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 ran as an episode of that show (season 2, episode 26), although it was dramatically changed before becoming its own series. Nevertheless, the two households were established as neighbors and characters regularly crossed between the two. Empty Nest was one of the year's top 10 most-watched programs for its first three years.
The show centered around Dr. Harry Weston (Richard Mulligan), a Miami pediatrician. When Harry's wife passes away, his two adult daughters, neurotic divorcee Carol (Dinah Manoff) and tough party-girl policewoman Barbara (Kristy McNichol) move back in with Harry 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 was 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 initially worked at 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 whom also worked at the hospital where Harry worked at. 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.
- 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.
- The Casanova: Charley
- Composite Character/Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Emily had a lot of the character traits of Barb and Carol.
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Dumb, goofy Dreyfus instantly goes into attack mode when he senses a prowler outside the house—as does Charley.
- The Determinator: LaVerne refuses to take a sick day from work, even after getting a broken arm and 2 broken legs.
- Drop-In Character: Charley would frequently drop into Harry's kitchen just to raid his fridge and hit on his daughters.
- 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 was about a widower whose two adult daughters still lived at home. 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 referred to 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 affections.
- 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.
- Inkblot Test: Lothario Charley 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 who he's genuinely liked, including Barbara and Carol, whom he's often taken on a protective attitude to as well.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 not at the same time), and Sophia became a regular Transplant in season 6. Conversely, characters from this show made guest appearances on The Golden Girls as well as Nurses.
- Spinoff: Nurses. Unfortunately, however, Nurses did not have the same ratings success that Empty Nest had and thus suffered from tragic Executive Meddling constantly throughout the 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 of—does 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.
- Your Cheating Heart: Carol's husband cheated on her, prompting their divorce. In another episode, Harry suspects that Barbara's latest boyfriend is married and turns out to be right.