A collection of fun facts about the show and its stars!
Several scripts had already been written prior to Kristy McNichol’s unexpected departure early in season five. When she left, those episodes were either rewritten (see below, re: “More to Love”) or scrapped. One proposed storyline for Barbara had her becoming a technical consultant for a famous actress who’d been cast to play a police officer. Another script had Charley exploring a career as a stand-up comedian, which was eventually worked into a season 7 storyline.
The Laverne Todd Show was a second potential Empty Nest spinoff series, in development during season five, which never materialized. The show would’ve had Laverne getting remarried and moving to her husband’s small town, where she butted heads with his ex-wife and kids.
Death and Taxes, an indie music and culture website, included Empty Nest in a list of “7 Television Neighbors Who Deserve Some Love.” Featuring nods to shows such as Blossom, Growing Pains and The Cosby Show, the list highlights characters who may not have reached quite the heights of Steve Urkel or Cosmo Kramer but deserve some adulation nonetheless. Coming in at number three on the list is Empty Nest‘s own Charley Dietz!
The great folks at Sitcoms Online, the “source for sitcom info on the Web,” named Empty Nest Onlinethe “Click of the Week” in their Digital Digest column for September 9th, 2011. Check out what they had to say about us on their website. Thanks, Sitcoms Online!
Empty Nest premiered on Hallmark Channel with a 24-hour marathon on February 26th, 2011. The entire first season of the show ran continuously throughout the day. Viewership ranged from 282,000 to 667,000 viewers at its peak. Online fan response was overwhelming. Empty Nest Online had its best month since debuting in 1998 – over 10,000 hits! Our Facebook page was alive with activity (over 500 “likes” in one week) and both #EmptyNest and #KristyMcNichol were trending on Twitter and were among the Top Five searches on Google for the day! We even received kind words from Dinah Manoff! Thanks, fans, for supporting the show!
Empty Nest remains the reigning king of Saturday night television, at least according to a Los Angeles Times blog post from 2008! When Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps won a record-setting eighth gold medal in August 2008, the ratings for the NBC broadcast were the second highest ever for the network on a Saturday night. So who holds the record for the highest ratings? Empty Nest! The episode “Goodbye, Mr. Dietz” aired on February 24, 1990, and drew 31.4 million viewers – over three million more than tuned in to Phelps’ Olympic victory.
Bear (“Dreyfuss”) was born into show business. His father appeared in the TV series Father Murphy and the film Summer Rental with John Candy. His brother, Bodie, appeared in Steel Magnolias and The Bodyguard. Brother Julio occasionally stood in as Dreyfuss on Empty Nest. Bear’s own pups carried on the family tradition, turning up in films such as Homeward Bound II, A Simple Plan, Fluke and What Lies Beneath, as well as an episode of Empty Nest.
Dr. Weston’s office was a virtual training ground for future stars. Matthew Perry, Stephen Dorff, Allison Mack, Mayim Bialik, Michael Bower, R.J. Williams, Ariana Richards, Rider Strong and Andrew Keegan were all cast as patients of Harry’s.
Empty Nest is referenced in the musical [title of show], which ran on Broadway in 2008 and is currently in regional productions throughout the U.S. The plot centers around the creation of a musical. When discussing celebrity involvement, two characters mention Dinah Manoff in the song “Two Nobodies in New York”: “‘We could get that woman who was on Empty Nest!’ ‘Dinah Manoff? She’s awesome!’ ‘She was in Grease. And Leader of the Pack!'” Dinah saw the show herself during its Broadway run and taped a testimonial with the cast for their YouTube page.
Kristy McNichol can be seen wearing mismatched earrings in several episodes of the series, reflecting a popular fashion trend of the day.
Richard Mulligan and Bear were close off-screen and on. As Bear arrived to work in the morning with his trainer, he would often find Richard reviewing scripts in the dining room of the set. Richard would pat Bear, ask him how he was doing and give him a treat before sending him on his way.
Before playing the title role in Blossom, Mayim Bialik appeared in two episodes of Empty Nest as Laurie Kincaid, a patient of Harry’s. When one of her episodes aired on Hallmark Channel in 2011, she commented on the experience on her official Facebook page: “This was for the same company that produced Blossom – sort of my tryout for them. My character wants a nose job. Very funny. I am VERY young!” Mayim is referring to her appearance in the episode ‘Harry Knows Best’ from season three. You can now see Mayim in the CBS series The Big Bang Theory.
Empty Nest‘s Laverne Todd took the number one spot in a 2009 list of TV’s Top Ten Nurses from the OnlineNursingPrograms.net website: Nurse LaVerne Todd, who played Dr. Harry Weston’s assistant on Empty Nest, was an audience favorite whose strong southern accent and strong-willed personality provided comic relief and inspiration for modern nurses. Todd was outspoken, stubborn and completely in charge. She managed Dr. Weston’s office more than he did, and even signed her own paychecks. She teaches nurses that being an “assistant” doesn’t mean you have to sit quietly as a behind-the-scenes character: as a nurse, you can still be in charge.
Dinah Manoff and Park Overall starred in a 1986 sitcom pilot for NBC called The Line from Empty Nest‘s executive producers Paul Junger Witt and Tony Thomas. Dinah played Karen Cooper, a young mother who goes to work on the assembly line in an airplane factory after her husband loses his job; Park played her coworker, Lucy, who was attempting to balance a sex-hungry husband with her night school studies. The plot of the pilot dealt with Karen’s attempts to adjust to life on the factory line while trying to fill the void left by her apparently beloved predecessor. Rounding out the cast were C.C.H. Pounder (The Shield), Lori Petty (A League of Their Own), Brian George (Babu Bhatt on Seinfeld), Andrew Rubin (Police Academy), and Emmy award winner Alfre Woodard.
Respected character actress Grace Zabriskie appeared in the first and last episodes of Empty Nest,but as different characters. In the pilot, she played a woman who was dating Harry. In the finale, she played Laverne’e mother. She again played mother to Park Overall’s character in the 1999 film Sparkler. Zabriskie is perhaps best known for playing the motherly role. In addition to Empty Nest, she played the mother of George’s fiance Susan on Seinfeld and of murder victim Laura Palmer on the series Twin Peaks.
Empty Nest was the focus of a MAD Magazine spoof in issue number 294 from April 1990 called “Empty Mess.” The piece focused on the Westin family: Harried, Boobra and Carrot, as well as pals Churley, Luhverne and Dreyfoos. You can find the MAD spoof on our Articles & Interviews page.
In her 2007 autobiography, My First Five Husbands and the Ones Who Got Away, Rue McClanahan stated that some of Estelle Getty’s lines had to be written on cue cards during the later episodes of The Golden Girls, foreshadowing the health problems that she would face in the years to come. Fans have commented that Estelle’s performance on Empty Nest wasn’t as vibrant as during her TGG prime. Rue’s comments shed some light on why the Sophia character wasn’t heavily focused on during her Empty Nestyears, used more for sight gags and one-liners. Only two episodes utlized Sophia as the primary character during Estelle’s time as a regular on the show.
Rue McClanahan also provided some insight into the show in her commentary on The Golden Girlsepisode “Sick and Tired” from that show’s fifth season DVD set. The episode in question features cameos by Empty Nest ‘s Richard Mulligan and Park Overall. Rue spoke of Richard’s kindness and of Park’s prowess as a roller skater. She says Park would skate around the studio lot quite often.
Park Overall’s love of skating once led to serious injury when she badly broke her leg. This was during Empty Nest ‘s fifth season. Park was absent from several episodes because of the injury and, after returning, spent several episodes on crutches with her leg in a cast.
Dinah Manoff directed seven episodes of Empty Nest throughout seasons 5-7: “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?,” “Read All About It,” “Brotherly Shove,” “Just for Laughs,” “Feelings, Whoa, Whoa, Whoa, Feelings,” “Stand by Your Man,” and “My Pal Valy-Val.”
Marty Pollio, who guest starred in the season six episode “Diary of a Mad Housewife” as a mime, made the following comments about his experience working on the show: It was an honor to be doing scenes with Richard Mulligan, he was talented beyond belief, and a great guy too. I never realized what a good actress Dinah Manoff was until I watched her work on this particular episode…nice person, as well. The set was pretty relaxed and friendly. Park Overall (the southern one) was such a sweetheart, yet a complaining, whining princess at the same time. She lost sight of the fact that ANYBODY who’s on a series, especially a successful one, is seriously LUCKY. I had a really good time on this one. He also had the following to say about Marsha Warfield when he guest starred on an episode of her series Night Court, which he called a “tough set”: Marsha Warfield was quiet and very closed, but a couple years later when I worked with her on Empty Nest, she was warm and extremely friendly (that was a reflection of the moods on each of those sets).
Marty Polio’s comments about Park Overall aren’t too surprising given that in her Intimate Portraitspecial on Lifetime, she stated that she was “extraordinarily difficult” on Empty Nest. Marty’s web site, The Pollio Folio, can be found at www.1comedian.com.
When the above photo of Park, Marsha and Marty surfaced on Marsha Warfield’s Facebook page in 2012, she said that scene was the longest audience laugh of her career. In fact, it was too long for the show. “I don’t even remember the joke,” she said, “but I remember the laugh.”
Empty Nest is featured in the Flashback: Sitcom Edition board game. The game features trivia questions from over sixty sitcoms including EN-related shows The Golden Girls and Soap. Sample Empty Nest questions include “What did Harry do for a living?” and “What was the name of the Westons’ dog?”
In Estelle Getty’s 2001 Intimate Portrait on Lifetime, it is said that producers of Empty Nest and The Golden Girls asked Estelle to do “double duty” and appear on Nest while The Golden Girls was still on the air. This is, of course, incorrect. Estelle didn’t join the Empty Nest cast until 1993, after The Golden Girls and The Golden Palace had both ended. A clip from Estelle’s first episode as a series regular on Empty Nest is shown during the Intimate Portrait.
The hospital used in the establishing shots for Community Medical Center is actually Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach, California.
The episode “More to Love” from Season 5, in which Emily has second thoughts when agreeing to accompany Carol’s overweight high school lab partner to their fifteen year reunion, was originally written around the Barbara character as a Halloween themed episode. In that script, Barbara was having doubts about an overweight coworker taking her to the police department’s Halloween party — meanwhile, Harry and Laverne handed out candy at her apartment and Carol and Patrick attended the police dept. party as Madame Curie and Radium. When Kristy McNichol left the series (as discussed above), the Halloween plots featuring Harry & Laverne and Carol & Patrick were reworked into the episode “It’s Not Easy Being Green.” “More to Love” aired later in the season with the Emily-focused plot mentioned above.
Dinah Manoff’s series State of Grace, which ran for two seasons on ABC Family in 2001-2002, was filmed on the same sound stage as Empty Nest.
Empty Nest spent $2000 for the stethoscopes, scales, jars of cotton balls, uniforms, etc., used regularly on the show. Other costs ranged from $20 for a retractable syringe to $2500 for an intensive care hospital bed setup.
Dinah Manoff’s mother, Oscar-winning actress and director Lee Grant, played Aunt Susan in “The Return of Aunt Susan” episode during season four.
Richard Mulligan dedicated his EN Emmy award to the life, career and friendship of Catherine Damon, who played his wife in Soap.
Soap was created by Susan Harris, who also created EN, The Golden Girls, and Nurses (as well as several other shows). Not only was Mulligan a regular, but Dinah Manoff was as well for one year, playing the snotty, sex-starved Elaine Lefkowitz–daughter-in-law to Mulligan’s character.
Sources point to Dinah Manoff as being the first sitcom regular to die onscreen when her Soapcharacter was killed by a gunshot.
Several actors who appeared on Soap also made appearances on EN (not to mention other Witt/Thomas/Harris produced shows): Donnelly Rhodes, Doris Roberts, Jennifer Salt, Gordon Jump, Richard Libirtini, Jay Johnson, Peggy Pope, and Judith-Marie Bergan…just to name a few.
Bear’s trainer Joel Silverman hosted the series Good Dog U. on the Animal Planet network and continues to write books on pet training. Joel left Empty Nest after the fourth season and was replaced with Mark Forbes, who remained with the show until it ended in 1995. Bear continued to live with Forbes for the following three years before he died at the age of twelve-and-a-half.
“The Mentor,” featuring Danny Thomas, was taped in late November 1990. Danny died the day after the EN broadcast with it being his final television appearance.
The studio facilities where Golden Girls, EN and Nurses were filmed is the former Desilu Studios where 8 of the nine seasons of I Love Lucy were filmed, as well as Danny Thomas’ Make Room for Daddy, The Ray Bolger Show (Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz), and December’s Bride to name a few. Later on Witt-Thomas-Harris Productions taped at the Sunset-Gower studios—the former Columbia Pictures’ studios. Earlier in his career, Paul Junger-Witt worked for the former Columbia Pictures Television division called Screen Gems producing TV shows like Here Come the Brides starring Robert Brown, Bobby Sherman, David Soul and Mark Lenard (known to Star Trek fans as Sarek, Spock’s father) and the first season of The Partridge Family. Today Screen Gems has been resurrected as a motion picture company for Sony Pictures.
Witt and Thomas produced Brian’s Song that was directed by Buzz Kulik, who directed Kristy McNichol in the CBS TV-movie Women of Valor.
Kari Lizer, who had a recurring role during seasons six and seven as dim-witted Doris (she also wrote the episode “The Devil & Dr. Weston”), went on to work as an exectuive producer on Will & Grace and later created, co-exectuve produced and wrote the series The New Adventures of Old Christine starring Seinfeld alum Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
Richard Mulligan, Dinah Manoff, Kristy McNichol and Park Overall were all in Neil Simon movies: Richard in London Suite, Dinah in I Ought to Be in Pictures(she won a best actress Tony for the stage version), Kristy in Only When I Laugh, and Park in Biloxi Blues.
Kristy McNichol and David Leisure were in the movie You Can’t Hurry Love in 1988, though they were not in scenes together.”
The Empty Nest episode “Talk, Talk, Talk” from Season 4 offers a small treat for fans of the film Grease. In the episode, Edd Byrnes plays a judge at the chili cook-off in which Barbara, Carol, and Charley compete. In Grease, Byrnes played Vince Fontaine, the television host and dance contest judge adored by Marty Maraschino (played by EN‘s Dinah Manoff).