Since it is not all that often I will pat myself on the proverbial back (I was the one, after all, who said a sitcom set in a bar – aka "Cheers" – would not work), I will take credit for ABC’s upcoming "The Conners." That sitcom, of course, is the continuation of "Roseanne" (sans Roseanne Barr, who should keep her stinkin’ fingers off Twitter). The moment I heard the alphabet net canceled "Roseanne" I was shouting off the Twitter rooftop that it could continue without her.
Naturally, viewers will tune in, at least initially, for a glimpse of John Goodman’s Dan Conner dealing with life as a widower (unless, of course, the writers can come up with another explanation of Roseanne’s absence). If 28.7 million viewers sampled Ashton Kutcher’s first appearance as the replacement for Charlie Sheen on "Two and a Half Men" (on Sept. 19, 2011), I imagine an equal number – or more – will want a glimpse of Roseanne’s passing. Wouldn’t you? But will the expected early momentum continue? Or will "The Conners" minus Mama Roseanne crash and burn?
My prediction is absolute success for "The Conners." The recent revival season of "Roseanne" focused more on Sara Gilbert as now adult Darlene and her two children, and there are so many more stories to tell about the other characters. Michael Fishman as son D.J. was barely visible, after all, and Jerry Garcia, the youngest Conner, has not even been seen (nor has Jackie’s son Andy). Plus, we all know who the talent on "Roseanne" really was: John Goodman and Laurie Metcalf.
While the expected mammoth tune-in for that first episode without Roseanne Barr will quickly cool, you can expect a still solid return for "The Conners" once the dust settles.
To gauge this potential interest in "The Conners," I have complied a listing of 10 TV shows – five that worked and five that failed – after a lead character bid adieu. On that note…
"The Hogan Family" (NBC)
The poster child for the lead actor exiting, Valerie Harper parted ways with the then two-season old comedy in 1987 after a contract dispute with producer Warner Bros. Originally titled "Valerie," this NBC entry was never a Top 20 hit, which automatically meant it would not have too far to fall in the ratings. After a title switch to "Valerie’s Family" and the arrival of Sandy Duncan as Aunt Sandy, "Valerie’s Family" ultimately became "The Hogan Family" and it aired for another four seasons. Valerie who?
"Two and a Half Men" (CBS)
After eight seasons, the erractic behavior of Charlie Sheen (including a stint in drug rehab) led to his dismissal and the arrival of Ashton Kutcher as Internet billionaire Walden Schmidt. Although most series at season eight begin to wind down, "Two and a Half Men" had a sudden new lease on life; Kutcher’s Walden and Jon Cryer as Alan Harper were the perfect match. And what was only a Top 10 sitcom in one season with Sheen rose to its second highest season ranking, No. 11, by season 10 in 2012-13.
Ultimately, "Two and a Half Men" aired for 12 seasons (eight with Charlie Sheen, four with Ashton Kutcher), and is tied with "My Three Sons" and "It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia" as the second longest running comedy in the history of television (behind "The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet"). The moral of this story: Sometimes it does pay to switch the leads!
Known for one of the worst career moves of any actor on television, Shelley Long decided to pursue the big screen in 1987 after five seasons (and one Emmy win) on hit NBC sitcom "Cheers." Does "Troop Beverly Hills" ring a bell? Centered around the relationship of Ted Danson as bar owner Sam Malone and Long as high falutin Diane Chambers, "Cheers" was in need of a replacement, someone with the necessary sexual tension. And along came Kirstie Alley as the more corporate-like Rebecca Howe, which led to the now classic debate of which version of "Cheers" – helley Long or Kirstie Alley – you liked better.
Ranked No. 3 in all of primetime in Long’s final season, #3 remained the magic number in Alley’s first season, and "Cheers" remained a Top 10 staple for the six seasons Kirstie Alley was present. In season nine, in fact, "Cheers" was the top-rated show in all of primetime.
As for that debate, I choose Kirstie Alley!
"Beverly Hills, 90210" (Fox) and "Charmed" (WB)
Considered the then "bad girl" of Hollywood, reported conflicts behind the scenes led to the early demise of Shannon Doherty on two Arron Spelling-produced dramas – "Beverly Hills, 90210" and "Charmed." Doherty’s departure as Brenda Walsh on the trendy zip code came in 1994 four seasons into the teen-themed drama’s 10 seasons on the air, while Doherty as Prue Halliwell on "Charmed" exited just three seasons into its eight season run. No one seemed to notice – or care – she was gone after her replacements -- Tiffani Thiessen on "Beverly Hills, 90210" and Rose McGowan on "Charmed" – joined the casts.
Although Doherty did reprise her role as Brenda Walsh in a series of episodes of the "90210" revival on The CW in the 2008-09 season, it was too little too late.
"8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter" (ABC)
Let’s face it…John Ritter is irresplaceable. So when the beloved actor died unexpectedly just three episodes into the second season of ABC family sitcom "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter" in 2003, the arrivals of James Garner and David Spade as Katey Sagal’s father and nephew, respectively, left the promising half-hour without a center. Although "8 Simple Rules" did stay on the air for two additional seasons without Ritter, the audience simply lost interest.
Interesting footnote: Kaley Cuoco pre-"The Big Bang Theory" played ditsy oldest daughter Bridget.
"The O.C." (Fox)
Firmly entrenched in the latest teen-themed primetime sudser, unknown Mischa Barton became a sensation overnight as Melissa Cooper on 2004 Fox entry "The O.C." She was even awarded three Teen Choice Awards for her efforts. But Barton became restless, wanting to escape the "machine" as she called it, and her character was subsquently killed in a car crash. Minus Barton, what what had the proverbial water-coolers buzzing with banter quickly cooled off, and drama "The O.C." only lasted one additional season. Note to Mischa Barton: You could been a longer term contender.
"The Sanford Arms" (NBC)
Obviosuly, NBC did not want to completely lose comedy "Sanford and Son" after it exited in 1977. It was, after all, a huge hit for the network (finishing two of its six seasons ranked second overall in all of primetime behind "All in the Family"). But Redd Foxx decided to call it quits. So, in one of the worst spin-off ideas in television history, the fictional Sanford and Son junkyard morphed into rooming house The Sanford Arms, run by Theodore Wilson. While a number of supporting players returned (including LaWanda Page as sassy Aunt Esther), what was once a can’t miss Friday night staple lasted a mere four episodes.
After a three year absence, Redd Foxx attempted a comeback as lovably crusty Fred Sanford in the shortened title "Sanford" (minus co-star Demond Wilson). But the former magic and audience interest was nil.
"Chico and the Man" (NBC)
Freddie Prinze rose to immediate stardom at the young age of 20 as Chico opposite Jack Albertson as cantankerous Ed Brown (aka "The Man") in "Sanford and Son" lead-out "Chico and the Man." It was the perfect fit and an immediate hit, but unexpected tragedy struck at the end of season three (in 1977) when Prinze committed suicide. At first, the prodcuers considered canceling the show, but opted instead to replace Prinze’s character with youngster Gabriel Melgar as 12-year-old Raul (Albertson’s new "Chico"). Viewers fled in droves and "Chico and the Man" limped along for one final fourth season.
"Laverne & Shirley" (ABC)
Never a critical hit (most TV critics, in fact, despised this "Happy Days" spin-off), "Laverne & Shirley," starring Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams, nonetheless, was an immediate sensation, even topping its parent series in the ratings by season three. But there was also immediate friction between the two stars behind the scenes, and when pregnant CindyWilliams abruptly left the show two episodes into the eighth – and final – season, the series, still titled "Laverne & Shirley," featured a rotation of ill-fitting female guest stars opposite Penny Marshall. Once Williams left it was time to call it quits.