As if ABC didn’t have enough problems already, the untimely death of “8 Simple Rules” star John Ritter earlier this month presented the ratings-challenged network with yet another hurdle, casting doubt over the future of one of its more successful series.
ABC responded to the situation last week with the announcement that “Rules” will continue to run and that the death of Mr. Ritter’s character, Paul Hennessy, will be addressed on the show.
It’s a brave move by the show’s producers, who easily could have decided to shutter the whole operation. “8 Simple Rules,” an otherwise ordinary sitcom, has distinguished itself primarily as a showcase for the unique talents of Mr. Ritter. The obvious move would have been to acknowledge that Mr. Ritter cannot be replaced, as ABC has done, and to pull the plug on the show, something ABC chose not to do.
By deciding to carry on, and by attempting to deal very publicly with a devastating turn of events in a comedy setting, the producers have given the show not only a chance at a second life but also an opportunity to grow into something beyond the standard sitcom formula. The series will be the focus of considerable interest during the transition from the John Ritter era-including the three new episodes featuring Mr. Ritter that have already been shot for the 2003-04 season-to whatever the future holds for the show. Where its producers decide to take it, and whether it succeeds or fails, will be the subject of intense scrutiny. The show’s fate is both a frightening scenario and an exciting opportunity for all involved.
We think ABC is pursuing a responsible course of action under difficult circumstances, something that is all too rare in network television these days. We applaud the network and the show’s producers for making the right move and embracing the challenge of dealing honestly with a subject that would have been easier to avoid. Confronting the reality of loss on the show will be an important part of the healing process not only for the cast and crew of “8 Simple Rules,” but also for its audience.
We extend our sympathy to ABC and the cast and crew of “8 Simple Rules,” who have suffered a painful death in the family. And we wish them the best of luck.