The ABC drama-comedy series Eight Is Enough is a staple of any conversation about timeless television from the late 1970s to the early 1980s. The series debuted in 1977 and ended in 1981. Join FactsVerse as we provide insights surrounding the show’s cancellation and other interesting details.
About the TV Series
The original source material for Eight is Enough was a book by newspaper columnist Thomas Braden from 1975, based on his own family. With the exception of the family names and the father’s occupation, the show ultimately had little in common with the book. Interestingly, before Braden became a journalist, he served in the military and worked for the CIA, and his wife was a companion to the Kennedys.
The story revolves around a large family from Sacramento, California, who have eight children. Tom Bradford, the patriarch, is a columnist for the fictitious Sacramento Register, like his real-life counterpart, Tom Braden, portrayed by Dick Van Patten. His wife, Joan, who was modelled after Joan Braden and portrayed by Diana Hyland, was a stay-at-home mother who looked after the kids.
Between the ages of grownups and elementary school students are their eight children, David, Mary, Joanie, Susan, Nancy, Elizabeth, Tommy, and Nicholas. In order to recall their children’s names, the parents use the initials of the line “Never Try Eating Nectarines Since Juice May Dispense.”
At the beginning of the show, David (Grant Goodeve) is the only child who is independent and living on his own. Mary, played by Lani O’Grady, is the second oldest child in the family and is currently attending school to become a physician. Joanie, played by Laurie Walters, Susan, played by Susan Richardson, and Nancy, played by Dianne Kay, are all in their late teens or early twenties and are students of acting, fashion, and modelling, respectively. Nicholas (Adam Rich) is the youngest of the three children in the family and is still in elementary school, while older siblings Elizabeth (Connie Needham) and Tommy (Willie Aames) are seniors.
The series was supposed to be about a typical (although enormous) nuclear family with both parents, but Diana Hyland got sick after filming the first four episodes and had to drop out.
Early in 1977, Hyland was told she had breast cancer; when physicians found the disease had spread, she had to have a mastectomy. Unfortunately, Hyland’s health rapidly declined during production, and she passed away on March 27, 1977, after having completed only four episodes. The creators of the show made the decision not to recast her, and as a direct result, the death of her character was inserted into the script for the second season of the show.
At the start of the second season in the fall of 1977, Tom had recently become a widower. After Tommy hurts his leg in a football game, a widowed teacher who comes to the house to tutor him, named Sandra Sue “Abby” Abbott (Betty Buckley), ends up falling in love with Tom. On November 9, 1977, they exchanged vows in a television movie from the series. David and Susan’s double wedding takes place in the fourth season’s TV movie broadcast in September of 1979. In later seasons, we see Abby earn her doctorate in education and begin working as a guidance counsellor at the local high school; Mary becomes a medical doctor; and Tommy joins a rock band as a singer.
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Why was the show cancelled?
Even though the idea for Eight Is Enough was simple, the project was fraught with problems from the beginning. After being cast as the matriarch of the Braden family, actress Diana Hyland (Joan Braden) got diagnosed with breast cancer. Before her illness and death in March 1977, she was able to tape four episodes.
To avoid casting a replacement for Hyland, the authors wrote her death into the plot, turning Tom Braden (Dick Van Patten) into a widower. The show’s writers decided to have him remarry Sandra Sue “Abby” Abbott (Betty Buckley). Moreover, it was consistent with the series’ more sombre undertones. Unlike The Brady Bunch, Eight Is Enough contained both comedic and dramatic moments, as well as real-life events.
Since the show first aired, its ratings haven’t been consistent. It premiered in the middle of the 1977 season and was the 23rd most watched show, with a 21.1 share. A 22.2 rating in 1977–78 propelled it to 12th place, just ahead of both The Love Boat and Soap. Season three saw an increase in viewers, while season four saw a decline to almost where it was in season two. By the end of season five, viewers had lost interest, and the ratings for Eight is Enough plummeted to outside the top 30. Despite being the season finale, the show failed to provide any resolution.
However, the Bradford family got back together six years later for an NBC TV movie titled “Eight is Enough: A Family Reunion.” Except for Buckley, who was in Europe filming Frantic with Harrison Ford, the whole regular cast of the TV show returned. Her role was taken over by Mary Frann, played by Bob Newhart, and the film was faithful to the TV show, right down to a brief cameo from Hyland’s character. Even though it was broadcast at the same time as Game Two of the World Series, the reunion nevertheless managed to earn the sixth highest ratings of any TV movie this season.
They reunited for one last film; Eight is Enough Wedding (1989), which was not nearly as successful and marked the end of the group.
The cast reunited on the Today Show in 2011. This was Buckley’s first time seeing the gang since the series finale in 1981. Because of unfortunate circumstances, Rich was not there, and O’Grady had passed away in 2001.
The series was a launchpad for young actors.
Teens everywhere went crazy about the actors who played the Braden kids, and the show was a huge boost to their careers. Grant Goodeve, who played David, Willie Aames, who played Tommy, and Ralph Macchio, who portrayed Abby’s orphaned nephew Jeremy later in the show’s last season, all achieved teen idol status as a result. Aames would later co-star with Scott Baio in the TV series Charles in Charge. After Goodeve sang the show’s theme song (for more on that, see “Theme music”), he launched a brief singing career and became the original host of the If Walls Could Talk! Series on HGTV. Macchio would become most well-known for his roles in feature films such as “The Karate Kid” and “My Cousin Vinny,” as well as other films in the franchise.
Dick Van Patten found out the show was cancelled from a newspaper
At some point in time, the show was both well-received by critics and a financial success. Unfortunately, like all good TV shows, it had its run and was finally cancelled.
Even so, it’s never an easy choice to make when faced with the prospect of cancelling a popular show. The majority of performers, however, receive such news from executive producers or network executives rather than the local press. But, surprisingly, the show’s lead actor found out he was leaving his character behind by reading about it in the paper.
The cancellation of Eight Is Enough was reported in the New York Times, which is how Van Patten learned about it.
The cancellation was also announced by Variety under the title “Eight Shows In, Eight Shows Out.” Dick Van Patten said in a 2000 edition of E! True Hollywood Story that he was never notified of the show’s cancellation and that he learned about it through a newspaper article.
Even after the show had ended, Van Patten felt a connection to the role he had played. In an interview from 1989, he claimed he had a lot in common with Tom Bradford.
And just like Bradford, Patten was also a man who prioritized family over work, so as long as things were settled at home, he was content.
Father Knows Best?
The Bradford family from Eight is Enough left us 30 years ago, and it’s hard to imagine that much time has passed. The series ended with an episode on May 23, 1981, titled “Father Knows Best?” which was broadcast on television. In the last episode, David and his high school classmates are preparing for their ten-year reunion, and they find themselves caught between the past and the present.
In spite of their best efforts, his high school chums can’t help but feel like failures when they reunite with each other after ten years. They track down a former classmate they made fun of in order to make up, only to learn that he has gone on to great success in life. He then exacts sweet revenge on them. Meanwhile, Jeremy’s biological father arrives in town to exercise his parental rights, forcing him to make a decision about where he will reside and causing tension for everyone.
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