In 2002, John Ritter returned to ABC, the network that aired Three’s Company, the sitcom that made him a star 15 years earlier.
In 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter, Ritter plays sportswriter and dad Paul Hennessy. He wants to take a more active role in the lives of his children so, when his wife Cate (Katey Sagal) returns to work full-time, he decides to stay home to take care of the kids. The trouble is that they’re now a trio of independent teenagers — popular Bridget (Kelly Cuoco), brainy Kerry (Amy Davidson), and smart-aleck Rory (Martin Spanjers).
The show was a moderate success, ranked 43rd for its first season on the air, and was renewed with an average of 10.85 million viewers. As you may recall, Ritter died unexpectedly after completion of the third episode of season two. The show’s production was shut down to give the cast and crew time to grieve and also to give the network and producers time to decide if and how they should proceed.
Though the sitcom revolved around Ritter’s character, it was ultimately decided to keep the show going and Ritter’s character dies off-camera. The next few episodes deal with his loss and how the Hennessy family moves on. Cate’s father, Jim Egan (James Garner), moves in to help and Cate’s very immature nephew, C.J. (David Spade), moves in for additional comedy relief. The series’ title was also renamed 8 Simple Rules.
There was initially a great deal of curiosity about how the death of Ritter would impact the show. After a while though, the additional viewership subsided and the sitcom averaged 9.98 million and ranked 50th for the season.
That was enough to see the show renewed for a third year on the alphabet network. Airing on Friday nights, the ratings fell even further for the 2004-05 season. Opposite CBS’ Joan of Arcadia (which co-stars Ritter’s son Jason), the show averaged just 6.8 million and fell to 94th for the season.
Production had already wrapped when the show was cancelled in May so the last episode ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. The last episode aired on April 15, 2005 and is titled “Ditch Day.” Here are the details…
C.J. figures out that Cate may be rekindling her relationship with Principal Ed Gibb (Adam Arkin) who is currently away at a conference. She makes Jim and C.J. promise that they won’t tell the kids, just in case it doesn’t turn out to be serious. C.J. can’t control himself and immediately tells Bridget. She confronts her Mom.
Angry, Cate tells Ed what C.J. did and he suggests that he can help her get even. Later, Ed puts C.J. in charge of detention on the school’s Ditch Day. He’s not pleased and gets his revenge on Bridget by detaining her on the school’s unofficial day off.
Rory is planning to take full advantage of Ditch Day while Kerry expects that her classes will continue as usual. Cate is waiting for Ed to call her when Rory comes into her office, depressed. When he calls, Ed’s ready to get sexy with her over the phone but she has to hang up.
Bridget was supposed to be in charge of the Ditch Day prank, in which she was to steal a rival school’s goat mascot. She asks Rory to do it instead and Kerry, tired of being a “goodie two-shoes,” wants to be part of it.
Over the phone, Cate and Ed agree that they are actually dating and she decides to take the big step of telling the kids. Rory and Kerry enter and ask to borrow the mini-van (to steal the goat). Overcompensating, she gives them the keys freely.
The two steal the mascot and hide it upstairs in their house, where it eats Cate’s green sweater and stinks up the place. Jim finds out, as do Bridget and C.J. when they return home. Cate comes home soonafter and she’s not happy about the four-legged houseguest either.
While they’re all arguing, it comes out that Cate’s begun dating Ed. Surprisingly, they’re all okay with it and Cate feels much better. They just want her to be happy.
Then, Ed calls and tells her that he’s been offered a great position as a headmaster of a school in New York. He’s not sure if he’s ready to leave Detroit… or her. She’s surprised that he cares so much and is touched. She moves the phone call upstairs while the rest of the family are left to wonder what’s going on. End of series.
What would have happened next? Since this was the series finale, we’ll likely never know for sure. What do you think Cate would have done? How should the sitcom have continued?
Image courtesy ABC.