'Last Man Standing' Final Season Keeps Laughs Coming Thanks to Plexiglass Booths
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‘Last Man Standing’ Final Season Keeps Laughs Coming Thanks to Plexiglass Booths
“I cannot emphasize the impact a studio audience has,” showrunner Kevin Abbott tells TheWrap
After nine seasons and two networks, “Last Man Standing” will take its final bow this spring on Fox. And, as you might imagine, shooting the last episodes of a multi-cam sitcom during a pandemic is not as much fun — mainly because a large studio audience is no longer safe.
But the Tim Allen comedy was actually able to keep the real-life laughter coming in a way to mitigate the spread of COVID-19: individual plexiglass booths for 18 paid “laughers” in the audience.
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“I cannot emphasize the impact a studio audience has,” “Last Man Standing” showrunner Kevin Abbott told TheWrap. “So it took a little bit of working around things. But ultimately, we brought in laughers. And they’re up in the audience in their own little plastic booths, like the booths from ‘The $64,000 Question.’ They’re sealed off in these things, but they can laugh, and the actor can at least hear them, so they get the rhythms back.”
Those 18 laughers on “Last Man Standing” are tested regularly and follow the same safety protocols as everyone else on set, an individual with knowledge tells TheWrap. The 20th Television-produced show installed individual pods of plexiglass and plastic sheeting for the laughers, which are assigned to each laugher and are routinely cleaned.
“I’d say the first couple of episodes were especially difficult, though we got our feet under us eventually. But it’s a different beat. The energy, that was the hardest thing. How do you re-create show-night energy? I mean, there is a definite energy to show night, and it’s much different than when you’re on the stage all day long shooting the same thing over and over again.”
But Abbott doesn’t actually let his stars shoot “over and over” at this point, in order to keep them even safer than they are under the already-strict guidelines.
“I instituted a three-take rule, where we only do three takes,” the “Last Man Standing” executive producer said. “It doesn’t matter if you suck or not, if you don’t want to suck and have a bad performance show up on the air, then get it right in the first three takes. It creates a sense of urgency, a sense of, ‘We’ve got to get this right; we’ve got to be on point.’ And that helped. And then getting used to the fact that, when you’re on a four-camera sitcom, your energy is all aimed toward show night, building show night. You don’t have that anymore, so you have to re-adjust so it’s more like a marathon and less like a sprint, but you want to bring the same energy. We’ve gotten there.”
“Last Man Standing” is in the same boat as every other show that would normally have a studio audience but has lost it during the pandemic. However, it is the only broadcast multi-cam sitcom wrapping up its run right now.
“For the final season — it’s tough everywhere, I get that — but for us, it’s our final season, and the cast doesn’t get to do their farewell tour with the audience,” Abbott said. “And the audience, especially some of our long-timers, they don’t get to say goodbye. It’s hard; it is hard. I feel bad for everybody involved because we’re going to go out, and it’s not going to be quite the finale that you would hope that your final season would be. But what are you going to do?”
Abbott says “the other side of that” is how lucky they are to be shooting at all.
“We keep talking about being grateful for what we have. Don’t let all of the negatives pull you down too much. Try to keep a positive attitude, try to keep a healthy outlook and persevere. And I’m very proud of the cast and crew and how everybody is moving forward.”
“Last Man Standing” airs Thursdays at 9:30/8:30c on Fox.