National advertisers will support in the short term ABC’s decision to keep “8 Simple Rules … for Dating My Teenage Daughter” on the schedule-but down the road it will need to perform just as any other show.
“Most advertisers will probably stay with the show,” said Doug Seay, senior VP, national broadcast, for Publicis & Hal Riney. “If they pull it off [going forward], of course we’d welcome that. We are happy to support it. But you still need to get ratings. The marketplace will determine that.”
The Walt Disney Co.’s ABC and Touchstone Television, the show’s producer, have decided to continue to produce sophomore sitcom “8 Simple Rules” after the unexpected death of lead actor John Ritter on Sept. 11. The show will not recast Mr. Ritter’s character or add a new father figure. Instead, the fictional Hennessy family will deal with the death of Mr. Ritter’s character on the show.
Advertisers are expecting huge ratings for three episodes that have yet to air-but afterward they expect numbers will drop substantially. ABC made upfront deals with advertisers for the show back in June for an average of $151,000 for a 30-second commercial-de als that technically do not allow advertisers to pull advertising in the fourth quarter. (Advertisers are allowed to adjust advertising deals in other times of year, however). In extreme cases-such as when the content of the show has drastically changed-advertisers ask permission to remove commercials.
For “8 Simple Rules,” media buyers said, some national advertisers will look to leave because the sitcom, at least initially, will take on more of a dramatic tone.
“Advertisers might say, `This is not the show I bought,”’ said one West Coast media buying executive.
So far, an ABC spokeswoman said, no advertisers have left the show.
“It’s nice all-family comedy, and they just need to get past this difficult time,” said Donna Wolfe, executive VP of national broadcast for Interpublic Group of Cos.’ Universal McCann. “[But] it remains to be seen how advertisers will feel about the episode that deals with him dying.”
Additionally, media buying executives said advertisers might be miffed that ABC is asking advertisers to stay with the show when the program will be in repeats so early in the new season. Three episodes of the show were completed before Mr. Ritter’s death and those will air as planned, starting Tuesday, Sept. 23, with special introductions by cast members. ABC will run “8 Simple Rules” repeats until new episodes are ready.
ABC has been marketing “8 Simple Rules” with a respectful attitude. The network aired an hour special, “A Life of Laughter: Remembering John Ritter,” last week. A promo campaign to familiarize the audience with the changes to “8 Simple Rules” also started running last week, telling viewers to tune in to “the last three episodes of John Ritter.”
ABC’s first instinct, said ABC Entertainment President Susan Lyne, was to “retire” the show. As with any shows that are canceled, national advertisers have a choice-they can continue in any new show that replaces the old show or they can shift commercial time into other ABC prime-time shows.
Precedent has shown that untimely deaths of key TV actors aren’t good for programs long term. Redd Foxx starred in “The Royal Family” (CBS) in 1991 and died on the set after four episodes aired. Mr. Foxx was replaced by actress Jackee. The show lasted only another nine episodes before it was pulled. Freddie Prinze, star of “Chico and The Man” on NBC committed suicide in 1977, during the third season of the show. “Chico and The Man” lasted one more season before it was canceled.
ABC’s “Bewitched” had a change in actors in 1969-and survived. Dick York, who played Darrin Stephens, left the show due to poor health and was replaced by Dick Sargent for the program’s fifth season. The show ran for another three years.