1 9 7 7 – 1 9 8 1 (USA)
105 x 50 minute episodes
Newspaper columnist Tom Bradford (Dick Van Patten) is recently widowed and has eight children aged 8 to 23. The series sees Tom trying to find a new wife, with him eventually marrying his son’s tutor – the much younger Abby (Betty Buckley) – in season two.
Diana Hyland (Peyton Place), who originally played mother Joan Bradford, had already undergone a mastectomy when she started shooting in early 1977 but was suffering from back pain.
She went into the hospital for traction, but when that didn’t help, she called producers to her bedside and delivered the news: She had cancer.
Hyland toughed it out, suggesting producers tape her voice for telephone scenes, but asked to be sent home in mid-March. In late March she died at the age of 41.
Betty Buckley was brought in to play Abby, a tutor for Tommy (Willie Aames) who became the elder Tom’s new wife. But in keeping with EIE tradition, her landing was none too smooth. A stage actress who’d most recently worked in London and New York, she didn’t adjust well to the routine of TV shooting. Nor did she love her adopted home.
She also hated the changes made to her character after she signed on. She agreed to play a woman named Mitch, who was a high-spirited, independent gal before ABC exec Fred Silverman had the writers morph her into quiet, demure Abby.
Two cast members who went on to bigger and better things were actor Mark Hamill – who played the oldest son David in the pilot of Eight is Enough which was called ‘Never Try Eating Nectarines Since Juice May Dispense’ (the title was made up from the first names of the Bradford kids; Nicholas, Tommy, Elizabeth, Nancy, Susan, Joannie, Mary and David) – and Ralph (The Karate Kid) Macchio who joined the cast in the final season as Abby’s troubled nephew Jeremy.
Mark Hamill got out of his five-year series contract with the series because he had a feeling the sci-fi movie he had just made would be a hit and would spawn many sequels. You can guess the title of the movie, I’m sure…
EIE producer Bob Jacks tried to convince the actor his future was safer with a hit series than a long shot space picture. When that didn’t work, Lorimar (the company producing the show), threatened legal action if Hamill didn’t play along.
Just before shooting on the first episode was to begin, Hamill knuckled under. But he subsequently banged his face up in a car accident and was released from his contract. The Force ended up being with him, his career as Luke Skywalker was launched, and actor Grant Goodeve stepped in as David Bradford.
Losing Hamill was just one of the misfortunes suffered by the cast and producers of the show. Three days into shooting the pilot the actor playing Tom Bradford was canned by ABC and replaced by former child star Dick Van Patten (I Remember Mama), prompting the director to quit.
After the pilot was finished, network execs decided they didn’t like the actors playing Nancy and Tommy so they went, too.
ABC and Lorimar also had some legal tussles and all through the first season a credit informed the audience that the show was “based on a novel by Tom Braden.” The 1975 book by Washington columnist Braden was actually an autobiography, not a novel!
And even some of Tom Braden’s kids, who resented a show giving all of America false impressions of what they were really like, found something to like about the experience. Elizabeth Braden didn’t appreciate the episode where drugs were found in a car occupied by her TV counterpart.
Nancy Braden wasn’t too happy when Nancy Bradford told her TV dad that she didn’t wear a nightgown. And Tommy Braden was humiliated when Tommy Bradford’s first date became an exercise in misery.
Given that it lasted a little over four years, the show obviously made it through the rough spots. Not that its luck ever really changed, though. During shooting for the final season, Lani O’Grady, wiped out on her bike, breaking her jaw. It was wired for six weeks.
Dick Van Patten
Sandra Sue ‘Abby’ Abbott
David Bradford (pilot)
Merle ‘The Pearl’ Stockwell
Brian Patrick Clarke