viewers know, there is a lot to enjoy about Allen’s second series. From his interplay with onscreen wife Nancy Travis and boss Hector Elizondo, to his ever-more-capable younger castmates (daughters played by Amanda Fuller, Molly Ephraim and Kaitlyn Dever, plus guys including employee Christoph Sanders).
“I adore the show!” he enthuses. “I never, in my wildest imagination, would have figured I’d have done ‘Home Improvement’ for eight years, and I loved every second of that. And the crew, and the excitement in my life. I’ve gone through some personal troubles in between there, but aside from that, my work was wonderful,” he says. “Then to have this family I love deeply — different because they’re girls — it’s just been amazing! I’m so protective of the integrity of this.
“If I think about being competitive, well, I don’t get much help by their moving us, you know? First they put us against ‘NCIS,’ which is a fabulous show. It’s a very different vibe, but it’s kind of the same audience as ours. But we still did great numbers, and then right as we’re climbing, they move us to Friday to anchor their Friday night” — the worst night of the week for television, historically speaking.
“I’m a veteran, so we do what we need to do,” he says. Besides, “It’s a different landscape from the past. People watch what they want to watch; people TiVo it and make their own night out of it.”
Allen comes off as relaxed and open in an afternoon’s talk that ranges from his push to garner more attention for “Last Man Standing” to the future of Buzz Lightyear and Santa Claus, to the joys of being a later-in-life dad.
He is not only in a second-time-around situation at work, but at home as well. Married since 2006 to actress Jane Hajduk, he’s doing daddy duty once again. Does he bring any comedy fodder from home?
“No. I often say I wish I lived in a sitcom world, where things are resolved. Things aren’t resolved like that in real life. My five-year-old — it’s more intimidating because it’s real,” he says of his little Elizabeth. “She’s a bright one. My older one is calm and quiet,” he continues, referring to 24-year-old daughter Katherine, from his former marriage.
“But this one is very opinionated for a five-year-old. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s not. I adore being around her.”
How does she feel about daddy being Buzz Lightyear?
“She doesn’t quite get it,” he replies. “Right now she’s a ‘Frozen’ freak. She loves it. But it’s funny — we have a couple down the block who were over Friday for dinner. They think it’s fun to watch ‘Last Man Standing’ with me in the room. The baby’s right there. In a very funny way, in about five minutes she goes, ‘Can we watch something else?'” He laughs.
Speaking of Buzz, what’s the outlook for another “Toy Story” film or television special?
“As far as specials, I’m sure they’ll have another one because they’re so successful. But it’s very hard on these guys to come up with the stuff. It’s very difficult for them,” he stresses. “I believe there’ll be more specials, but I’m not the one to ask. They’re very private about what things are going on. And I respect it. They’re very cautious about making promises they can’t keep. But they love doing this.”
And so does Allen. “I just so like that I’m part of America’s history with this stuff. It’s such a part of the zeitgeist,” he notes. “I very rarely get to be around my buddy Hanks, so I like working with him, but we don’t do it that much.”
When Allen finished making “Santa Clause 3” in 2006, he said he’d had it with the grueling demands of long days filming in prosthetics and swore he was hanging up the red suit for good. But ho ho ho. “Enough time has gone by, I’d do another ‘Santa Clause’ now,” he tells us. The bad memories have worn off enough.
His memories of the beloved “Home Improvement” live on, however — and he has former castmates Richard Karn and Jonathan Taylor Thomas in recurring “Last Man Standing” roles. Thomas has directed a couple of “Last Man Standing” episodes, in addition to popping up on the show as John Baker, daughter Kristin’s (Fuller) hot boss at the swanky restaurant where she works.
Baker was introduced at the end of last season. Allen says he loves working with his former series son. “It’s always nice to have him around. It’s been seamless again. It took awhile for the girls to settle down though — they’re big fans of his,” he says.
Last year’s season-ender was a noteworthy episode in terms of opening up new story arenas in addition to introducing Thomas. This year’s, coming up April 25, will be every bit as memorable, to hear Allen tell it.
“This cliffhanger is kind of fun. I don’t know that I’m supposed to give it away. In the atmosphere of the show, it’s pretty odd. It’s pretty uncommon, what’s going to happen. Somebody’s getting married,” he reveals.
“During rehearsal, my reaction as Mike Baxter was kind of a shock to me, because I felt like a parent. It’s a peculiar thing, being a TV parent, first with those boys all those years. It is, of course, structurally different from being a real parent, but you spend so much time with the damn kids, you take on some parental point of view. So I was like, ‘This couple, they’ve got to work some s#@! out. It’s not my decision.’ It’s kind of funny. I went ‘What?!’ And the look on my face — it’s a pretty funny line that they’ve given me.”
“Home Improvement” lasted eight years. Allen would like “Last Man Standing” to go that long as well. Or longer.
“I’d love to see these girls get married,” he says. “I’d love to see them have children, I’d love to see them go through that. Yes, I’d love that.”
Will Tim Allen’s long-awaited return to series TV, “Last Man Standing,” still be standing by the end of the season? The show launches tomorrow night (10/11) amid a hail of critical arrows. But it’s getting better and better — to hear Hector Elizondo tell it.
“Like all these shows, it’s a creature that’s creating its own path while walking. We’re figuring things out,” says the debonair actor, who plays Tim’s boss and pal on the new show, in which Nancy Travis plays Tim’s wife and the mother of his three daughters. “We have all the right pieces. It always takes a season with these. If the network gives us a chance, this will be a very successful show.”
Elizondo tells us that Allen’s involvement was the primary inducement for his joining “Last Man Standing.” “I always admired his acting. Not a lot of people think about that. The movies he’s done — I see the chops there, not too hidden under the surface, either. They’re taking advantage of that more and more,” he says of the show’s writers. It’s leading to “more and more real comedy.”
The one-time “Chicago Hope” lead admits he “didn’t want to get back up on the horse” when it came to launching a new TV series. The premature death of his last such effort, the beautifully-crafted “Cane” drama with Jimmy Smits, was a heartbreaker for all involved. Ironically, it shot at the same studio as “Last Man Standing.”
“That one hurt, and left me in a deep, deep funk,” he says. “I said, ‘That’s it. I can’t take another disappointment like that.’ It was a damn good show, a quality show. The production values where high, it had content — that world of Florida and the Caribbean is so economically viable, so important…We were all emotionally involved in it. There was a great feeling of Caribbean warmth on the set. There was good Cuban coffee, dancing between takes. Then the writers’ strike hit for three and a half months, and we couldn’t hold on.”
Elizondo played shrink to Adrian Monk on “Monk” for a season after that, and made films. He has buddy Garry Marshall’s “New Year’s Eve” coming up Dec. 9.
And now, here he is, back at Radford Studios, fully emotionally invested in a series again. He has to be, he says. “It’s always good and always dangerous. You’ve got to dive in in the raw. We’ve got a commitment of 12 to do. I would think with this caliber of talent, we’d get a full season. They’ve been wooing Tim for awhile.” He adds, “We’ll know after three or four are on the air.”
Will tonight’s Disney Channel Original Movie, “Lemonade Mouth” establish the next generation of Disney Channel stars? That is the hope of producer Debra Martin Chase, and you’d better believe, it’s the network’s hope as well — especially now that the stars of the “High School Musical” franchise, “Camp Rock” and “Hannah Montana” have all grown up and moved on.
If Chase’s track record with fresh talent is any indication, the new gang will be well worth following. Her “Princess Diaries” movies gave us Anne Hathaway and Chris Pine. “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” introduced Blake Lively and gave America Ferrera a teen following. Lucy Hale, so hot in “Pretty Little Liars,” got an early career boost in “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2,” as did “Grey’s Anatomy’s” Jesse Williams.
What does Chase hunt for? “I hate to sound like a cliche, but you really do look for that ‘It’ — that very special quality that makes someone stand out. Sometimes I call it, people have light in their eyes, something that shines from within, coupled with intelligence,” she says. “They need to be attractive, but an interesting attractiveness. They need to have some soul and depth to them, you know? That’s how it happens, they just come in and you say, ‘Okay. that person is special.'”
As Chase points out, both Bridgit Mendler (“Good Luck Charlie”) and Adam Hicks (“Zeke and Luther”) are already Disney Channel stars. Other members of the title high school band of “Lemonade Mouth” are starting to take off as well. Hayley Kiyoko has opened for Justin Bieber. And, “Subsequent to the filming of our movie, Naomi Scott was cast by Steven Spielberg as one of the leads in his new Fox series, ‘Terra Nova,'” points out Chase. “She has already shot the pilot in Australia.”
Heartthrob-to-be Blake Michael “is really the Cinderfella of this whole thing. He sent in a self-made tape with his mother reading lines with him in Atlanta. The tape just popped. We knew we had to have him,” Chase recalls.
Casting was a three-month process that made good use of new technology. Rather than going city to city looking at candidates for the roles, Chase and her team viewed video posted to their website. British actress Scott “auditioned via Skype. That’s the first time we’ve done that.”
As for whether there will be a “Lemonade Mouth 2” — Mark Peter Hughes, who wrote the popular novel, is writing a sequel now — Chase smiles. “It all depends on how we do Friday night.”
TRAFFIC ADVISORY: L.A residents who want to catch a glimpse of a classic style pop superstar mob scene can drive over to Sunset Blvd.’s BookSoup book store in West Hollywood tomorrow (4/15) around three p.m.. (Others, take note and avoid.) Janet Jackson will be there to sign a few hundred copies of her No. 1 best-selling book, “True You,” and it doesn’t take much imagination to predict what the scene will be like. Miss Janet will have to tear herself away to perform at Universal City’s Gibson Amphitheatre in the evening. All three of her concerts there sold out in ten minutes.
THE VIDEOLAND VIEW: Tim Allen’s pilot is sounding like a better and better prospect now that Nancy Travis is aboard as Tim’s wife, and Hector Elizando’s in the mix, playing Tim’s boss at a demolition company — at least for awhile. (The character steps down, moving Tim’s character up.) Elizondo automatically confers quality upon anything in which he appears, as his buddy Garry Marshall would be first to agree. Garry insists on using Hector in all his movies as his good luck charm.
Sounds like HBO’s planned television treatment of Femme Fatale magazine will be sexy stuff. The producers (who have “NCIS” and “Castle” in their collective credits) put out a casing call for a “hot ethnic woman in her twenties, a hot ethnic woman in her thirties, a hot caucasian woman in her twenties” and four good-looking guys in their twenties and thirties. Nudity required for everybody.
More details are emerging about Tim Allen’s already-highly-anticipated ABC series pilot. Looks like his character will have a teenage son to relate to, though there are certainly more females around him in this sitcom incarnation than in “Home Improvement.” Among those females, we hear, will be a Japanese exchange student who Tim’s character thinks is male — ’til she shows up — and who speaks no English. The pilot storyline has Tim’s character launching into a rant that gets posted on YouTube and becomes viral. Sounds fun.
Things are looking a lot different for Tim than a year ago, when he was getting over the disappointing fate of his acting-directing vehicle, “Crazy on the Outside” — and when he talked to this column about his dismay over Disney pulling the plug on his “Wild Hogs 2” movie. Now, the star not only has a new sitcom on the way, he also has the movie that will put him together with his “Toy Story” colleague, Tom Hanks — their planned live action feature based on the Disneyland Jungle River Cruise ride.