After 194 episodes, spanning nine seasons and two networks, Last Man Standing signed off Thursday with a decidedly understated finale. No one got married, got a new job or moved away. Instead, the episode saw everyone gather to mourn the loss of something near and dear to Mike’s heart: His 1956 Ford F-100, which was stolen and stripped for parts. But when everyone — including Kaitlyn Dever’s Eve, who FaceTimed in for the occasion — was asked to say a few words at the service, they didn’t eulogize the classic automobile — not if you listened carefully. Rather, each cast member tipped their hat to the show itself.
Below, showrunner Kevin Abbott proves himself an open book, revealing additional storylines that were scrapped at the very last minute, and the reason why Dever had to appear via tablet, despite being on set for the final taping.
TVLINE | This is the second time Last Man has ended — but the first time you’ve had the opportunity to end it on your terms. How much pressure did that put on the final episode?
It placed enormous pressure on it. I was also running this show at the end of Season 6 [at ABC]. That was the only year we didn’t think we were on the bubble, and we got cancelled. One of our main goals was really to make Tim feel that it was an appropriate end to this series that he had put so much of himself into, and dedicated so much [of his time], and felt so strongly about. I would have felt terrible if he walked away feeling incomplete.
We broke two other complete stories that we threw out, because we didn’t feel like they were the right tone. We finally settled on this one the week before [we shot it], but we were very good at writing quickly at that point… At the end of the day, I felt very good about what we did.
TVLINE | What can you tell me about the two other stories that got scrapped?
One was that Kyle leaves to join the priesthood. He leaves and Ed goes with him. Basically, it was a way to say goodbye [to the characters and the show]. You would say goodbye to Kyle and Ed, and have the other characters express how they were feeling [about] what was happening.
TVLINE | To be clear, it would have been Kyle, Mandy and Sarah moving away? And Ed just… tagging along?
Correct. There would have been a goodbye party. It would have been a separation. In the pilot, Kyle was a new employee [at Outdoor Man], so it would have felt correct, in terms of, you know, fulfilling that circle, completing the arc of the character. We would’ve made it as funny as we could, but there was going to be a bittersweet, melancholy underpinning to everything. That’s why we made [the finale] about the truck being stolen, and made the truck the metaphor for losing something that you care about and invested in for a long time. We could say goodbye to the truck [and] keep that bittersweet, maudlin quality to one scene, as opposed to manifesting itself [throughout the episode].
TVLINE | And what was the other story you had in mind for the finale?
The second idea was Kristin taking over Outdoor Man. It was an episode built around Ed saying Kristin needed to find her Ed — she needed to find that [business] partner that she could trust, and who would support her and encourage her good ideas, and be strong enough to tell the hard truths about her bad ideas. We had a very funny, interesting way in which we framed to have that be Mandy. And it felt very legitimate, by the way, because that role wasn’t about business expertise. It was about common sense… having a feel, you know, for what works and what doesn’t.
TVLINE | Why didn’t either of those stories feel like “the right tone”?
We didn’t go with either [of those ideas] because [they represented a change at Outdoor Man] that meant that the show, as everybody knew it, no longer existed.
TVLINE | You’ve worked on a number of long-running sitcoms, including The Golden Girls, the original Roseanne, and Reba. Did you look to any of those finales for inspiration?
It’s funny you ask that. If I did, I didn’t do it consciously. But Matt Barry, my number two [on Last Man], was also on Reba, and we ended that series as well [without actually] ending the show. That was just an episode about Reba finally admitting that she’s friends with Barbra Jean. Maybe that’s just my personal [preference]. You know, I loved Cheers. It was one of my favorite comedies. They did a great [finale], but I didn’t like that final melancholy moment. I wanted it to end on, while not necessarily a funny moment, because that’s really difficult to do unless you’re Newhart, I didn’t want it to end on a depressing moment.