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Shows’ longevity spotty after losses

From wire reports

There’s a long, sad history of actors and actresses who have died amid a show’s production, and the sad aftermath is invariably the same: The show struggles to adjust, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

When Jim Davis – Ewing family patriarch John Ross “Jock” Ewing Sr. in longtime CBS hit “Dallas” – died of cancer in 1981, viewers later learned his character had died in a plane crash; the show lasted another decade.

When “Hill Street Blues”’ Michael Conrad died in ‘83 – his Sgt. Phil Esterhaus was arguably one of the show’s most memorable characters – he was said to have died of a heart attack in flagrante delicto. “Hill Street” lasted four more seasons.

“Cheers’ ” Nicolas Colasanto – aka Coach – died in 1985, but it’s a fair bet most viewers better remember his replacement behind the bar, Woody Harrelson.

And more recently, Nancy Marchand – who died of emphysema and lung cancer in June 2000 – actually continued to “appear,” albeit briefly, as Tony’s shrewish mother Livia on “The Sopranos.”

The show employed computer techniques by using some dialogue she had pre-recorded and patching an image of her head on a body double.

“8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter” never recovered from the death of star John Ritter, who died in September 2003 – just as hit-starved ABC had proclaimed his sitcom a hit. His character, Paul Hennessy, also died on the program.

After “Law & Order” pillar Jerry Orbach, died almost exactly a year ago, NBC aired the two episodes of “Law & Order: Trial by Jury” that he had already taped. The show was later canceled.

Freddie Prinze, star of “Chico and the Man,” committed suicide in 1977 in the third year of the popular NBC sitcom. The network cast a new, younger Chico, but the show was off the air in a year.

Comedian Redd Foxx, of “Sanford and Son” fame, died of a heart attack in 1991 after making seven episodes of his new CBS sitcom “The Royal Family.” The show returned without him six months after his death but lasted only a few episodes.

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