John Ritter: Robert Trachtenberg
Gary Susman
September 18, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

John Ritter came and knocked on viewers doors one last time Tuesday night, and millions let him in. ”John Ritter: Life of Laughter,” a tribute to the comic actor who died unexpectedly on the set of his sitcom ”8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter,” was Tuesday’s top program, according to early Nielsen estimates. Some 14 million viewers tuned in to the special, hosted by Diane Sawyer, and featuring highlights from the ”Three’s Company” star’s career and testimonials from friends and colleagues.

The tribute pushed the second episode of Whoopi Goldberg’s ”Whoopi” on NBC into second place for the evening with 11.2 million viewers, about 4 million fewer than last week’s debut, which made it the third most-watched show last week. ”Whoopi” and ”8 Simple Rules” will do battle over the next few weeks, as ABC airs the three episodes Ritter completed, Then, however, the ABC show will pause for a month as its writers plot out a post-Ritter course, in which Ritter’s character will die as well, leaving Katey Sagal and the family’s three children to carry on without him.

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