Kaley Cuoco remembers John Ritter on the 15th anniversary of the series finale of '8 Simple Rules': 'He taught me what it's like to be a leader'


In 2002, future Big Bang Theory star Kaley Cuoco landed her breakout role on the ABC sitcom, 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter, starring TV legend John Ritter as her on-screen dad. The series premiered to strong reviews and ratings, suggesting that it would run for multiple seasons. But tragedy struck at the beginning of the second season, when Ritter passed away after suffering an aortic dissection. While ABC made the decision to continue the series, viewership steadily declined and 8 Simple Rules aired its series finale 15 years ago on April 15, 2005. “With John passing away, that changed the whole course of that show,” Cuoco tells Yahoo Entertainment now. “I truly believe if John had still been around, we probably would have gone on for a long time.” (Watch our video interview above.)

When it premiered, 8 Simple Rules was billed as Ritter’s big return to television — the medium where his career began with the hit sitcom, Three’s Company. And audiences who had grown up with him responded excitedly to the idea of him playing a TV dad. “It was a great family show, and he made this unreal TV comeback,” Cuoco says. “Even though I only spent a year with him, that changed the course of my personal life and my career. I knew I wanted to make people laugh forever after working with John. That year really changed me in every way.”

Certainly, the show’s writers tried to fill the void left behind by Ritter following his death. After a two-month hiatus, the series returned with a moving one-hour farewell episode to the star, in which his on-screen alter ego passed away off-camera and the surviving family members — including Cuoco and her co-stars Katey Sagal, Amy Davidson and Martin Spanjers — dealt with their grief. James Garner and David Spade also joined the ensemble for additional star power, and the title was shortened to 8 Simple Rules.

Cuoco’s character, Bridget, underwent some notable changes, too, maturing from a ditzy high-schooler to an aspiring actress who lands the role of Anne Frank in the school play and aspires to attend Princeton University. Of course, she still indulges in some typical sitcom shenanigans. In the series finale, for example, Bridget convinces her siblings to hijack the school mascot while she’s stuck in detention.

Two years after 8 Simple Rules ended, Cuoco joined the cast of The Big Bang Theory, which became the long-running hit that 8 Simple Rules might have been had Ritter lived. And the actress says that she took some key lessons from her mentor onto her subsequent shows, from Big Bang to the upcoming HBO Max series, The Flight Attendant. “The tone and feel of a stage comes from your number one — however that person acts and responds is how everyone else is going to respond,” Cuoco says. “Watching [John] with everybody was like a light. It was the happiest place to be. I feel that way on Flight Attendant, because this is the first time I truly feel like I’m leading the pack. He taught me what it’s like to be a leader, and to lead a show. He taught me a lot.”

8 Simple Rules is currently streaming on ABC.com.

— Video produced by Carisse Moy and Gisselle Bances

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Originally published