I talked last week about characters who get ruined by their own shows. The funny thing with TV shows is that it doesn’t have to be a character that gets derailed. Sometimes the show itself can go off the tracks! When a premise or setting is getting old, creators will often spice things up and alter said premise or setting.
Once in awhile this creates a new show altogether. For instance the way the clever All in the Family became the run in the mill Archie Bunker’s Place. Or when Sanford & Son became Sanford Arms. Or when The Andy Griffith Show became Mayberry RFD. Or when The Golden Girls became The Golden Palace. Or like what NBC did when they bought The Disney Channel’s Good Morning Miss Bliss and retooled it into Saved By The Bell.
Home Improvement/NewsRadio both dodged this bullet. If Home Improvment had continued another year they would have had to change things, like make Tim a teacher or something dumb like that. Rather than do that they cancelled the show and had a lovely final episode. NewsRadio ended their fifth season with the tease that the setting was going to be changed from NY to a run down radio station in New Hampshire. That would have been dumb but the network cancelled the show making the season ending cliffhanger the series finale.
But some shows are not so lucky, and the change happens within the run of the one show. It can really catch viewers off gaurd when the show we have grown comfortable with throws us a curve. Sometimes these changes are for the best and even improve the show. But more than often the changes are just a last minute attempt to keep a show going…and it just seal its fate.
Here are some examples of what I mean. I am not limiting this to sitcoms for reasons which you will soon see and yes this is also a TV Trope, this is simply Re Tool.

First, some examples of retooling that actually worked out-
Full House
Truth is sometimes changing a premise can be the best thing for a show. Take Full House. After somehow suriving its first year the second year brought some changes. First, Jesse cut his hair and quit the lame exterminator job. I would ask why the creators even did that, but truth is they gave a good reason in the show. It was Jesse’s fathers business and he felt obligated. Fair enough. The other change was with Danny. He went from being a sportscaster (yeah, who thought that up? The sportscaster thing would be retconed away and never mentioned again) to being host of Wake Up San Francisco. This one change added so much! First, it meant Danny could be home more often. Second, and more important, it gave us the character of Rebecca who of course went on to be Jesse’s wife and the girls mother figure. Honestly without these changes I can’t imagine what Full House would have turned into, so kudos to the creators on this one.
The Facts of Life
Ever watch Season 1? It’s like a totally different show! Mrs.Garrett was the housemother for a dorm at Eastland School. There were seven girls in the cast and the show was pretty bland. Did I mention the boring headmaster? So for season 2 things got shaken up. A lot. First, of the seven girls only Blair, Natalie, and Tootie remained (what ever happened to that Molly Ringwald girl anyway?). Mrs.Garrett was promoted to school dietation and worked in the cafeteria. We were introduced to a new character named Jo, who was a bit of a tough character. After a run in with the law, the four end up working at the school under Mrs.Garretts’s supervision. This was the show we would all come to love. Oh, and one more change-the theme song got a huge improvement!!! The retooling on this show didn’t stop there. Later after the girls graduated, to keep the group together Mrs.Garret went into business for herself with the four girls working and living with her. The format was tweaked once again when Edna’s Edibles was burned down, and rebuilt as a pop culture gift shop.
Newhart
This show was about a married couple running an inn in Vermont. Yeah, that sounds kind of boring to. No wonder that in Season 2 the premise was retooled to make Dick the host of a low rated talk show. The show also took on a wackier tone, with very odd characters like Larry, Daryl, and Daryl.
Empty Nest
This is another show that changed between seasons. But in this case, the changes were ok and probably gave the series a longer life. Dr.Harry Weston worked in the Pediatric area of a hospital. And for about five seasons we got gags regading the kids that would come an go. Then the creators decided to shake things up. Suddenly, Harry retired and ends up working in a free clinic along with Laverne and a new character played by Masha Warfeild. And, it wasn’t bad. I think it worked because the main focus of the show was not his job, but his home and his daughters. So this change was a little dramatic but not enough to kill the show. They also brought in Estelle Getty as Sophia from The Golden Girls, but that was just a lame ratings stunt. By the way this whole show was a retooling, originally Empty Nest was supposed to be about a married couple dealing with the fact their children had grown and moved out.
Perfect Stranges
Much like Full House, this was an early change which dramatically improved the show. In the first two seasons, Larry and Balki worked at this lame store called The Ritz that was under their apartment. The owners were Mr. and Mrs. Twinkacetti and basically I hated the whole concept. I guess the creators did to because in Season 3, Larry is suddenly working at the Chicago Chronical (while this does make sense for the characer it happened fast). By the end of the first episode Balki is also there, and we meet the more familair and likable characters including Harriette Winslow. By the way the show may have dumped Mrs.Twinkacetti but the actress remained. Belita Moreno would dye her hair and play the much better character of Lydia. You probably knew that, so here’s a trivia note for you that you may not have known, did you know that in Perfect Strangers it was established Carl and Harriette Winslow lived in the same building as Larry and Balki? I guess Family Matters retconned more than just the “mean” Mother Winslow character.
The Cosby Show
This isn’t the strongest one but I decided it was worth a mention. In the sixth season, Bill Cosby decided his show needed to be shaken up. So he had an episode where Denise comes home, with a husband and a three year old girl! Also, we leanr that Theo had dyslexia all this time. The problem with this was that while they tried to shake things up, it didn’t really as much as they hoped. I suppose I should mention how the spin-off, A Different World, went from being a show about Denise Huxtable in college to a show about Dwayne and Whitley getting together. They did have to tweak the two characters but I think changes actually helped.
It’s a Living

 

A strike seriously hurt this show, with a short first season that did not work. The show returned in the second season with a revamp including replacing some of the characters and a new name, Making a Living. When the series went to syndication the original title was restored and the show was a hit.
Seinfeld

 

And how could I forget? This show premiered as “The Seinfeld Chronicles” with a very whiny George, a creepy Kramer, and a do-gooder Jerry. It was also more focused on the stand up segments. The show got a new girl character, George became less Woody Allen and more Larry David, Kramer….well, he got better, and the show started focusing more on the stories and less on the stand-up—and the series we know and love was born.
Do I need to tell you how many times they did this on Star Trek? Worf on DS9, Seven on Voyager, the Xindi on Enterprise.
Apparently Dr.Who did this a lot. But I need someone wiser than I who is more familiar with that show to fill us in on that….  :)
Of course retooling more often than not will have a bad effect and kill the series. The Worst-
Mork & Mindy
I am starting with this one because it was, to me, a standard setter. If you have a premise that is working great, don’t mess with it! That is exactly what the creators brilliantly decided to do. Guess what happened? They drove their viewers away. Ok, so this show was the classic “alien tries to understand human culture” show, pretty standard stuff but of course Robin Williams made everything funny with his slapstick antics. But in the second season the creators pushed thier luck in an attempt to get younger viewers. The slapstick was gone replaced with stories which focused more on the romantic relationship between the two, with “meaningful” stories and replacing some cast members. If you saw the TV Trash episode on the second season premiere, you may understand what I mean. And why fans were scratching their heads. These changes, not to mention the change in time slot, hurt the show. They tried to restore the status quo in the 3rd and 4th season, but it was to litte to late.
Laverne & Shirley
What do you do when your show is getting boring? Change the setting of course! Of course I did not see this show in first run but I did watch re-runs, and I will always remember my reaction when Laverne & Shirley left their familiar Milkwaukee setting for California. WTF??? Just because characters are the same doesn’t mean it feels the same! The show sucked when they move the setting and I hardly watched those shows. By the way, the first episode there was about an earthquake and it has to be one of the worst earthquake scenes I have ever seen. Laverne and Shirley just sit on beds which are clearly motorized and move from one side of the room to another as the girls just scream. Yeah, pretty sure beds wouldn’t move like bumper cars in an earthquake! Laverne ends up haning from a light fixture, yeah that makes sense. Man was that a bad scene.

 

 
The A-Team
This is obviously not a sitcom but I HAD to talk about this one!! Talk about biting the hand that feeds you. The funny think is I still remember how NBC advertised this as the greatest thing that could happen to this show. Yeah, right. You all know the premise I think, four freedom fighters on the run from the law helping people in trouble. This show was awesome! Then the final season came, and the creators decided to spice it up. The four get arrested, tried in a court, and end up working with the government. Boring. Cancelled.
Dukes of Hazard
Most of these were the ideas of the creators behind the shows. To spice things up. But what do the creators do when the actors force you to change? That is what the creators of this show faced when Tom Wopat and John Schneider  left the show in the midt of contract negotiations. Their solution? Introduce the Duke cousins, Cory and Vance, who the show would now revolve around. They were boring and even when Luke and Bo finally returned, it was to late to save this series. Especially when the scripts started to get weird and the original tone of the series was just lost.

 

 
My Name is Earl
You would think that people would have learned from Mork & Mindy. But no, thirty years later and here it is again! You cannot change you premise without alienating viewers! I actually liked this show, but then it went dumb. The premise was simple, Earl had discovered karma and decided to right the wrongs he had made in life. To that end, he wrote down all his mistakes as a list and used some won lottery money to correct every single item on the list. Nice, simple premise. What happened? Long story short, Earl ends up in prison and the list premise is lost for several episodes while we get to see Earl do good deeds behind bars. Yawn. There was also a string of episoes where Earl was in a coma. Bottom line, I had stopped watching and so had many. They tried to get the show back on track but Season 4 saw the abrupt cancelation with no resolution to the original premise.
Scrubs
Do I really need to talk about this again? The reason I think the whole 9th season is so offensive to me is because the finale episode of the 8th, which should have been the series finale, was about as strong a final episode as you can get. It was the perfect way for the series to end. So what do they do? Crap all of it by forcing another season and taking all the charm out of the show. The show switched locations to a medical school and the main cast were now supporting cast, the main characters now being total unknowns. Um…..no.
Coach
It was Laverne and Shirley all over again! Around the 6th season or so the show up and changed locations. Rather than coach at Minnesota State, Hayden was now manages a pro team in Orlando. I didn’t watch most of these so I really can’t say if the show was that much worst. Just the fact they changed setting was enough to turn me off.
John Larroquette Show
There is nothing more annoying than when a show comes with a premise you know they are proud of, but just chuck it when it’s clear viewers are not watching. This show about the manager of a St.Louis bus depot was very dark and moody. When the show faced cancelation, it was retooled as a much lighter series. Which alienated he viewers who had prefered the darker, edgier tone.
Alf
This is a tough one but I wanted to discuss it because it shows what even small wrong changes to a show can do. They didn’t actually change Alf, but they did make changes around him. They brought in more people to know who Alf was, and while that sort of makes sense the idea just didn’t work. Half the fun of the show was having to hide Alf from everyone, if others begin to beceom aware him the show loses something. It did, and it was cancelled.

 

 
Charles in Charge
This one is a favorite of mine. This Scott Baio show was a corny as you could get in the 80’s. When the show was on the networks Charles lived with the Pembroke family. When the show went to syndication the family changed-but the house remained the same! Apparently while Charles was on vacation the Pembertons leased the house to the Powell’s, who were now the family who lived there. They went out of the way to acknowledge this change, even having  Mrs.Pemberton in the first episode of the new format. Just awesome! This is the kind of thing that can only happen on a sitcom. I am not sure if this hurt the show or not because this show was just BAD. But a fun kind of bad.
Syndication can do this to a series. Mama’s Family went from network to Syndication and lost the character of Aunt Fran, and gained Bubba. Also Vint an Naomi’s children vanished never to be heard from again. When Too Close for Comfort moved to first run syndication it was renamed The Ted Knight Show (not that one) and had the main character moving and changing his job, while several cast changes took place. In both cases the shows remained popular.
While I have mostly been talking about established shows retooling to fix what they consider to be a problem with the show, or to keep it alive, very often this applies to a new show which sucks. Execs or audiences hate it so creators will try to revamp it to give it a second chance. And on occasion, it works. Usually this comes in the form of a second pilot. Heck, this is what happened to Star Trek when it got a chance to film a second pilot. They literally dumped almost the entire cast and tried again. Star Trek wasn’t the only show to be retooled with a second pilot and become a hit. This also happened with The Dick Van Dyke Show, Three’s Company (had three!!), All in the Family, Full House, Just Shoot Me, The Big Bang Theory, Growing Pains, and several others I am sure I am forgetting.
What’s that? Want more info on these pilots? Patience my friends…. :)
But Very often, retooling a bad show gives us…a bad show. Here is a list of shows that sucked which tried to retool the format to give the show a second chance. And still failed.
Baby Talk

 

Yeah this is a standard setter to me. No matter how hard you try, a bad idea will always be a bad idea! This was a TV show version of the Look Who’s Talking films. The main actress quit, the main actor quit after a few episodes, and they still got a second season. The show got a retooling by replacing Julia Duffy with Marypage Keller. They also got rid of the unfinished loft she lived in (and the annoying handimen who worked there), replacing it with a more typical setting and a new love interest. Show still sucked.
Double Trouble

 

This was a harmless show in the 80’s about two twin girls. In the first season they lived with their father in Iowa. For the second season the setting switched to New York City and now the girls lived with their aunt. It still didn’t work.
Jesse

 

Here is a good one. This Christina Applegate show had a boring supporting cast. Jesse had a father and two dull as heck brothers. So in between season one and two they were dumped and the premise revamped considerably. Instead of a bar Jesse now worked at a hospital.
The Naked Truth

 

This was a Tea Leoni vehicle that NBC really, really wanted to be a hit show. The first season Leoni’s character worked at a sleezy tabloid. The second season the paper became a mainsteam paper with an almost new cast. In Season 3 she worked at different paper with yet a different cast. None of this paid off.
Love & War

 

Jay Thomas and Susan Dey starred in this show which was supposed to be a romantic comedy. That is until Dey up and left after season one. The show was retooled to just be about a group of friends who hang out in a bar. Hey, I’ve heard of that before….
Bob!

 

This was a lousy Bob Newhart show. In season one he lost his job at a greeting cart company and was working at a comic book company with wacky co-workers. That didn’t take so in season two he was back at the greeting card company. It still didn’t take.

 

 
The Jeff Foxworthy Show

 

This show switched networks, and had a major cast change. This change was lampooned in an ad for the show. When Jeff Foxworthy’s son asks where Mom is, he explains she is being recast. The show still failed.
Finally, sometimes you just don’t have a choice……
8 Simple Rules

 

When John Ritter suddenly passed away the show had no choice but to retool. Rather than a show about a father raising his teenage girls, it became a show about a widow trying to raise her teenage girls. They added characters and even gave Kate a love interest, but it just wasn’t the same.
Gimme A Break!

 

This show was pretty good, Nell Carter played a housekeeper and became a sort of surrogate mom to three girls. Early changes like bringing in Joey Lawrence didn’t hurt to much. But when Dolph Sweet passed away, there was no father which caused a hole in the seies which it tried hard to fill. The final season saw the whole tone of the show shift from a suburb in New York to New York City. Half the cast left and new characters were introduced, and the show felt like a lazy Laverne & Shirley knock off. The focus was more on the Joey Lawrence character, and viewers fled. Myself included.
here are some other quick examples :
When Redd Fox died on the set of his show “Royal Family” it caused the whole show to have to be revamped, with Jackee as a long lost aunt. It failed. Bonanza was already struggling when Dan Blocker suddenly passed away. The show tried to create a new character but the hole was to large to fill. Chico and the Man was a hit, but the tragic death of Freddie Prinze threw a curve into the show. They tried to switch the focus of the show onto the other characters, and tried to replace Prinze’s character, but it wasn’t the same. Suddenly Susan went through a revamp after the sudden death of David Strickland, but the new format just didn’t help the struggling series. Finally, Sandy Duncan starred in a series called Funny Face. The show had potential but when Duncan required surgery production was halted. The show was retooled as The Sandy Duncan Show with new cast members and a revised format. Sadly the show still did not work.
So it seems that re-tooling has been around for awhile. If done early in the show’s run, before it has gotten an audience, then it’s ok. If you do it as a last minute attempt to keep the show alive, you are in trouble. Any examples I missed?

By richb

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