Last Sitcom Standing?

The hair is more gray, the paunch is more pronounced around the belly. The face is a tad more jagged.

But Tim Allen is back on TV, and again he's there to represent---Michigan, that is.

Allen, 58, is the star of the new ABC sitcom, Last Man Standing, where he plays a marketing exec whose nest is filled with women---his wife and daughters. The series premieres tonight.

The show takes place in the Denver area, but Allen's character is a University of Michigan grad.

It's been about 12 years since Allen, who grew up in Birmingham, was last seen on the small screen as do-it-yourself TV host Tim Taylor on Home Improvement.

Since then, movies beckoned (The Santa Clause films, most prominently) and Allen made a mint with just his voice in the Toy Story franchise.

He's also the narrator of the Pure Michigan ad campaign on TV and radio.

It's been over 20 years since Allen first made a name for himself in the entertainment industry, grunting and acting the cave man as he did stand up. His act was centered around the male penchant for power tools. It's how he landed the Home Improvement gig.

Well, that's not quite true. Allen made a name for himself before that, in a twisted way; he was booked on a drug charge back in 1978 in the Kalamazoo area. The '78 mug shot is still just a Google search away.

And today?

"I like doing TV -- I think," Allen told the Detroit Free Press in a phone interview. "Compared to movies, which I adore, this is a way I don't have to be on a far-off location and can be close to home, near my 3-year-old. It's a very structured environment, and with this I'm an executive producer so I'm involved in really all aspects of the production -- from the set design, which is something I really like, to the actors I'm working with and script approval. There's a bunch on my plate right now, but it's cool."

Allen as Mike Baxter in ABC's new sitcom, Last Man Standing

Allen is likeable, and on TV that's what sells---whether it's a sitcom or a talk show or anything else that is beamed into people's living rooms. In a business filled with variables and which is susceptible to the onslaught of technology, likeability has remained a constant in terms of whether audiences will watch you or not.

Whether TV viewers will gravitate back to Allen remains to be seen. His wife is played by TV veteran Nancy Travis.

Allen is betting on it. He told the Free Press that he feels viewers---especially the males---are ready for a return to a more "traditional sitcom setting."

If anyone should listen to Tim Allen, it's TV executives, because Allen had Home Improvement humming along from 1991-99, frequently in the Nielsen Top Ten. At the show's peak in 1993-94, over 20 million sets of eyeballs tuned in on Allen as Tim Taylor.

It's 12 years later, but maybe the viewership has come full circle. Lord knows there's enough "reality" TV out there to gag an elephant.

"It's difficult to find something where everyone in the family can watch something together -- but that's what we're trying to do," Allen says of Last Man Standing.

I hope he succeeds. The genre of the sitcom could use a winner.


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