ABC to continue John Ritter's sitcom without him
By Gary Levin, USA TODAY
The death of John Ritter won't stop ABC from pressing on with 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter.
But the sitcom will temporarily take a dramatic left turn as family members adjust to the death of his character, Paul Hennessy.
Rules, ABC's top-rated new series last season, will premiere as scheduled Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET/PT, with three new episodes featuring Ritter to be introduced by fellow cast members.
After a few weeks of repeats, the show will return — probably in time for the November sweeps period — with new episodes that "will take viewers into the Hennessy household as they experience the loss of their father," says ABC Entertainment Television Group chairman Lloyd Braun. That's a major shift for the lighthearted comedy.
On the eve of its fall season, the network decided to continue the show — with the blessing of Ritter's widow, Amy Yasbeck — as a better alternative than a last-minute rejiggering of its comedy lineup.
Rules will become more of an ensemble series, and co-star Katey Sagal will take a larger role. New actors will be added eventually, some of them in guest roles as friends and relatives who help out.
Braun concedes there's no precedent for a show succeeding after the loss of a series star. "This is uncharted territory. ... But it feels like the right way to go."
Still, advertising buyers say Rules without Ritter could be a turn-off to viewers. Says David Marans of MindShare: "John Ritter was so central to the dynamics of the show that it seems a stretch the program would succeed without his presence."