When thinking of big-name male sitcom leads from the last few decades, Jerry Seinfeld, Ray Romano, and Kelsey Grammer are right there on top of the heap of ha-has. But not to be overlooked is Tim Allen, who fronted handyman goofball family comedy Home Improvement for almost all of the '90s.
In its heyday (1992-1994), Home Improvement was averaging 18-19 million viewers per episode and was a top three show, jockeying for the number-one spot with ratings monsters Roseanne, ER, and Seinfeld. Allen was a celebrity behemoth, at one point simultaneously appearing in the number-one rated television show (Home Improvement), starring in the number-one movie (The Santa Claus... really), and writing the number-one book (Don't Stand Too Close to a Naked Man). To summarize, Allen was God. At least for ABC.
Last week, Allen signed on to play the lead role in an untitled ABC sitcom pilot (previously called The Last Days of Man) about a manly man who is "fighting for his manhood" while adjusting to life surrounded by women. It's a return to the medium that made him famous—but will it be a triumphant homecoming, or has television moved on?
It's been a long time since Allen was on television regularly (Home Improvement ended in 1999), and the comedy landscape has U-turned away from what he's used to. Ensemble casts are more popular, the family comedy scenario has given way to workplace comedies, and older guys playing the king of their castle just aren't "cool" anymore.
Allen's list of achievements since he was last on TV don't exactly put him on the A-list. He voices Buzz Lightyear in the Toy Story films, but when we think of Buzz, we think "plastic plaything," not "Tim Allen." He did play the lead in one of the best movies of all time according to me (1999's Galaxy Quest), but aside from that, his biggest role was in the old-timers-on-Harleys "comedy" Wild Hogs, and he's been nominated for the Razzie award for Worst Actor three times. His star, once burning bright, is now a chunk of ice among young adults who never had posters of Jonathon Taylor Thomas on their walls.
The climb back to TV stardom won't be an easy one for Allen, as some of his peers already know. Seinfeld never fully returned to television (no, The Marriage Ref doesn't count) except for a stint on the like-minded Curb Your Enthusiasm, Grammer tried and failed miserably twice (Hank, Back to You), and Romano opted for light drama, single-camera, and cable for his return (Men of a Certain Age).
Watching Tim Allen crawl back onto television might be like seeing David Lee Roth perform at an Indian casino today. But there is hope for him. Allen's Tim 'The Tool Man' Taylor is the original Larry the Cable Guy, who is still enjoying a strong following wherever collars are blue and necks are red. If Allen is going to be a success on TV again, he's going to have to tap into that same audience.
Do you want to see Tim Allen back on television?
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom