Lassie survived three families and a forest ranger, Lou Grant moved from sitcom to the city room of the Los Angeles Tribune and Archie Bunker got his own place after he sent the Stivics packing to California and Edith bit the dust.
TV characters evolve, in other words--sometimes in major ways. But never in the annals of video had a couple of all-but-anonymous toddlers been the most prominent survivors of a series housecleaning.
That was before Paul and Ryan Jessup of Fountain Valley usurped Tony Danza's voice and goo-gooed their way into the demographically-sensitized hearts of ABC's creative executives. In the network's estimation, "Baby Talk" can do without Julia Duffy. And it can do without whiz-bang executive producer Ed. Weinberger ("The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "Taxi").
It cannot do, however, without a talking baby.
So the Jessups are in and practically everyone else is out at "Baby Talk."
"The performance of the show on Friday night was pretty good last year," said Ted Harbert, ABC's executive vice president for prime-time entertainment. "What we know we have here is this wonderful concept for kids. What we needed was a new adult concept."
Or, as new co-executive co-producer Saul Turtletaub puts it: "It was about a talking baby with a single mom. Now it's about a single mom with a talking baby."
Gone are most of the producers, writers and cast who brought the show to the air last season, adapted from the box-office hit "Look Who's Talking." Aside from the Jessup twins (who still have the voice of Tony Danza mouthing their words) and self-described "baby wrangler" Dennis Gallegos, "Baby Talk's" sole surviving line producer, what debuts in the 9:30 p.m. slot on Sept. 20 has inherited nothing from its springtime incarnation.
Mary Page Keller is the new mom ("She's fun and very attractive," Harbert says in high-concept exec shorthand), Scott Baio is the new neighbor-who-kind-of-likes-her ("Kids remember him from 'Charles in Charge'; adults remember him from 'Happy Days,' " Harbert says); Polly Bergen plays Keller's irascible mother, and there are other supporting characters to coo and coddle her tow-headed youngster.
Yes, "youngster" in the singular because it takes two normal babies to portray one talking kid.
It is an article of faith in the film and television business--enforced by a state law restricting child actors to a four-hour workday--that twins, and sometimes triplets, play babies. "Baby Talk's" Gallegos, who began his showbiz career casting kids for commercials, has actually made a scientific study of the phenomenon.
According to Gallegos, about one in every 1,000 births produce identical twins, and the children who don't shriek, stare blankly or look at least as adorable as a pair of effervescent Cabbage Patch dolls have a future in TV. In one episode of "Baby Talk" last spring, the producers hired 17 sets of twins to populate a day-care center.
As the new folks on "Baby Talk," Baio and Keller will have to get used to the backstage one-upmanship of the Jessup twins. Not only do they have their names on a larger dressing room, staffed with a full-time nurse, but they also have a play area and an unlimited supply of His and Her Huggies (in the event they have guests on the set) thrown into their deal.
The twins also have that other Big Star perk, their very own trailer. The trailer is located inside Stage 12 at Sunset Gower studios, however, where the sitcom is shot. Inside is a child-proofed TV, tiny chairs, hypoallergenic plastic action toys and all the Gerbers they might want to consume and/or smear on the furniture.
In a poll of the nation's TV critics, "Baby Talk" was voted the worst new series of the season. ABC hopes the reception will be warmer this time out.
"We've now got the bases sort of covered," Harbert said. "We've got a show the TGIF audience can watch and enjoy. We will offer them a show that is much better than we offered before."
It does not seem to matter that Duffy (who now will be seen in CBS' "Designing Women") will simply be transformed into Keller in the first episode of the all-new "Baby Talk." Keller will even have Duffy's name on the show: Maggie. Like another famous Duffy who waltzed back into "Dallas" via a shower stall after having been dead for a year, Duffy's replacement will simply show up chatting with her little boy's pediatrician . . . no explanations or excuses.