Gone Too Soon: 8 Simple Rules
by Jason Hughes, posted Oct 27th 2009 2:01PM
This week, we're going to take a bit of a departure from the shows we normally cover. It's very rare that a show that puts out 76 episodes could be considered by anyone to be gone too soon, and yet I make the argument that 8 Simple Rules (for Dating My Teenage Daughter) is that show.
I'm also not going to try and convince you that 8 Simple Rules was one of the greatest sitcoms of all time, because it simply wasn't. It was a fairly standard, solid series headlined by a brilliant comic actor... and then it became something else.
I will argue that 8 Simple Rules was gone too soon, not once but twice. When the series premiered, it was a showcase for John Ritter. He quickly proved that he was as charming and funny as he'd ever been, and the show became a modest hit for ABC. But Ritter died early in the second season, and with his passing the original concept for 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter disappeared. But the show went on.
What was it?
In the fall of 2002, 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter was just another of ABC's family-friendly Friday night sitcoms. This was back when ABC's TGIF was still going strong on Fridays, and the network had a reputation for saccharine sitcoms. The project was a comeback vehicle for John Ritter, who'd risen to fame with his breakout performance as Jack Tripper on Three's Company.
This new project saw a more mature Ritter playing Paul Hennessy, a sportswriter who quits his job to take on more responsibilities at home when his wife, played by Katey Sagal, goes back to work. His struggles with his children, and particularly with being a father with a desirable teenage daughter, led to him writing a new column about his new life.
When Ritter died suddenly early in the second season, the show made the bold decision to not only continue, but to incorporate his death into the series by having Paul Hennessy die just as suddenly. From that point, Sagal became the lead as a new widow with three children and the title was shorted to 8 Simple Rules. James Garner and David Spade joined the cast as her father and nephew, respectively. While it was a very different show, it was a unique path for a sitcom to take.
Why did it have to go?
Surprisingly, despite respectable ratings even after its star's death, ABC canceled 8 Simple Rules after its third season. While ratings had slipped considerably after ABC shifted the show to 8 p.m. Friday nights to 6.8 million and 90th place (for comparison the first season averaged 10.85 million in 43rd place), it was still performing better than its new TGIF brethren.
The problem was with Ritter's death in the second season. The show, despite its relative success, was a nearly impossible sell because it had such a distinct narrative break midway through. Most syndicated sitcoms air shows in blocks, often pairing episodes from different seasons. This could create confusion as the structure and focus of the show changed dramatically. They were also concerned that audiences might find it upsetting to "relive" Ritter's death in this manner.
How do I find out what happens next?
Interestingly, what happened next is what we got for the last two-and-a-half seasons. Many think the show should have ended immediately upon Ritter's death, but the writers thought it was a great opportunity to tackle a very real situation that happens to happy families: the sudden death of a parent.
Where did the cast wind up?
- John Ritter (Paul Hennessy) died during the filming of this series, but had subsequent appearances in Bad Santa, King of the Hill and Clifford's Really Big Movie.
- Katey Sagal (Cate Hennessy) continues her voice-work as Leela in Futurama, and had memorable recurring roles in Boston Legal and Eli Stone before landing the powerful role of Gemma in Sons of Anarchy.
- Kaley Cuoco (Bridget Hennessy) went on to play Billie Jenkins in the final season of Charmed, before snagging the starring role of Penny in The Big Bang Theory.
- Amy Davidson (Kerry Hennessy) continues to find guest work in various projects, and recently wrapped filming for the upcoming film Goyband.
- Martin Spanjers (Rory Hennessy) can also be seen in various guest spots on television, including a recurring stint as young Sam Merlotte on True Blood.
- James Garner (Jim Egan) is mostly retired after a long and distinguished career in film and television, though he still occasionally pops up here and there.
- David Spade (C.J. Barnes) continued his work in various movies before landing back on television as Russell in Rules of Engagement.
- Billy Aaron Brown (Kyle Anderson) continues working in TV and movies, appearing in the forthcoming film Detention.
- Larry Miller (Tommy Anderson) has had roles all over TV and films, including a recurring spot as a name partner on Boston Legal. He reprised his role as the father, Walter, for the television adaptation of 10 Things I Hate About You.
- Adam Arkin (Principal Ed Gibb) next had a major role in Life, where he played Ted Earley. He's currently causing all kinds of trouble as Ethan Zobelle with Katey Sagal in Sons of Anarchy.
There are still those that remember and applaud the series, but there are probably more who remember it fondly as the project John Ritter was tied to when he passed away.
When can I see it?
Despite what ABC thought at the time, ABC Family started airing repeats of 8 Simple Rules on Saturdays from 10 a.m. - 11 a.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. - 12 p.m. You can also pick up the DVD sets for Season 1 and Season 2; Season 3 has not been released yet.
[via Wikipedia, IMDb, 8 Simple Rules Site and more!]