8 Simple Rules (originally known as 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter) is an American sitcom, originally starring John Ritter and Katey Sagal. It debuted on ABC on September 17, 2002, and concluded on April 15, 2005. Ritter's character in the series was not replaced following his death on September 11, 2003. After entering a hiatus, the series continued without Ritter, incorporating the death of his character. James Garner and David Spade joined the cast afterward. ABC canceled the series on May 17, 2005 after three seasons due to low ratings.
The show's premise and title were derived from the book 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter: And other tips from a beleaguered father (not that any of them work) by W. Bruce Cameron.
The rules are:
- Use your hands on my daughter and you'll lose them after.
- You make her cry, I make you cry.
- Safe sex is a myth. Anything you try will be hazardous to your health.
- Bring her home late, there's no next date.
- If you pull into my driveway and honk, you better be dropping off a package because you're sure not picking anything up. (Alternative rule #5: Only delivery men honk. Dates ring the doorbell. Once.)
- No complaining while you're waiting for her. If you're bored, change my oil.
- If your pants hang off your hips, I'll gladly secure them with my staple gun.
- Dates must be in crowded public places. You want romance? Read a book.
The third season (after Ritter's death) took a creative turn, revolving more around cousin C.J. (David Spade) and grandfather Jim (James Garner), than the immediate Hennessy family, more specifically not revolving around the raising of the Hennessy girls. After the novelty of newly added ensemble characters wore off, the series returned to its original format.
The first three episodes of the show's second season had been completed when Ritter reportedly suffered an undiagnosed aortic dissection. After Ritter had experienced discomfort during his rehearsal of the show that afternoon, crew members took him to a nearby Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center, where he suddenly died that night following a misdiagnosis of a heart attack. Following Ritter's death, ABC announced that the show would continue after a hiatus, and would incorporate the death of Ritter's character. The three new episodes that Ritter completed were aired with Sagal introducing them.
The show returned two months after Ritter's death, with a one-hour episode, "Goodbye", which was turned into a tribute to Ritter's character. Subsequent episodes dealt with the family's reaction to his death and them moving on from it. The first four post-Ritter episodes were shot without a live audience with James Garner and Suzanne Pleshette guest-starred as Cate's strict parents and David Spade guest-starred as Cate's wayward nephew, C.J.. Garner and Spade later received starring roles as Ritter's replacement for the rest of the show's broadcast.
Third season and cancellation
Before Ritter's death, the show ranked 42nd in the Nielsen ratings. After Ritter's death, it had slipped to 50th, but was renewed for a third season, in which ABC moved the show to Friday night at 8:00 pm as part of its TGIF comedy line-up. The series' creator and show-runner, Tracy Gamble, left the series for a time over creative differences prior to the third season, but he later returned as a consulting producer midway through the third season. Gamble was replaced by Judd Pillot and John Peaslee, who had performed the same role in the final season of Spade's sitcom, Just Shoot Me!. The series plunged to 94th in the ratings. Even before the third season finale's airing, rumors began circulating that 8 Simple Rules was facing cancellation due to Ritter's death and poor ratings. The Friday night "death slot" ratings took their toll on 8 Simple Rules. The third season finale was not aired for May sweeps. The finale received a 3.9/8 rating share which gave ABC a third place finish behind NBC's Dateline (5.8/11) and CBS' Joan of Arcadia (4.9/10), which starred Ritter's son, Jason Ritter. Shortly afterwards, ABC officially cancelled 8 Simple Rules in 2005.
- Paul Hennessy, portrayed by John Ritter (2002–2003). A former sports writer who worked from home as a Lifestyle columnist. Described as being "the master of the double standard", a "Psycho-Dad" as well as a perceived hypocrite who often embarrasses his children, even if he wants what is best for them. Nonetheless, he loves his children, and wants them to have happy futures. Paul dies in the second season after collapsing in the store while buying milk. (Though no real reason is given for why he collapsed, it is believed that it had something to do with his heart, as was the reason for John Ritter's death.)
- Cate S. Hennessy (née Egan), portrayed by Katey Sagal. The wife, mother, nurse and easily the most sane and composed person in the family. She takes a nursing job at the kids' school so that she can work standard hours and spend more time with the kids. Cate starts dating her kids' high school principal, Ed Gibb (portrayed by Adam Arkin), towards the end of Season 3. It is revealed that during her teens, she was more or less just as popular, scheming and rebellious as Bridget and thus she is usually the first to notice when Bridget is up to something. She received her middle name "Stinky" as a result of her father promising his best friend he would name one of his children after him after accidentally stabbing him with a bayonet while they were drunk in Korea; to hide this, she claims that the S stands for "Stacy."
- Bridget Erin "Beach" Hennessy, portrayed by Kaley Cuoco. Bridget is the beautiful, dim-witted oldest child. She is depicted as a stereotypical blonde, a popular bombshell who is preoccupied with her looks, teenage boys and little else. She sometimes displays intelligence or profundity, but these are initially few and far between, yet often poignant. Her favorite book is J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. After her father dies, she starts to mature more. Bridget initially felt guilty about Paul's death because the last words she ever spoke to him were "I hate you" after arguing with him earlier that morning, because he said no to her using the car. It was revealed in season 2 that Bridget was conceived on a beach.
- Kerry "Care Bear" Hennessy, portrayed by Amy Davidson. She is the middle child, but she's not very happy about it. She is often seen as unattractive when compared to her beautiful older sister, Bridget. She was accused by Bridget of stealing her (ex-) boyfriend, Kyle, though it was quite clear that Bridget's actions drove Kyle away. Kerry is sarcastic, often making snide remarks about essentially everybody, though less to her mother. She is also a passionate activist who cares about animal rights. She lost her virginity to Bruno (her boyfriend in Europe) later in the third season. She is often annoyed at her sister and is easily upset, yet frequently the two girls team-up against their parents' authority or at the expenses of their younger rascal brother. Kerry is also very artistic and keeps a sketchbook. She is the smart child, but often shows naiveté. After she starts dating Bridget's popular ex-boyfriend Kyle, her own popularity increases, and she begins to act a little more like her older sister.
- Rory Joseph Hennessy, portrayed by Martin Spanjers, is Cate and Paul's son and their youngest child. He constantly tattles on his sisters, getting twisted pleasure out of it, as per his remark when he had stirred the pot to his liking: "This is just like my birthday!" Usually he waits until his sisters already commit an infraction, then he tattles to see his father explode. Rory is his father's favorite, being the boy. He becomes involved in money-making schemes with C.J. He is commonly seen playing in the living room and mentions wanting a monkey, which he once had by trading some of his father's baseball cards; the monkey was later traded for a guitar, which was short-lived as Rory annoyed the family with it. He also delights in showing his friends the private aspects of his sister Bridget's life, mentioning once that his friends looted Bridget's underwear drawer. Rory was hit hard by Paul's death and ended up punching a hole in his wall out of anger, cutting his hand. He covered for it saying he burnt it taking a casserole out of the oven. After he enters high school, Rory matures, leaving C.J. to be the wisecracker of the family. However, Rory still had his moments.
- Jim Egan, portrayed by James Garner (2003–2005), is Cate's father. Jim served in the Korean War and is proud of his service (he angers whenever it is mentioned as a "police action"). He is very protective of the family. He often sneaks away to smoke tobacco. He is divorced, having formerly resided in Florida before moving into Cate's basement and often used to try to beat C.J. with his cane. He takes pride in C.J.'s success as a teacher. When C.J.'s biological father comes to visit his son, Jim feels out of place and angry because he prepared a car for C.J. after he becomes a full-fledged teacher, but then Mr. Barnes gives C.J. a sports car.
- C.J. Barnes, portrayed by David Spade (2004–2005), is Cate's nephew. He was once in the Army and claims to have studied aerial photography during the Gulf War, and to have received a Purple Heart in combat, which is in complete contrast with his generally childish attitude. He is a teacher at the school and often pursues women, albeit unsuccessfully. When C.J. first arrives, the family is initially surprised. He reveals to them that he was ashamed that he did not live up to be the person Paul had once said he would be and avoided them because of that. He lives along with his grandfather, Jim, in the basement (having previously lived in a van, which was burned by that same grandfather). He once dated Mrs. Krupp, his cousins' (Kerry and Bridget) math teacher, but he ended up cheating on her with his ex-girlfriend Cheryl. He once revealed that his first initial stands for Corey (while trying to get a woman to go out with him) to Rory's girlfriend's sister Sissy, but Rory said that was untrue. CJ previously smoked marijuana heavily (and in fact used to smoke with Kyle's older brother), but at the start of his appearances, he claims not to have touched it in two years (he originally claimed it was five, though he relented after Jim expressed disbelief).
- Kyle, portrayed by Billy Aaron Brown, is Bridget's – and later Kerry's – ex-boyfriend. He is often seen spending time with Rory when not with either Kerry or Bridget. His father, Tommy, used to work with Paul.
- Ed Gibb, portrayed by Adam Arkin, is the principal of the local high school. He and Cate knew each other in high school, and even dated. When discussing it, his and Cate's account of their first romantic encounter varied, with either believing they had more self-control and admitting to the other that they liked the other as just friends. Despite this, they have had some very intimate moments.
- Coach Scott, portrayed by Dan Cortese, is a high school coach on whom Bridget had a crush. He likes Cate, and Cate initially likes him, but then discovers Bridget's crush, which causes her to deny Scott's romantic advances towards her.
- Jenna Sharpe, portrayed by Nikki Danielle Moore (2003–2005). Paul's boss Nick's daughter, and one of Bridget's rivals, who later becomes her friend. She has a younger sister, Rachael (Nicole Mansour), who is a friend of Kerry.
- Missy Kleinfeld, portrayed by Daniella Monet (2003–2004), is Rory's love interest in Season 2. She has a sister, Sissy (Elena Lyons), who likes CJ.
- Jeremy, portrayed by Jonathan Taylor Thomas (2003–2004), is Bridget's tutor and eventual boyfriend. He is considered a nerd at school, and because of this, Bridget at first denies her interest in him by saying it was only because he was her tutor.
- Anthony W., portrayed by Cole Williams (2002–2003), is a student in Bridget's class. He was a white boy who spoke like a black rapper, often resulting in confusion. It is revealed in "Cool Parent" that he plays lacrosse.
- Maggie Barnes (née Egan), portrayed by Cybill Shepherd, is Cate's sister and CJ's mother. Maggie shares the same sensitive, moody nature as Kerry. However it appears (from a conversation between Ed Gibb and Cate) that Cate was the smarter one as well as being more popular.
- Fred Doyle, portrayed by John Ratzenberger, is a persistent and over-friendly neighbor of the Hennessys, and husband of Mary Ellen (portrayed originally by Shelley Long and then by Cindy Williams). He is the father of Donald "Donny" Doyle who has dated Bridget for some time. Fred was the head of the neighborhood watch, and it was noted that his family is religious when Bridget claims she is going over for Bible study in an episode in Season 2.
- Mrs. Krupp, portrayed by Suzy Nakamura, is a math teacher from school.
- Damian, portrayed by Paul Wesley, played Bridget's ex-boyfriend. He appeared in two episodes.
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