9 Images

Prime-time makeovers

By Patrick Day, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

As the near-constant ads on FX informed us, the hit series “Nip/Tuck” started its fifth season with the plastic surgeons Sean McNamara (Dylan Walsh) and Christian Troy (Julian McMahon) no longer in their comfortable Miami digs. They moved out to Los Angeles in a quest for new clients and (producers hoped) fresh creative insights into the characters.

When it comes to mid-series creative shake-ups, moving cross-country is nothing new -- even Lucy and Ricky Ricardo moved out to L.A. at one point. But as other TV producers have learned, major overhauls can sometimes be the first step toward disaster. Here are some of TV’s biggest mid-course corrections, and how the shows fared after. (Michael Becker / AP)
‘Laverne & Shirley’

The change: After five seasons, best friends and roommates Laverne De Fazio (Penny Marshall) and Shirley Feeney (Cindy Williams) left their jobs at the Shotz Brewery in Milwaukee for life in sunny Burbank, Calif.

The impact: Viewers were already tiring of Laverne and Shirley’s antics when producers moved the locale west for the 1980 season. The curiosity factor boosted ratings somewhat, but ultimately the show lasted three more seasons before ending with Laverne all by herself (a pregnant Williams left the show before the end of its final season). (Nick at Nite)
‘The X-Files’

The change: Unhappy with having to divide his life between shooting a TV series in Vancouver and spending time with his new wife, Tea Leoni, in Los Angeles, star David Duchovny lobbied producers to move the shooting location. The show moved to L.A. in 1998, where it was shot for the final four seasons.

The impact: Though it stayed on the air for a long time after the move, a certain amount of the series’ early mystique was credited with the rainy, dreary locations they found in British Columbia. Though it made a great effort, the series just couldn’t retain its trademark creepiness in sunny Southern California. (Chris H.B. / Fox)
‘Pros & Cons’

The change: Dour, angry ex-con-turned-private-detective Gabriel Bird (James Earl Jones) was not a hit with audiences, so for the second season of “Gabriel’s Fire,” the Chicago-based character moved to sunny Los Angeles and teamed up with a wise-cracking private eye played by Richard Crenna. Together they made a lot more jokes and laughed a whole lot. The show also got a new title, “Pros & Cons.”

The impact: Not enough to save the show. Perhaps people were spooked by the idea of having to listen to Darth Vader break into a cackle every few minutes, but not even the sudden injection of good-natured fun could entice people to watch. It was canceled midway through the second season. (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)
‘Murder, She Wrote’

The change: In an effort to boost ratings on their long-running series, producers moved Cabot Cove resident Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury) from her quaint Maine fishing village to the big city of New York, where she became an instructor in writing and criminology.

The impact: Negligible. It turns out fans were more upset by the inclusion of guest detectives in the series’ sixth season than they were by their favorite writer-sleuth leaving her longtime home. The show continued to be a ratings winner until its 12th season, and only then was it hurt by a change in its schedule. After the series’ end, Lansbury continued to turn up in a series of “Murder, She Wrote” TV movies. (CBS)

The change: For the show’s upcoming seventh season, producers have disbanded Jack Bauer’s anti-terrorist organization, CTU, and moved Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) to the East Coast, where he’ll take on terrorists in Washington.

The impact: The series doesn’t start again until January, but fans were so put off by last season’s lack of thrills that any change can only be a welcome thing. (Kelsey S. McNeal / Fox)
‘The Practice’

The change: Forced with a drastically reduced budget for the series’ eighth season, creator David E. Kelley fired the show’s biggest stars: Dylan McDermott, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Lara Flynn Boyle, Kelli Williams, Chyler Leigh and Marla Sokoloff. In their place, he introduced James Spader and British actress Rhona Mitra.

The impact: Fans liked the addition of Spader, and the actor won an Emmy for his role. Instead of bringing the series back for a ninth season, however, the network decided to give them a spinoff series, “Boston Legal” and added William Shatner. Both Spader and Shatner have won Emmys for their work on the new series. (Carin Baer / ABC)
‘The A-Team’

The change: The opening narration used to say, “Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune.” For the fifth season, they stopped running and joined the government. Working for a military general who promised full pardons upon completion of a series of suicide missions, the team began carrying out political espionage in foreign countries.

The impact: Too little, too late. “The A-Team” only lasted 13 episodes under the new format before low ratings caused the missions to come to an end. (NBC)
“The Facts of Life”

The change: The danger in centering a series around children is that sooner or later, they grow up. Since they couldn’t remain students at the Eastland Academy for the rest of their lives, in the fifth season, the main characters’ housemother, Mrs. Garrett (Charlotte Rae) purchased a bakery called Edna’s Edibles and had them all come live with her.

The impact: Keeping the characters together kept the Garrett-train chugging along for several more seasons. It wasn’t until Rae left the series in 1986 and the action was again shifted to a pop culture memorabilia store in a mall that “The Facts of Life” began to fade away. (NBC Television)