Where Kelsey Grammer failed, Tim Allen succeeds

Two years ago, ABC recruited one of the most successful stars in TV sitcom history for an 8 p.m. multicam comedy.

HankBut Kelsey Grammer, “Hank” and Wednesdays proved to be a terrible fit. At a time that ABC launched three successful sitcoms — “The Middle,” “Cougar Town” and the mega-hit “Modern Family” — Hank was off the air after only five episodes aired. And, based on the quality of the show, deservedly so. (Let’s just say that Grammer is much better off in Starz’ upcoming drama, “Boss.”)

So we come to the present, with ABC recruiting one of the most successful stars in TV sitcom history for an 8 p.m. multicam comedy. But this time, it was Tim Allen, whose history and comfort zone with the network was well-established in the 1990s with “Home Improvement.”

Man, do ABC viewers love themselves from Allen.

Allen’s “Last Man Standing,” which I’m not going to shy away from saying made me cringe from start to finish in its pilot, debuted superbly Tuesday. The premiere drew a 3.3 rating and 10 share among adults 18-49 and 12.7 million viewers overall, the best 18-49 performance for any 8 p.m. comedy debut in the TV world since CBS’ “The Class” in 2006 and the best in overall viewership since NBC’s “Joey” in 2004.  “Joey!”

AllenAnd on top of that, “Last Man” actually improved in its second episode at 8:30 p.m.: 3.7/10, 13.2 million. So get comfortable, because Allen is going to be around for quite a while.

The questions are: 1) Could this only have worked on ABC? (Maybe, though CBS probably would have been better off with this on Thursdays than “How To Be a Gentleman.”) 2) If you’re going to bring back a sitcom star from the past, should you stick with one from your network? (Maybe, though it didn’t exactly help NBC with Paul Reiser last season.) 3) Was “Hank” a victim of ABC trying to launch too many shows at once in 2009? (Maybe, though why “Hank” and not the others?)

Why did Tim Allen work for ABC and not Kelsey Grammer? We can come up with all kinds of explanations, but perhaps the big takeaway is this: For better or worse, “Last Man Standing” is only going to rekindle interest in bringing back sitcom stars from the past. Roseanne, there’s hope for you yet — just hope you didn’t pick the wrong network.

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