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September 1, 2015

Gone Too Soon: 8 Simple Rules

by Jason Hughes, posted Oct 27th 2009 2:01PM
8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter
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.

8 Simple Rules (original cast)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.

8 Simple Rules (seasons 2-3 cast)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.
  • Kaley Cuoco & Amy DavidsonJames 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.

Who Cares?
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!]

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I am one of those who stopped watching the show after John died. I kept looking at the 2 new cast members and wondered where they were sleeping? After all, it was only a three bedroom house. Did they add on during the break? Or am I going someplace where I should not go?

November 30 2009 at 6:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

imo, started out good, untimely death, show went downhill.

October 28 2009 at 12:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

To me, it had way too much David Sade in it to be something I would watch regularly.

October 27 2009 at 8:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

from the article: "David Spade and James Garner joined the cast as her father and nephew, respectively." Is that how respectively works? David Spade played the father and James Garner was the nephew? Wow, great casting!!!

October 27 2009 at 6:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to kevin's comment
Jason Hughes

Yeah I flipped that one all around. Fixed now, but you know, that would have made for an interesting turn of events. :)

October 27 2009 at 7:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Riley Freeman

yes it was gone too soon. i was a huge ritter fan my mom tells me as a child. i really cant remember that far back (im 26). I really liked it. i thought all 3 of the children worked great together. i loved rory he was funny. but it did have to go. it just wasnt the same.

October 27 2009 at 6:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I watched this show and was shocked when it was canceled. You're right it wasn't the best but it was good, and in terms of family sitcoms it was very good. I was very happy that they didn't end the show once John Ritter died.
On a slightly unrelated note, does anyone remember when 6 million viewers on a Friday was bad? What's happened to TV? If ABC could get 6 million viewers for a sitcom on any day of the week it would probably be a success.

October 27 2009 at 5:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have to admit, I wasn't sure what would happen to the series after Ritter's passing. Bringing David on board really helped out in what some thought would be a disaster. James was also a nice touch, you have to give credit to the writers... this is something not many shows deal with. I wish Amy Davidson would get more work, she's an amazing actress.

This was definitely a show that was gone too soon, but you have to admit... it would be confusing for some that have never seen it before and found it via syndication.

October 27 2009 at 5:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I thought the show was really funny at the beginning, but it lost some momentum, when Ritter left us too soon. The show changed a bit, especially of the role of the younger daughter (Redhead). She was supposed to be the smart one, and than they tried to make her "hot". I wasnt buying it.

October 27 2009 at 4:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I really enjoyed this show when it was on. Thanks for the great write-up.

October 27 2009 at 3:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

John Ritter was fantastic in Bad Santa.

October 27 2009 at 3:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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