Cast: Richard Mulligan as Dr. Harry Weston | Dinah Manoff as Carol Weston | David Leisure as Charley Dietz | Park Overall as Nurse Laverne Todd | Marsha Warfield as Dr. Maxine Douglas | Estelle Getty as Sophia Petrillo | Bear as Dreyfuss
Ratings: #62 (9.46 million viewers)
You name it, it changes this season: new characters, new office and a new baby. Absent in the show’s introduction are Kristy McNichol, Paul Provenza and Lisa Rieffel. Marsha Warfield and Estelle Getty are added to the mix, taking the show in a new direction both at home and at the office.
The opening scene of the season finds Harry retiring and saying goodbye to his comfortable pediatrics office and Laverne. Having sold his practice to Dr. Tyler, Harry is all prepared for a European vacation until the hospital sends him to evaluate one of their inner-city clinics. On arrival, he meets cynical Dr. Maxine Douglas, a hard-driving woman who has no sympathy for posh hospital “pinch-butts” like Harry. Harry convinces Maxine that he is on her side and isn’t just there to check up on her. Unfortunately, despite his recommendation, the Canal Street Clinic’s request for a budget increase is denied, and Maxine is forced to close the doors. But with his connections, and the savings he was planning to spend on his trip, Harry agrees to become partners with Maxine and keep the clinic open. After being fired by Dr. Tyler for refusing to see things his way, Laverne suddenly finds herself out of a job and is hired by Maxine to be the clinic’s nurse. Attempts to keep the struggling clinic open highlight this season and the next.
Meanwhile, back at the house, it is explained that Patrick is off on a trip to New York and Emily has gone back to school. In an attempt to recapture a bit of the old Saturday night lineup, Golden GirlSophia Petrillo appears at the Weston door. Following the demise of the post-Golden Girls spinoff The Golden Palace, Sophia has now moved back into nearby retirement home Shady Pines. Estelle Getty moves rather slowly during her time on Nest. The livelihood displayed on Golden Girls seems to be fading as she wanders in a
nd out of the Weston house spitting out one-liners and old-fashioned advice. We hear a lot about Shady Pines and its array of social events (from lumberjack nights and square dances to wheelchair demolition derbies and safe sex seminars). Used mainly for shock value and background, only a couple episodes actually center around Sophia. One this season finds Sophia’s boyfriend hitting on Laverne, who is filling in for a friend at the nursing home. Sophia catches the two together, accuses Laverne of stealing her man and puts a curse on her.
In his last appearance, Carol forces shiftless Patrick to get a job. When he turns down a promising position, Carol realizes that he will never grow up and throws him out, only to discover that she is pregnant with his child. He returns, and the two try their best to make their relationship work. After a bit of soul searching and exploring all her options, Carol decides to keep her baby – and lose Patrick. He moves to Paris and isn’t seen again. The rest of the season focuses largely on Carol’s pregnancy and adaptation to motherhood. Her son, F. Scotty (after Fitzgerald), is born at the opera. In one episode, Carol becomes convinced that her baby was switched at birth when the infant suddenly starts singing Beethoven.
The arrival of Marsha Warfield and the venue change from the hospital to the clinic shifts the balance of scenes involving Harry’s work life. The banter between Harry and Laverne, a staple in the show from the start, takes a backseat here on out, as Maxine and Laverne basically become the show’s new comedy duo (reminiscent of the Barbara/Carol juxtaposition of the first four years). Grumpy Maxine is hilarious to watch as she evolves from the dry cynic displayed in the season opener, but she does take on the hard-edged antagonist role previously filled by Laverne. The former sharp-witted, no-nonsense personality that made Laverne so popular fades, and the focus of the character becomes her Southern, countrified demeanor. Despite this disadvantage, the two characters do work well together: Laverne’s down-home wit against Maxine’s New York savvy. The two clash on every occasion, such as when Laverne tries to help Maxine overcome her fear of public speaking, when they become competitive after agreeing to jog together and when they plan a surprise baby shower for Carol.
Charley announces his engagement to a waitress but then gets a taste of his own medicine when she dumps him for another man. Then, after a rich cruise ship passenger dies, Charley discovers that he has inherited a million dollars. After finding out that the million dollars was actually in Belgium money, Charley takes the whole gang (along with Get Smart‘s Don Adams) on a trip to Mardi Gras. We also meet Charley’s younger brother Deiter when, after losing his job on the cruise ship, duplicitous Deiter gives Charley a job cleaning ashtrays at his used car lot. When Charley makes a sale, Deiter stabs Charley in the back and takes credit for it himself.
Much of Harry’s time is spent attempting to develop a relationship with Casey MacAfee, Community Medical Center’s new administrator. She drops by the clinic often to flirt with Harry. Casey, played by Loni Anderson, is added to the Nest spinoff Nurses in an attempt to boost that show’s ratings, but the move doesn’t translate into a larger audience and the series is canceled at the end of the season.
Laverne’s ex-mother-in-law returns, unaware that Laverne and Nick are divorced. An old biker flame also comes back into Laverne’s life. The two move in together but soon realize they are too different to make it work. In another episode, after finding out that they share the same birthday, Laverne tries to convince Maxine that the two of them are exactly alike. And, when a lonely volunteer at the clinic becomes too attached, Maxine thinks the woman may be in love with Laverne.
In other episodes, Carol, after reading her mother’s diary, thinks she was unwanted as a child; Harry talks his old jazz idol into coming out of retirement (this episode features Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gourme); Marla Gibbs guest stars as Maxine’s crotchety mother; and Laverne begins having sex dreams about Harry when she finds out he’s dating the nurse when filling in at the old office. In an important episode about gun control, Harry is shot by a young boy who carries a gun to school for protection. The show earns an Emmy nomination for direction this season for the episode “Das Boob,” in which Harry and Charley go boating and get lost at sea during a storm.
Changing the arena from the cozy pediatrics office to the clinic is a risky move. The interaction between Harry and his young patients is missed, but the oddball eccentrics at the clinic create some humorous moments. Having strayed far from its original concept, Nest continues to lose viewers, and the changes this season do not revitalize things. The show’s age is becoming evident, and the writers resort to shock value for laughs and storylines, i.e. Carol’s pregnancy, Loni Anderson’s infrequent appearances, and the addition of Sophia. Despite having a solid comedy block this season, anchored by Nest, NBC’s Saturday night lineup continues to lose momentum as the year progresses. By the end of the season, Empty Nest is the only series from the lineup to be renewed.