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In the immediate aftermath of John Ritter’s death, it was hard to take issue with ABC’s decisions, since execs were thrust into an untenable situation.Since then, however, there has been a vague ghoulishness surrounding the show, including big viewer tune-in for the remaining Ritter episodes and ABC News’ synergistic efforts such as Diane Sawyer’s interview with the actor’s widow, Amy Yasbeck.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. He’s not pleased and gets his revenge on Bridget by detaining her on the school’s unofficial day off.As you may recall, Ritter died unexpectedly after completion of the third episode of season two. Rory is planning to take full advantage of Ditch Day while Kerry expects that her classes will continue as usual.There was nothing surprising about this genial series in happier days, and there was nothing surprising about what one of the ratings hotlines labeled “the death episode.” The hour delivered lots of group hugs, tears and platitudes about the unfairness of such a loss, best delivered by an avuncular James Garner.The consistent refrain from the network and cast has been “This happens to families,” which is of course true.
Still, most of the stabs at comedy felt forced, including cameos by John Ratzenberger and Patrick Warburton, expressing their condolences. Each scene was connected by melancholy guitar chords, working overtime to create a properly somber tone.
The next few episodes deal with his loss and how the Hennessy family moves on. Bridget was supposed to be in charge of the Ditch Day prank, in which she was to steal a rival school’s goat mascot.
Cate’s father, Jim Egan (James Garner), moves in to help and Cate’s very immature nephew, C. (David Spade), moves in for additional comedy relief. There was initially a great deal of curiosity about how the death of Ritter would impact the show. She asks Rory to do it instead and Kerry, tired of being a “goodie two-shoes,” wants to be part of it. Cate comes home soonafter and she’s not happy about the four-legged houseguest either.
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. Cate is waiting for Ed to call her when Rory comes into her office, depressed.
Though the sitcom revolved around Ritter’s character, it was ultimately decided to keep the show going and Ritter’s character dies off-camera. When he calls, Ed’s ready to get sexy with her over the phone but she has to hang up.Similarly, the underlying plot thread — in which all the characters feel guilt about their final encounters with the family’s late patriarch — was so neatly resolved (Paul, a newspaper columnist, magically addressed their concerns through a posthumously discovered column) as to feel a bit cloying.