USA, NBC (Witt-Thomas-Harris Productions/Touchstone Television), Sitcom, Colour, 1988
Starring: Richard Mulligan, Kristy McNichol, Dinah Manoff
A vehicle for Soap star Richard Mulligan, made for him by the creator of that series, Susan Harris, also the woman behind The Golden Girls. Empty Nest, indeed, was closely related to this latter series - both were set in Miami Beach, and Empty Nest featured occasional guest appearances by the four GG women, in character.
Richard Mulligan's role in Empty Nest - that of paediatrician Harry Weston - was greatly removed from his Burt persona in Soap. As a widower of some 18 months at the series' start, still missing his late wife Libby, Harry found that his nest scarcely became his own before two of his three daughters moved back in after a spell living independently in the same city. His eldest child Carol (played by one of Burt's murdered step-daughters-in-law in Soap, Elaine) was a recent divorcee whose marital breakdown led to a nervous breakdown from which her recovery was slow and fragile. Barbara, his middle daughter, was an undercover law officer with the Miami Police Department. Both - but especially Carol - fussed around Harry when, it was clear, he wished they would leave him to get on with his life in his own way. Not that Harry wasn't a devoted father, or lacked love for his offspring, just that he had reached middle-age and wanted time to lead his busy life, socialising in the evening and working at the Community Medical Center in Miami during the daytime, where he was assisted by an acid-tongued Southern nurse, Laverne, whose awesome knowledge of medicine was text-book correct and invariably better than his own.
Various people in the series tried to get Harry hitched, and there was no shortage of women seeking to align themselves with one of the area's most eligible unmarried men. Much of the time, however, Harry was left to pour out his emotions to his only regular companion, a lazy doe-eyed giant of a dog called Dreyfuss. One person whom Harry wanted to see less of, although there was little chance of this, was Charley Dietz, his scrounging, womanising next-door neighbour, who was always letting himself into Harry's house with his key and making loose with the contents of the fridge.
A genuinely funny sitcom, Empty Nest ran for seven years in the USA, first scheduled on the coat-tails of The Golden Girls but then moving to a new slot and, ultimately, garnering the better audience ratings of the two. The cast changed little over the years, but Harry's third daughter Emily, hitherto only referred to, was brought into the series after Kristy McNichol (who played Barbara) became ill. The plots required that Harry have two daughters on the scene, not just one, so Emily was the obvious replacement. She didn't hang around long, though, and Sophia Petrillo from The Golden Girls became a regular in the final seasons. Harry became a grandfather in 1993 after Carol gave birth to a baby boy conceived with her boyfriend Patrick. She then married in the final episode, Laverne also wed and Harry left Florida for a new job in Vermont.
Seventeen months before the series' premiere in the USA, NBC, following a traditional US custom, aired a pilot of Empty Nest as if it was an episode of The Golden Girls. (Screened in the UK by C4 on 5 February 1988.) In this, Paul Dooley and Rita Moreno were cast as George and Renee Corliss, the Golden Girls' next-door neighbours, a middle-aged couple who have to repair their marriage after their daughter Jenny (played by Jane Harnick) goes off to university. Of the principal cast, only David Leisure appeared in both the pilot and the full series, albeit as different characters. Beatrice Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty appeared in the pilot in their Golden Girls roles of Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia.
Researched and written by Mark Lewisohn.
Number of episodes: 170
Length: 30 mins