This post is a continuation of a series that I started on UnderScoopFire.com.
Be sure to check out 7 Memorable Sitcom Character Replacements (Part 1) and come back here for further editions in this series.
The Facts of Life
(You take the good, you take the bad, you take ’em both and there you have)
As Edna Garrett, Charlotte Rae was the star of the show. As former Drummond family housekeeper turned house mother for an all-girls prep school, Mrs. Garrett held top billing on this spin-off of Diff’rent Strokes that brought us Blair, Jo, Natalie and Tootie (and a young Molly Ringwald for one season). Mrs. Garrett advised the girls through middle & high school and even stuck around long enough to open up her own bakery (“Edna’s Edibles“) which later turned into a gift shop (“Over Our Heads“); the girls worked at both businesses. Mrs. G. was good to go for seven seasons until…
By Facts’ eighth season in 1986, Rae no longer wanted to continue the series. She was written out of the show as Mrs. Garrett re-married, joined the Peace Corps and moved to Africa. The show was then joined by actress Cloris Leachman, who played Edna Garrett’s sister Beverly Ann Stickle. Beverly Ann took over as the matriarch for the girls as well as owner of the house and of the shop Over Our Heads. She even adopted employee and wayward foster child Andy (MacKenzie Astin, a.k.a. Samwise Gamgee‘s brother) as her legal son.
Even though the passing of the baton occurred on-screen between the sisters Garrett, this was a jump the shark moment if there ever was one. Charlotte Rae’s departure should have ended the series, however The Facts of Life had become such a hit that NBC execs felt the need to keep the show going, focusing more on the girls under the guidance of Beverly Ann. Cloris Leachman is an accomplished veteran actress, but this was more of wrong place, wrong time as ratings took a nosedive and the show was moved to Saturday nights. Many fans blame Beverly Ann Stickle for the show’s demise, but she was only one of several factors at play, with newer characters Andy and George Burnett (played by future “ER” star and the worst Batman ever, George Clooney) also sharing some of the blame. At the end of it all, it was a lose-lose situation– at least Beverly Ann was around to help give the show a proper send-off. For that and her more fashionable (for the 80’s) wardrobe in comparison to the old-fashioned Mrs. Garrett, she gets a passing grade.
The Hogan Family
(fka “Valerie”, then “Valerie’s Family: The Hogans”)
In the 70’s, Valerie Harper reached television stardom playing Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and the eventual spin-off Rhoda. Then after an eight-year break from television, Harper returned in 1986 with a self-titled sitcom called Valerie, in which she played working mother and wife Valerie Hogan. The show centered around Valerie’s struggles of raising three sons, the oldest played by future Teen Wolf Too and Arrested Development star Jason Bateman and maintaining a career, all while married to an airline pilot who was barely there.
On a side-note, ladies… aren’t airline pilots the last guys you want to marry? They’re never home and they spend the majority of their time around foxy flight attendants. Sounds like the life to me, now I see why “Sully” Sullenberger is such a chill dude. Anyway, back to the post!
The show kicks off to pretty good ratings on NBC, thanks to Valerie’s comic timing, Bateman’s star power, the fraternal twins Willie and Mark (played by Danny Ponce and Jeremy Licht) always at odds with each other, nosy busybody neighbor Mrs. Poole (played by Ferris Bueller’s “A Righteous Dude” proclaimer Edie McClurg) and most of all a very special episode where the family dog Murray dies. Another very special episode about sex titled “Bad Timing” featured the first ever use of the word condom in prime-time television. Things were moving along great, until…
By the show’s second season in 1987, it was moved to Monday nights on NBC following the smash hit comedy ALF. Enjoying its greatest ratings ever, Harper and her boyfriend (& show producer) Tommy Cacciotti approached the network about… you guessed it… more money. After several rounds of negotiations and back-and-forth, Valerie was eventually fired from the show and later sued the network and production company for breach of contract. She settled out of court later on, however that left the show to start season three with no title character. Valerie Hogan was written out of the show as having died in a car accident, and Valerie began its third season re-titled as Valerie’s Family: The Hogans.
Sandy Duncan, a veteran stage actress, singer and dancer best known for playing Peter Pan on Broadway and appearances all over television (I especially liked her on Scooby Doo!), became the new star of the show. Playing Michael’s sister Sandy Hogan, she comes in and helps the family cope with the loss of Valerie. The show, re-titled The Hogan Family by 1988, lasted three more seasons with Sandy as the lead. Sandy also worked at the boys’ high school as a guidance counselor, eventually moving up to Vice Principal. Sandy stayed with the show until its end in 1991.
As much as Valerie was a vehicle to welcome its title star back to television, the show was a hit largely due to the growing teen heartthrob status of actor Jason Bateman, who was already a well-known name from his roles on previous NBC sitcoms Silver Spoons and It’s Your Move. This was part of Valerie’s dispute which led to her firing, and while I don’t blame her for trying to have a Fender Rhodes moment, it did leave a bad taste in our mouths to deal with her loss and the title swap for season 3.
That said, Sandy was a more than capable replacement as star of the show. She was funny, had great acting talent and was a perfect fit for the Hogan household. What helped was how she was able to develop a great on-screen chemistry with her co-stars, particularly Bateman– I always found their scenes together enjoyable. Another eventual very special episode dealing with David’s friend Rich being diagnosed with AIDS really showed the value Sandy brought to the show, as she not only helped David cope with his friend’s condition but also told her own story of a friend who died of the disease.
I’d give her an A+, but I’m actually saving that grade for a future replacement– stay tuned for Part Three of this series!
In closing, don’t do drugs, mmm kay?
Classick Material is a child of the 80’s. More-so than favorite sitcoms, he enjoys sitcom theme songs. He one day dreams of starting his own cover band so he can perform a live soulful rendition of the theme to Silver Spoons. When he’s not doing that, he writes and co-hosts The Cold Slither Podcast.