LOS ANGELES -- If Tim Allen had his way, "Home Improvement" wouldn't have ended.
"I loved doing that show but the boys wanted to go on to college," he says. Since he had a healthy film career to consider, the successful comedian agreed to call it quits.
But the lure of steady work in a familiar environment beckoned. And when producers suggested he update the buffoonish dad to the 21st century, he was more than ready.
Enter: "Last Man Standing," a new comedy about a father with three GIRLS.
"What I really wanted to investigate was what it would be like to be around four women that are intelligent and strong and fun," he explains. "I have two daughters, a strong wife and a mom and sisters. I thought it would be kind of fun to flip-flop the two shows. It isn't rocket science what I'm doing."
Still, Allen knows a lot has changed since "Home Improvement" left the air in 1999. "This isn't reality...it's a very scripted show. You walk in, do your joke and you hope you're ready for it. But it might not work."
The landscape has changed so drastically, Allen made sure to tell network heads they had to adjust their expectations. "They don't get 30 million people for one show anymore. And the pay scale is different. But this wasn't about money. It was about having a chance to entertain. Maybe, in a way, this is comfort food for viewers."
To make him even more of an anomaly, Allen's character works at a sporting goods company that's shifting its focus. Instead of producing sparkling print copy, he now has to come up with online videos, Tweets and blogs.
Then, too, the office includes men who can sympathize with his plight at home.
"For the first time in history, more than 50 percent of the workplace is women, 60 percent of all college graduates are women," says Jack Burditt, the show's creator. "At the heart of it, though, this is just a family comedy. It's about a family who don't always see eye to eye on everything but really like each other."
To make it look more traditional, "Last Man Standing" is shot before a live audience, giving Allen a chance to play to a crowd. "This is a combination of my standup and theater," he says. "The structure is nice."
Before settling on "Last Man," Allen looked at other formats. A network drama was a strong possibility but, he says, "they cast a woman in it."
You have free articles remaining.
"Harry's Law," perhaps? "I don't know what you're talking about," he says coyly.
To make sure he felt comfortable in a weekly gig, longtime director John Pasquin was hired to helm the show.
Because the two had worked together on "Home Improvement" and several of Allen's films, they have a shorthand that should serve them well.
"Working with him, you need a tremendous amount of patience," Pasquin says with a laugh. "And there are similarities in the characters. But as this character's gotten older, he's gotten crankier."
Says Allen: "It was a no-brainer for me because he's easy to work with up to a point...a very fine point."
Burditt, who worked on "30 Rock," says the new show required an adjustment because it's not as fast-paced. "Creatively, you can go hog wild (with a single-camera show)." With a multi-camera series, "it's like a stage play."
For a magazine article, Allen recently met with members of his "Home Improvement" cast. "My boys had grown into men and Pat (Richardson) asked what it's like to have a new wife. I realized it was kind of creepy, particularly since we're just getting to know each other on screen.
"But this is going to evolve," he says of "Last Man Standing," "and we'll grow into a family, too. When we shot the pilot, it was like we'd been here for a year. It was just brilliant."
And if it doesn't work? The movie business still wants him. "Toy Story 4," perhaps?
"I can't say. The Disney people are very weird about that. But if you look at 'Toy Story 3,' it ended very positively. And that little girl? They tweaked her a little bit so she looks like the boy."
Sometimes subtle changes are all it takes.