"I can't believe it. How desperate can they be? Has ABC management watched an episode? It's all about him," said David Marans, director of consumer insights at MindShare, referring to the character portrayed by the late actor.
"It's classless and moronic," said another top agency executive.
Though at least one thought there was some business logic in the move.
"From a business point of view, what do they have to lose," said Steve Sternberg, senior VP-director of audience analysis at Magna Global USA. "The show is going to have a lot of curiosity associated with it and they may end up getting more viewers than they had before. The question is if ABC can make them stick with it."
"After much introspection and discussion with all the parties involved, we are going to go forward with the show," Lloyd Braun, chairman of the ABC Entertainment Television Group, said Tuesday during a conference call to brief reporters. He said ABC would air the first of three new episodes starring Ritter when its new season premieres on Tuesday, followed by the two additional new episodes and a series of repeats until a new episode can be produced that deals with the death of Ritter's character.
Instead of writing around the actor's death, Braun said ABC would tackle it head on with future episodes focusing on the show's characters' reactions to the loss of Paul Hennessy, the father character portrayed by Ritter that was the central figure in the family-based sitcom.
"We will not be recasting John," said Braun. "We will play out this situation as real life has interceded."
"That's sort of what happened with Jean Stapleton and 'All in the Family. And look what happened there. The show didn't last very long," noted MindShare's Marans. "This is a no-win situation for everyone: the viewers, the network and the producers of the show."
But Magna's Sternberg said that also means there is nothing to lose by the network giving it one more shot.
"Let's face it, despite all the press coverage, this was not a hit show. It was borderline at best. There will be a lot of interest in this show going forward. Let's see if ABC can make it work. "