Valerie and Valerie's Family and The Hogan Family

Valerie (1986-1987)
Valerie's Family (1987-1988)
The Hogan Family (1988-1991)
Type: Renamed Show

   Man oh man. Some shows just cannot settle on a name. And this has to be the most famous case. Valerie premiered on NBC as a sitcom vehicle for, appropriately, Valerie Harper, formerly TV's Rhoda. It was a show about Harper's character Valerie Hogan trying to raise three kids largely on her own. Her husband, Michael Hogan, was a pilot and his job kept him away most of the time. Her oldest son David was a cocky teenager who tended to put himself in situations he was sure he was ready for when he really wasn't. Willie and Mark the younger brothers were fraternal (non-identical) twins. Sounds like a nice start for an at least decent sitcom, don't it?

   Ah ha! But even though it was a sitcom up front, behind the scenes there was a sort of soap opera going on. Valerie Harper and the shows producers were butting heads over control of the show. I don't know which side was in the right but I'm sure Valerie Harper figured she had the power to get things her way. She was the star. The show was named Valerie for crying out loud. You couldn't very well fire Mary Tyler Moore from The Mary Tyler Moore Show or Bob Newhart from Newhart. With a show named Valerie I'm sure she figured they couldn't possibly fire its star Valerie Harper.

   She was wrong. For maybe the only time in TV history, the star of a show whose show was named for her got the axe! (Truth be told, I'd have lost that bet too - my money was on Harper winning!) At the start of the third season the producers killed Valerie's character off! Goodnight Irene! Adios! They solved the show's name problem by changing the title to Valerie's Family. Sandy Duncan was brought in to fill the hole left in the cast, playing Sandy Hogan, Valerie's sister-in-law. The producers claimed that they felt killing off Valerie's character would enable the other characters to grow (I'm paraphrasing but that was the gist of it). At the time this sounded like face saving PR. Firing the star of your show when she's someone the public loves doesn't exactly endear you or your show to people. You pretty much have to say, "This will be good for the show! It'll be better! Really!"

   But here's the damn thing: they actually followed through and made good on what they said. They had the family go through great pains over Valerie's death. Her absence forced father Michael to adjust his life to have more time with his family and become more of a father than he had been. Son David stopped being quite so snotty and brash and matured quite a bit. The impact of his mother's death and what he went through due to it was played out and allowed his character to gain some depth. I still remember an episode where the family's home caught fire. David was devastated. Having already lost his mother he could hardly bear the thought of losing more of his family or all the physical items that were all he had left of his mother. This was clearly not a case of ditching the character and pretending they never existed at all. They did use Valerie's death to move the show forward. It was a good move and probably what enabled the show to steer clear of the ill will it could have brought onto itself.

   Still later on the show changed name again. It's more than likely that the producer's wanted to ditch whatever stigma still might be lingering over Valerie Harper's dismissal. With the show called Valerie's Family, the title was a regular reminder to viewers of the whole ugly mess. So around the end of the third season the show's name changed again to The Hogan Family. The show lived on with this name for some time and was pretty good for awhile. Like all sitcoms though it did eventually run out of steam. The controversy probably had kept the show in the public mind and kept it seeming relevant. The challenge of trying to prove the show could go on without Valerie seemed to keep the show on its toes and the quality up. With that point proved though, The Hogan Family slowly turned into just another family sitcom. In 1990 the show left NBC and was picked up by CBS. But by that time any real spark had gone out of the show and it soon was dropped by CBS as well.

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