Tim Allens new comedy on ABC, Last Man Standing," was a surprise hit… (Peter "Hopper" Stone/ABC )
Guess what is shaping up as the biggest hit of the new TV season?
Tim Allen’s retro “manly man emasculated” sitcom, “Last Man Standing.”
TV critics loathed it — but 13.2 million viewers liked it. That’s TV’s biggest 8 p.m. comedy debut in more than seven years.
And the new 8 o’clock comedy opened on its own. No watch-us-kill-Charlie-Sheen-and-put-his-ashes-in-a-DustBuster lead-in audience of 30 million here!
Sure, you argue, that’s because people may love Tim Allen, but after they saw the first of the two back-to-back episodes ABC used to launch the series Tuesday night, ratings would —
Nope! The second episode copped more viewers than the first. That means people liked what they saw.
In “Last Man Standing,” Allen plays a guy living with his wife and three daughters. As if that’s not bad enough, he works for the catalogue of a sporting-goods retailer. For years, his character, Mike, was sent in to manly places to gin up sales imagery for such manly things as boots and tents and knives. But his boss decides that young guys don’t read print catalogues, so Mike finds himself working on the company’s newfangled, girl-y thing called a Web site.
All across America, we’re picturing millions of people in the show’s targeted demographic group — the put-upon-male — watching the unveiling of “Last Man” Tuesday night. Then, their wives/ girlfriends asked, “What are you laughing at?” and took a longer look — and decided they liked it, too. Because “Last Man” handily beat its series competition in its time slot among 18- to-34-year-old women.
The show was the No. 1 program in its hour, across the entire TV landscape, among 18- to-34-year-olds.
Yes, we know, CBS’s much-ballyhooed new sitcom, “2 Broke Girls” (from “Sex and the City’s” Michael Patrick King), attracted a bigger crowd of about 19 million to its unveiling — this season’s biggest new-series premiere to date.
But “Broke Girls” did so with the enormous help of a whopping “Two and a Half Men” lead-in audience of 30 million.
The only other new series to draw a bigger audience in its kickoff — the CBS drama “Unforgettable” — attracted 14 million people, with a 17 million-viewer hand from its “NCIS: Los Angeles” lead-in.
(“Last Man” finished virtually on par with the opening of CBS’s new J.J. Abrams drama, “Person of Interest,” which had attracted 13.3 million people in its first flight. The show ran in CBS’s best drama-series time slot, Thursday night at 9, with a sizable “Big Bang Theory” audience as its jump-start.)
We could go on and on about how “Last Man Standing” — the new series most hated by TV critics — trounced the openings of all those shows that TV-industry navel-gazers said would be The Next Big Thing: “Terra Nova” (9.2 million viewers), “The X Factor” (12.5 million), “Whitney” (7 million), blah, blah, blah.
Instead, we’ll finish with:
●In its review of “Last Man Standing,” the Los Angeles Times said: This “is a case of people who can make situation comedies with their eyes closed making one with their eyes closed.”
●Newsday said: “ ‘Last Man Standing’ reeks of flop sweat. ABC obviously reasoned the world was ready for a ‘Home Improvement’ revival. ABC is wrong.”
And, because it’s only fair,
●The Washington Post said: “ ‘Last Man Standing’ is . . . thickly coated in nostalgia for [Allen’s] ‘Home Improvement’ hit of the 1990s. It’s less of a newly conceived comedy and more of a prime-time haunting.”
Depp’s TV return?
Johnny Depp — the genuflected-at actor who first became a household name in Stephen J. Cannell’s ’80s cop drama “21 Jump Street” — might be returning to series TV.
This time he’d be the producer of a period drama that he’s developing for Lifetime cable network. The project is about Billy Wilkerson, the dapper, dubious founder of the trade paper the Hollywood Reporter.
If the series is greenlit, Depp’s Infinitum Nihil production company will produce in association with GK Films, which is also partnered with Depp on his upcoming flick “The Rum Diary,” based on Hunter S. Thompson’s debut novel.
Wilkerson is what you’d call a “colorful figure,” what with his having been a New York-based movie-industry exec and compulsive gambler who lost most of his money in the big crash of ’29. He founded THR the next year.
Wilkerson owned nightclubs on what would become Hollywood’s Sunset Strip and is considered by some to be the guy behind the idea of the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, which was actually built by gangster “Bugsy” Siegel.
Which brings us to another colorful thing about Billy Wilkerson: his mob-ambassador reputation.
Others know him better as the guy who “named names,” as THR wrote in his obit, on the eve of the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings.