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Thread: Jennifer Slept Here: The weird Ann Jillian sitcom which only lasted one season

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    Cubic Zirconia Harry Hollywood's Avatar
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    Jennifer Slept Here: The weird Ann Jillian sitcom which only lasted one season

    Hello everyone. I have taken steps to keep my identity a secret. I think I have proven over time that I have real access to insider Hollywood information not available anywhere else, both current and past. Even though this is a poker forum, I am not a poker player. You guys have your world, I have mine.

    I have never been open about my age, but I will state that I am older than Dan Druff, yet not substantially older. I will not tell you my exact beginnings in Hollywood, but let's just say it's around 1980, and we are not too far off. I was very young and green at that time, but I did witness a lot. While I still have present industry employment, I look upon that period of my life fondly, as the atmosphere was quite different than you see today. Many stories from that era 30-40 years ago are dying with those who are now getting up there in age, and are passing away. When I first met Druff, he was quite happy to hear all of my stories from that time period, and that is how we became friends. I told him I would post here as time allows.

    Tonight I would like to talk about a weird little 80s sitcom which had a bizarre path, and which could have been a long-running hit if it hadn't been for various unusual circumstances working against it.

    First I would like to discuss an actor you probably haven't heard of, but might remember: John P. Navin, Jr.

    John was born in 1968. He was a bit goofy looking, but really embodied the 1980s everyteen. When teenage boys saw John on the small screen, they saw a guy they could picture being their best friend. He had an endearing, regular guy quality which NBC executives thought might lead to a memorable starring role.

    Now that we are four decades past John's heyday, he is unfortunately only remembered for a bit part in a legendary show. John was the first customer on Cheers, pretending to be 38 when he was just 14 years old. You can get an idea of basically all of John's characters by watching this 90 second clip...





    You also might remember him as Cousin Eddie's son, Dale, in the first National Lampoon's Vacation movie. When asked if he had the video game Asteroids, Dale responded, "No, but my dad does!", referring to hemorrhoids! He then introduced young Anthony Michael Hall to porno mags!




    As I mentioned in my Facts of Life thread, where John starred in an attempted (but failed) backdoor pilot episode, I always liked John and hoped he would succeed. Unfortunately, he did not. His acting career was basically over by age 18, in 1986. He got one small role in a TV movie seven years after that, and that was it for good.

    Unlike other child actors whose success didn't translate into adulthood, John's career didn't crater because of his own issues. He did not have a drug problem, behaved well on set, and his looks did not significantly change to where they would have put an end to his viability. Recall that he was not a heartthrob type in the first place. Instead, the collapse of his career can be traced to the sitcom which was supposed to be his starring vehicle: Jennifer Slept Here.

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    Cubic Zirconia Harry Hollywood's Avatar
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    Ann Jillian, born 1950, was a child actress who also struggled to get roles in her adult life. In the early 70s, she did some cartoon voices, such as on Scooby Doo, but her acting career basically died after that. She was doing stage acting in the later '70s, but then a new show about waitresses at a posh LA restaurant/bar was greenlit by ABC in 1980.

    Ann was one of five waitresses featured in It's a Living, her first serious adult role.




    This show had its very own strange history, of which I will discuss somewhat in this thread as well. The first season saw poor ratings, but it never really had a chance to establish itself, as it only had 13 episodes, due to the 1980 SAG strike. ABC decided to give it another shot, but some cast changes were made. Two of the waitresses, played by Wendy Schaal and Susan Sullivan, were fired, and replaced by Louise Lasser. You might recognize Wendy Schaal's name, as she is presently the voice of the 40-ish Francine Smith on American Dad, despite being 68 years old.

    In any case, Ann Jillian's role survived, and her popularity started soaring. She became an early '80s sex symbol, and had career dreams far beyond a struggling sitcom.





    It's a Living went two partial seasons, and was cancelled in 1982. That was fine with Ann, as she now had many studios calling for her.

    In early 1983, Ann Jillian and John Navin's paths collided. This was fitting, because both were child actors, albeit 18 years apart, who were still looking for their first major starring roles. Jillian's role in It's a Living was more of being part of an ensemble cast, and some episodes had little to do with her. Navin was still looking for his first TV show or movie where he would appear in the opening credits.

    Jennifer Slept Here was born. Ann played Jennifer Farrell, a starlet who had a reputation for sleeping around (especially on the casting couch), who suffered an unfortunate freak accident in her prime, having been run over by an ice cream truck, which was fatal. Jennifer then haunted her former house as a ghost, which was then moved into by a family with two kids, the older of whom was played by John Navin.

    Producers even tapped another failed child star for the project, Joey Scarbury. Joey had been signed to a recording contract as a 14-year-old in 1969, releasing the single "She Never Smiles Anymore". If you haven't heard that song, you're not alone. It flopped, and got almost no airtime. His record label dropped him. Two years later, he had a #73 "hit", if you can call it that, with "Mixed Up Guy", but again failed to chart anything else. By age 16, he was already a has been! For the next eight years or so, he was a backup signer for various country music acts, and that seemed to be where he was relegated. However, after getting a job with TV theme songwriter Mike Post, he was almost randomly awarded the job of singing "The Theme from the Greatest American Hero", which became an instant hit.




    Once again, Scarbury didn't have the success he envisioned, as follow up songs were not successful. He aimlessly wandered the early '80s musical landscape until he was invited to sing the theme song for Jennifer Slept Here. This was a great deal for both sides. The new sitcom would have a familiar voice singing the theme, while Scarbury got another shot at duplicating his 1980 success. Unfortunately, this song simply wasn't very good, as it was written by less talented people than Mike Post, and had an awkward spoken-word beginning. The visuals were also boring, and in fact hard to see. "The Greatest American Hero", this was not.





    I wish they would have consulted me at the time, as I would have had a lot to say about this theme. It could have been salvaged without the spoken word intro and the uninspired visuals. However, I was young and my opinion would not have been respected. I will say that I had a connection to one of the people high up at the production, so I did have access to give my opinion, had the opportunity arisen. Sometimes it is better to stay quiet for your own career's viability, however, especially if not established yet.

    I guess I am getting a bit off track with tangents, and I apologize for that. I will continue in the next post about what happened to this show, and why you probably don't remember it.

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    Cubic Zirconia Harry Hollywood's Avatar
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    The writing on Jennifer Slept Here simply wasn't very good.

    The concept was that the killed-in-her-prime ghost of Jennifer Farrell would guide the teenage Joey (John Navin) through his teenage angst, all while hilarity occurs due to Jennifer only being visible to Joey. The concept wasn't that bad, but it also made for the potential pitfall of what is known as gimmick writing.

    Gimmick writing is lazy writing which can occur in two ways. Either a gimmick is invented to spice up a script where the writers don't know where to go, or the writing naturally gravitates toward the gimmick already existent in the plot. In Jennifer Slept Here, it was the latter. There's only so many jokes one can make about Joey being seen as talking to himself (when he is really talking to the ghost of Jennifer), or of Jennifer moving objects in order to get revenge upon people who annoy her. There were some respected writers on staff, but I found the scripts uninspired and simplistic.

    The special effects were pretty bad, even by 1980s standards. I watched it, and even though I was rooting for it to succeed because of my associate with an important position there, I wasn't optimistic. Audiences agreed. The ratings were disappointing, and it rarely cracked the top 80 shows, leaving it near the bottom ratings-wise. The other problem was that it opposed the popular Dukes of Hazzard and Webster, so there was no shortage of hit TV shows to watch on Friday night. After eight episodes, NBC shelved it, which was surprising to see given the network's terrible struggles that year.

    In fact, it was only due to NBC's struggles that gave Jennifer Slept Here a second chance. NBC had aired 10 new series for the 83-84 season, and all were flops, including Jennifer Slept Here.



    Given the mass cancellations which had occurred by April 1984, NBC had room on its schedule again. They decided to burn off the final five Jennifer Slept Here episodes during April and May, running it through May sweeps. There were no plans to order more episodes than those initial 13, and the show was basically filler because NBC had nothing new to air in that Saturday timeslot. Indeed, nobody seemed to care it was there, and the ratings still stunk.

    If you recall, the summer season on '80s network TV consisted mostly of reruns of shows which had aired earlier that season. A decision was made to rerun Jennifer Slept Here in a Wednesday timeslot, simply because few people had seen it, and viewers hungry for new content might prefer it over reruns they had seen. To the shock of network executives, a ton of new people found the show on Wednesday nights in the summer of 1984, and word spread quickly. Without having to compete with Dukes and Webster anymore, the show was suddenly finding its footing. The ratings for those summer rerun episodes averaged in the low 30s as far as ranking, sometimes breaking into the 20s. All of a sudden, NBC had a modest hit on their hands.

    Some executives were skeptical. They stated that Jennifer Slept Here was only getting ratings because it was something most people hadn't seen yet, and that it would get clobbered if renewed against first-run programming in the fall. Still, NBC saw potential, and they didn't have a lot going for them at the time. They had already decided to cancel the other nine new shows from that season. They had several new programs ready to air in 1984, including Miami Vice, Hunter, Highway to Heaven. and The Cosby Show, but they didn't yet realize that any of those would be big hits. There was a lot of talk about giving Jennifer Slept Here another 13-episode order, and leaving it on Wednesday night in the fall of 1984.

    Finally, after a lot of internal debate, a decision was made. Jennifer Slept Here was tentatively going to be renewed. Amazingly, Ann Jillian and John P. Navin were going to get another shot at enduring sitcom stardom. So why did this never happen? I will conclude in my next post.

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    Cubic Zirconia Harry Hollywood's Avatar
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    Remember "It's a Living"? You know, that flop which was cancelled in 1982? How could that have anything to do with Jennifer Slept Here's fate in 1984?

    Well, It's a Living and its whopping 27 episodes somehow made it to syndication. I don't even remember how this happened, as 27-episode failed TV shows almost never found a home in syndicated reruns, but that's what occurred. Even more surprising, everyone loved it in syndication. In fact, most of the show's new fans didn't even know it had aired on ABC two years prior. It was getting some of the best syndicated ratings in early 80s television, so the show was given a hard look to return to the network airwaves.

    In mid-1984, a decision was made to bring the show to first-run syndication, rather than messing with its success by moving it back to a network timeslot, where it had originally failed. This way, the existing fans of the show would find it continuing where they had discovered it, but now with new episodes. Most of the original cast was contacted to reprise their roles, but only Ann Jillian had become considerably more high profile since the show started in 1980. The rest came fairly cheap, but Ann was offered the highest salary, and was promised starring billing in the theme song.

    Weeks later, Ann's agent got the call regarding continuing Jennifer Slept Here. She was told that they would leave the show on Wednesday night in the fall of 1984, and would hastily put the show back together to begin in September. However, they said that this was contingent upon her agreeing to return. If not, they were not going to attempt to replace her. Ann thought about what to do. It's a Living was not a done deal yet, and would not start shooting until there were enough buyers for the first-run syndication package. It was projected not for the 84-85 season, but rather the 85-86 one a year later.

    Ann had a choice to make. Should she agree to both shows, especially given that Jennifer Slept Here might be off the air before It's A Living began, anyway? She ultimately decided against it. Both shows were likely to be doing some shooting in early 1985, and the entire thing just seemed too exhausting. What if both ran for several seasons? The whole thing just seemed too tough. She politely told her agent to tell NBC thanks but no thanks, and Jennifer Slept Here was quietly put out of its misery.

    Then, in 1985, while shooting It's a Living, Ann got shocking news. She had breast cancer at the age of 35. The revival had not yet aired, and shooting was in its early stages. Ann almost quit that show, in order to focus on treating her deadly disease, but ultimately decided to take a more public service route. She agreed to complete a full season of It's A Living, with the agreement that she could talk about breast cancer awareness while promoting the show's return. Producers agreed, and Ann spent the next few years as a strong early detection advocate regarding breast cancer, frequently urging women to get mammograms. She is credited with likely saving many women in the US, as many young and middle-aged women at the time were not aware that mammograms were important, and could mean the difference between life and death. After a year on It's a Living, Ann left as she had previously stated, and was replaced by Sheryl Lee Ralph. The show ran for three more seasons.

    In 1989, she was again given an NBC starring vehicle, which again failed. This sitcom was oddly titled "Ann Jillian", even though she was playing a character named Ann McNeil. It was shelved after 7 episodes, plus had three more burnt off in the summer of 1990, with three others unaired. After that, her career was mostly over.





    But what of John P. Navin? How could he possibly be blamed for everything that occurred?

    Unfortunately, that's showbiz. Fair or not, John P. Navin was attached to the failure of Jennifer Slept Here. Executives saw him as a kid who got his shot to be a lead, the show flopped, and therefore he was guest star material at best. This wasn't a fair conclusion, but nobody was interested in giving him any significant roles after Jennifer Slept Here's failure. He also wasn't given the chance to reprise his Cousin Dale role in the future Vacation films. It is unknown what John is doing now. He is not involved in Hollywood in any way, and is believed to be still alive, presumably living a quiet life and working an ordinary job at the age of 54. John, we knew each other back then, and if somehow you google yourself and read this, please use the contact form of this site and give the owner a message for me, and he will pass it along. I would love to catch up.

    Thank you for reading, everyone. I will be back soon.

  5. #5
    Cubic Zirconia Harry Hollywood's Avatar
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    If you really have some time to burn, you can find the series on Youtube.

    Here is the pilot.




    You can hear a promotion for the megaflop Manimal during the closing credits.

     
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      country978: thank you

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    Owner Dan Druff's Avatar
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    Thanks Harry.

    I really think you should make a book about this stuff. You could clear at least $36 total on Amazon.

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    Gold nunbeater's Avatar
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    I just appreciate his diligence in keeping a secret identity and then telling us about the most obscure hollywood shit

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    I love these stories. I don't care who you are, keep up the good work!

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    Recognized John in the first pic as being in Vacation, I also remember watching it’s a living as a kid and thinking the waitresses were pretty hot and the lounge singer character was funny enough. If I watched it now, I’d probably think it was shit.

    I also remember it’s a living having two names and wondered why? Probably the switch from networks…but then it switched back? It’s all very vague in my old ass brain.

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    Cubic Zirconia Harry Hollywood's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Texter View Post
    Recognized John in the first pic as being in Vacation, I also remember watching it’s a living as a kid and thinking the waitresses were pretty hot and the lounge singer character was funny enough. If I watched it now, I’d probably think it was shit.

    I also remember it’s a living having two names and wondered why? Probably the switch from networks…but then it switched back? It’s all very vague in my old ass brain.
    Hello Texter.

    The It's a Living saga was very strange. I only covered part of it in this thread.

    After the series flopped in season 1 (1980-81), it was decided to remove two of the waitresses. Susan Sullivan was considered too classy and too uptown, and not believable as a working class mom. She was dropped for that reason. Wendy Schaal, who played the youngest and move naive of the waitresses, was dropped because her character was too similar to Dot, played by Gail Edwards. The Dot character was a ditzy young aspiring actress, and it was seen that Vicki wasn't different enough from Dot, except for not being an actress and being a bit more naive. It was not Schaal's fault that her character was poorly conceived, but that's the way it goes.

    With those two gone, they added Louise Lasser ("Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman") playing new middle-aged widow waitress Maggie. The character wasn't sexy at all (nor was it supposed to be), and Lasser's slow, nasally voice just didn't fit in with the frantic pace of the show. To answer your question, the show was renamed to Making a Living for Season 2, for unknown reasons. Perhaps to get a fresh start? That name did not stick in syndication, and it returned to be called It's a Living when the show continued three years later in first-run syndication. Lasser was not invited back, as it was clear she was not a fit. I don't understand why she was cast in the first place.

    Crystal Bernard got her first real shot at acting on It's a Living, when it came into first-run syndication in 1985. She played a similar but more interesting character to Wendy Schaal's Vicki. However, Bernard's Amy character had a bit more depth, being a religious and prude country girl from a small town in Texas. Bernard somewhat played a version of herself, actually being from Texas (though from the Dallas area, not a small town), and also being a religious Christian.

    Since this is a poker forum, I should mention that one of the It's A Living writers was a recreational poker player, who spent a good deal of time at the Normandie Casino in Gardena (Los Angeles area). The chef featured for the entire run of first-run syndication, Howard (Richard Stahl) was somewhat based upon the sarcastic. emotionally stunted, hyper-masculine men whom the writer encountered at the Normandie. Occasionally poker would make it into the script, with Howard at one point chiding poker novice Sonny (Paul Kreppel) for attempting to outplay a skilled regular in the room. "You don't ever try to bluff a guy named after a state", explained Howard, presumably making reference to players such as "Oklahoma" Johnny Hale at the time. Nobody was actually shown playing poker, only talking about it on occasion. There was one episode which took place in Las Vegas, but it was clearly filmed on the usual LA set, and not very convincing.

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    Owner Dan Druff's Avatar
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    Harry was telling me some of these It's A Living stories last year, which made me go look up the show on YouTube and watch it again. I had only seen a few episodes in the '80s, but even then I found the years-long hiatus and then return to first-run syndication to be odd.

    I didn't care for it as a kid/teen in the '80s, but I liked it a lot better upon finding it on YouTube. It actually holds up fairly well despite the 30-40 years that have passed.

    I had thought I actually dined in the restaurant depicted in the show (at the top of the Bonaventure Hotel in LA), as I did take my previous girlfriend Miri to "LA Prime" in the mid-2000s, which was indeed on top of the Bonaventure. However, that wasn't the restaurant depicted in the show.

    It was actually supposed to be the Bonavista Lounge, which is on the 2nd-to-top floor at the Bonaventure. This is why the restaurant depicted in the show has a sleazy lounge singer and bar area. The Bonavista Lounge seems to have closed during COVID, and has never reopened. I never went there.

    https://www.marriott.com/en-us/hotel...ngeles/dining/

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