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There was no laugh track Tuesday night on ABC’s “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter,” which returned to the air to address the tragic loss of its star John Ritter and the death of the character he played. Then, while preparing breakfast, wife Cate (Katey Sagal) and the three teenagers (Kaley Cuoco, Amy Davidson, Martin Spanjers) got a fateful phone call: Patriarch Paul Hennessy (Ritter’s character), who had dashed out of the house to buy milk, had collapsed and died of a heart attack in the store. Replied Cate: “Yesterday would be nice.” Emotions kicked in as the hour progressed.

Ritter had completed three episodes for the new season when he died of a heart ailment Sept. This led, after a commercial break, to preparations for the funeral, which were under way as Cate’s parents (James Garner and Suzanne Pleshette) arrived. The initial 30 minutes basically served to introduce the Garner and Pleshette characters, who needled each other incessantly at first, while the latter 30 turned comforting and nostalgic.

After Ritter's death, the cast and the network mourned, quite publicly, to strong ratings that, overnight, turned the network's modest hit into a legitimate contender bleeding viewers from its comedy competition on NBC.

Having seen that power, the announcement that "8 Simple Rules" would continue was understandably met with a bit of cynicism.

Though producers attempted to replace him with a younger star, the show died only a season later.

The same fate befell "News Radio" when Phil Hartman was shot dead by his wife, who then turned the gun on herself, in 1998. Television's even less forgiving now than it was then, which means that the revamped "8 Simple Rules" has a mountain climb ahead of it.

Like eating Tupperware covers.” “Pancake mix and water!

Some wondered if the Ritter-less series would exploit the beloved 54-year-old's death for the sake of ratings, drumming us over the head with ersatz sorrow.

Others perhaps couldn't see the point of going on, citing past failures like "Chico and the Man." In that sitcom, principal star Freddie Prinze committed suicide in 1977, the show's third season.

Maybe the cast and crew can harness that drive and determination into creating success out of sadness.

I have the distinct feeling you don't care in either of these cases, but The WB's cut "Tarzan's" vines. Back on the subject of "8 Simple Rules" and its challenges, CBS is airing "The Andy Griffith Reunion: Back to Mayberry" tonight at 8 and, yes, it is as warm as Aunt Bee's pie.

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