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Series / Empty Nest

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Life goes on, and so do we...note 

Empty Nest was an NBC sitcom which ran from 1988 to 1995. The series began as a spin-off of The Golden Girls, and its pilot aired as an episode of that show (season 2, episode 26), although it was dramatically changed before becoming its own series. Nonetheless, the two households were established as neighbors and characters regularly crossed between the two. Empty Nest was one of the top 10 most-watched programs in its first three years.

The show centered around Dr. Harry Weston (Richard Mulligan), a Miami pediatrician. When Harry's wife Libby passed away, his two adult daughters, neurotic divorcee Carol (Dinah Manoff) and tough party-girl policewoman Barbara (Kristy McNichol) moved back in to help support him. A third daughter was mentioned as being away at college, but was not seen until 1992 – when McNichol left the series due to suffering from bipolar disorder, Emily (Lisa Rieffel) was introduced to the cast for one season. Rounding out the cast were the Westons' wacky, womanizing neighbor Charlie Dietz (David Leisure), Harry's tough Southern nurse Laverne Todd (Park Overall), and Dreyfuss the dog. Estelle Getty also reprised her role as Sophia Patrillo from The Golden Girls and Golden Palace, including as a regular cast member in the final two seasons after Golden Palace ended. Another plot point that occurred around the time the final two seasons began was that Harry and Laverne left the hospital where they were initially employed to work for a struggling inner-city medical clinic run by the tough-talking Dr. Maxine Douglas (Marsha Warfield).

Episodes generally centered around the relationship between Harry and his daughters, who were highly competitive for 'Daddy's' attention. Harry's career as a children's doctor was also a major focus. The series ran for seven seasons and spawned its own spin-off, Nurses, which revolved around a group of nurses who also worked at the hospital where Harry worked. The show was a big hit in its early run, finishing in the Top 10 for each of its first three seasons, and won Mulligan his second Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series.note  However, ratings declined after several cast changes and the loss of The Golden Girls as a lead-in, and the series ended in 1995.

This series contains examples of:

  • Artifact Title: Possibly the record for a title becoming one of these! The kids move back in when his wife dies at the very start. (The Poorly Disguised Pilot in an episode of The Golden Girls featured a very different family, a couple indeed being recent empty nesters with their daughter going off to college. Heavy retooling makes it a very different show from what we were given in the Golden Girls episode, to the point that even the name no longer made sense. All that remains from the Golden Girls episode, and thus the original plan for the series, is the house set and an annoying neighbor played by David Leisure - there called Oliver, not Charlie.)
  • Back for the Finale: Barbara, albeit in only a single scene. As of 2023, it is the last onscreen acting role for Kristy McNichol.note 
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Given that they slept together and even attempted a relationship, a lot of Charlie and Carol's bickering can be attributed to this.
  • Big Friendly Dog: Dreyfuss
  • Big Fun: Deconstructed in "More to Love." Danny appears to be this, but is actually a Stepford Smiler.
    Danny: I learned a long time ago that if you're fat and funny, people like having you around - you're a "great guy." But if you're not funny, then all you are is fat.
  • Canine Companion: Dreyfuss. He naturally doesn't speak, but he has hilariously expressive eyebrows and is frequently shown reacting to various situations. Harry seems to regard him as the Only Sane Man, not unjustifiably.
  • The Casanova: Charlie
  • Composite Character/Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Emily has a lot of the character traits of Barb and Carol.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Dumb, goofy Dreyfuss instantly goes into attack mode when he senses a prowler outside the house—as does Charlie.
  • The Determinator: Laverne refuses to take a sick day from work, even after getting a broken arm and 2 broken legs.
  • Drop-In Character:
    • Charlie is practically a poster child for the trope; he frequently drops into Harry's kitchen just to raid his fridge and hit on his daughters.
    • Once Sophia moves back into Shady Pines she becomes one of these as well, which is odd considering that she hardly ever visited the Westons when she lived right next door.
  • Dropped After the Pilot: As a spin-off to The Golden Girls, almost everything about Empty Nest was dropped after the pilot, including its premise. The pilot starred an older married couple dealing with the fact that their children had all left home; the series is about a widower whose two adult daughters have moved back in with him. The only things which carried through to the series were the main character's job as a doctor, and the wacky neighbor played by David Leisure (although that character also changed name and career).
  • Estranged Soap Family: Aside from her one-season appearance, Emily missed many key events in her family's life—holidays, Carol's wedding in the series finale, etc.
  • Extra Digits: One season finale has Harry, Carol, and Barbara going to England for a family ceremony. Just before they leave, Barbara mentions Carol having been born with eleven toes. When they get to the castle, they meet a butler who also has eleven toes. Later, Harry gets lost in the dungeon and stumbles upon a skeleton who also has eleven toes.
  • The Ghost: Youngest sister Emily, frequently mentioned but never seen for the first few seasons. Only when Barbara was Put on a Bus did she show up in order to fill the void.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: The smart but neurotic Carol and the strong and attractive (but not so bright) Barbara Weston compete for their father's affection.
  • Hollywood Homely: In-universe. Carol is incredibly insecure about her looks, even though she's reasonably attractive.
  • Hollywood Pudgy: In-universe, Carol is also perpetually obsessed with either losing or maintaining her weight and considers herself a "pig" should she weigh more than 115 pounds. She's the only person who sees herself as this—note that for all their merciless teasing, neither Barbara nor Charlie ever taunts her about her weight.
  • Honorary Uncle: In this case, honorary grandparent. Carol and Barbara encounter an elderly man in the park who is preparing to move into a nursing home, and they decide to adopt him for a day and dub him "Pawdaddy." They then show themselves to be well-meaning idiots, doing mindless activities with him and generally driving him crazy. As he tells Harry at the end, either they're incredibly brilliant for showing him what life in the nursing home is going to be like and how he's not ready for it, or else they're the two most annoying people he's ever met.
  • Inkblot Test: Lothario Charlie finds Carol's inkblots and asks why she has pictures of naked women.
  • Ironic Name: The show's title refers to the phenomenon of married couples being left alone when their children move out to go college/graduate school/get married, but the premise of the show has Harry's adult daughters moving back in with him.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Charlie. For all his womanizing, there have been several women whom he's genuinely liked, including Barbara and Carol, toward whom he's often taken a protective attitude as well.
  • Late Spin-Off Transplant: Sophia from The Golden Girls joined the cast during Season 6, following the cancellation of the spin-off Golden Palace.
  • Later-Installment Weirdness: Halfway through the series, Barbara moved out and never-before-seen sister Emily moved in. Then Emily moved out again and Carol became a single mom. Meanwhile, Harry moved out of his posh pediatric office and into an inner-city clinic to practice adult medicine.
  • My Greatest Failure: One episode features Harry trying, and repeatedly failing, to correctly diagnose a critically ill young boy, and he tells the parents he had a similar case early in his career: he was never able to find the answer, and that child died, which has haunted him ever since. He says that if they want to take their son to a different doctor, he'll stand aside, but they restate their faith in him, which inspires him to investigate further, and eventually leads him to the answer: the boy had been punished by having his favorite dinner (fish sticks) tossed in the trash, then snuck into the kitchen after his parents were asleep to retrieve and eat them, which infected him with botulism. The final scene is the boy sitting up in bed playing with some of his toys, while Harry dozes on the room's foldout chair.
  • Once a Season: Crossovers with either parent series The Golden Girls or daughter series Nurses generally happened once or twice per season, excluding season 1 (when each of the four Golden Girls appeared once), season 7 (the only year Empty Nest was not running alongside either The Golden Girls or Nurses, both of which had ended by then, though Sophia had become a regular Transplant by that point), or, curiously, season 3.
  • Plagued by Nightmares: In one episode, Harry is having a recurring nightmare where he's trying to escape from a lion while wearing his late wife's nightgown. Eventually, he ends up having to stay up all night to avoid having it. With the help of Barbara and Carol, he discovers why he's having it: the lion represents the cancer that his wife died from and his escape attempts were her battle with it. He's been having the nightmares because he's scheduled to attend a conference at the hospital where she died.
  • Poorly Disguised Pilot: The "Empty Nest" episode of Golden Girls is a textbook example.
  • Post-Robbery Trauma:
    • Laverne is mugged and initially reacts like her usual wisecracking self. Only after giving her statement to the cops does she realize how terrified she was and that she could have been killed. She goes into a Heroic BSoD for the rest of the episode until Harry snaps her out of it.
    • Carol buys a gun for protection after the house is robbed (essentially a Recycled Script of the "Break In" episode of The Golden Girls). Not until she almost kills Charlie with it (assuming he was the intruder) does she finally admit that she's handling the situation poorly.
  • Properly Paranoid: Carol was one hundred percent correct when she suspected she returned from the hospital with the wrong baby. When the couple who received her son by mistake came to the house to also retrieve their child, the fact that Carol wasn't imagining things like she usually does makes Harry faint.
  • Put on a Bus: Barbara moves to Tucson, Arizona in season 5 and Emily returns to school after her one-season stint.
  • "Rashomon"-Style:
    • Harry and Laverne recall their first meeting at her job interview in a dispute over whether she ever promised to wear a nursing cap. In Harry's version, Laverne is a naive country bumpkin; in Laverne's she is competent and professional (perhaps overly so) and a weak and indecisive Harry defers to her.
    • One Thanksgiving episode has most of the cast argue at the dinner table over who started a kitchen fire the previous Thanksgiving. Only Dreyfus had the valid explanation.
  • Recurring Dreams: One episode has Harry unable to sleep due to a recurring nightmare in which he's unable to escape from a tiger while wearing his wife's bathrobe. At the end of the episode, it's revealed that he's having the dream because he's due to appear at a medical conference at the hospital where she died.
  • Required Spinoff Crossover: All four leads from The Golden Girls appeared in various episodes (albeit never at the same time), with each making an appearance in season 1 alone. Although Bea Arthur and Rue McClanahan each made only the one obligatory appearance, Betty White appeared three times total, and Estelle Getty appeared once more prior to becoming a regular Transplant in season 6. Conversely, all five of the original cast members appeared at least once as their respective characters on The Golden Girlsnote , and all but Kristy McNichol on Nurses as well.
  • Retool: In the show's sixth season. After a short-lived attempt to replace the character of Barbara with her younger sister Emily, both sisters were dropped and the show continued with only one daughter, Carol, living with her father. Harry retired from working at the hospital but eventually found himself working at an inner-city clinic working for a new character, Dr. Maxine Douglas, though he brought Laverne along with him. Finally, the character of Sophia Petrillo, now said to be living once again at the Shady Pines retirement home, pays regular visits to the Westons for no adequately explained reason (other than that Blanche sold the old house and she can't go there anymore).
  • Spinoff: Nurses. Unfortunately, however, Nurses did not have the same ratings success that Empty Nest did, and suffered from tragic Executive Meddling constantly throughout its run.
  • Surgeons Can Do Autopsies If They Want: In the later seasons, Harry switches from pediatric to adult medicine without a flutter.
  • Thematic Theme Tune: "Life goes on, and so do we..."
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Fair Cop Barbara and the more feminine Carol.
  • The Unfavorite: Carol is convinced she's this to everyone in comparison to her two sisters. It doesn't help that her overwhelming neuroses (of which this is one) do make it harder for people to have a relationship with her.
  • We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties: Womanizer Charlie Dietz becomes a meteorologist on the local news and compares the size of some hailstones to the anchorwoman's breasts. Cue the trope.