Like John Ritter's real family, his TV clan will figure out a way, somehow, to get along in his absence. Five days after an undetected heart ailment led to the actor's unexpected death at 54, ABC announced Tuesday that it will continue production of ''8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter'' by writing the death of Ritter's lead character, Paul Hennessey, into the sitcom. Katey Sagal will continue as the family's widowed mother, as she and her three kids cope with the aftermath of Paul's passing.
The show's second season will premiere Sept. 23 as scheduled. Each of the three episodes Ritter completed before his death will be introduced by a cast member. After a hiatus of about a month, new, Ritter-less episodes will begin to air.
The show, a comedy whose premise and appeal depended primarily on Ritter and his character, was one of ABC's few ratings successes last season. Now, the initially more downbeat series will compete on Tuesdays with Whoopi Goldberg's popular new ''Whoopi'' sitcom on NBC.
''We are in uncharted territory here,'' said ABC Entertainment chairman Lloyd Braun to the New York Times. ''I do believe it will be great television. It may not be funny television, but it will be great television. Eventually, it will have to get funny again.''