The Tide Goes Out for TV Shows Canceled by the Networks, Leaving Stars Beached and Bewildered

updated 08/15/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/15/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Their series are still in summer reruns, but it is merely a form of life after death. The shows won't go on again this fall for some of the most familiar denizens of prime-time TV. Carroll (Archie Bunker's Placed O'Connor, Ted (Too Close for Comfort,) Knight, Judd (Taxi) Hirsch, Patty Duke (It Takes Two,) Astin and Erik (CHiPs,) Estrada are among the stars cancellation has brought back to earth. How does it feel to be canceled? PEOPLE asked the people who know.

Too Close for Comfort may have been axed by ABC, but Ted Knight at least has the consolation of being picked for a second term as honorary mayor of Pacific Palisades, his beach-side California hometown. "It means more free coffee at Mort's Delicatessen," says Knight, 59.

Mort's coffee helped sustain Knight after he learned, while playing in a charity golf tournament, that his series had been cut loose by the network. "I was shocked, angry and dismayed," he recalls. "I thought the worst that would happen is that we'd get only a 13-episode pickup. I never expected we'd be canceled." Although Too Close had slipped drastically in the ratings, the producers had hoped for fresh signs of life after a baby boy was born last October to Knight and his on-camera wife, Nancy Dussault. "We performed so well for the network, even this season when they moved us to Thursday, which is ABC's worst night of the week," says Knight. "They say you must have the Nielsen numbers. But we had them and got canceled, and some series without them got renewed."

Still, Knight is one of the lucky ones. Too Close has been picked up for national syndication. It will be back in early '84 with the same cast and new episodes. Though Knight admits he will be taking a salary cut, he says, "It's still exorbitant money and a steady job."

Whenever someone asks me about the cancellation, I have a terrible urge to say, 'What? My show wasn't canceled,' " says Patty Duke Astin. She has been working since her debut, at 12, in The Miracle Worker. ABC's It Takes Two, with Richard Crenna, was her first series since 1966.

The actress, 36, who has been married 11 years to actor-director John Astin and has five children, got the bad news from her family. "The kids were watching TV and called out, 'Mom, there's a promo on for Thursday night, and your show wasn't on it.' "

Even after playing Dopey in a second-grade production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in Englewood, N.J., 25-year-old Jon-Erik Hexum says he was "a little shocked" by the silliness of NBC's sci-fi series Voyagers!, which fared abysmally in the ratings. The former model has been typecast as one of the hunks in an agency run by Joan (Dynasty) Collins, in Male Model, an ABC TV-movie due out next season. Hexum, romantically linked to Collins, says she's "a real dynamic lady."

Victor French, who starred as blunt-spoken Isaiah Edwards for five seasons on NBC's Little House on the Prairie and returned as a regular last fall in the Michael Landon-less Little House: A New Beginning, doesn't mince words about the show's disappearance. "I can't understand why a network that was No. 3 is canceling a series that is third-ranked among its own shows," says French. "The people who make programming decisions should look at the biggest money-grosser ever, E.T. That ought to tell them something. People are leaving their homes to go elsewhere for their entertainment. Violence is rampant today, and there should be a place for a show that deals with respect for the community, for law and for people."

As soon as he heard about the cancellation, French mounted a talk-show campaign to save Little House. NBC received 3,500 letters critical of its decision to drop the series and has decided to produce three two-hour Little House specials next season.

CHiPs was a '70s show in the '80s," says Erik Estrada, whose toothy presence helped the cop 'n' cycle show make its mark in the ratings when it premiered on NBC in 1977. Now he is turned off by the level of violence on many new shows. "We had stunts on CHiPS, but the show was for kids. The A Team goes too far!"

Estrada, who was born poor in New York's Spanish Harlem, is well aware of what CHiPs—and his role as Ponch, the highway patrolman—did for his previously modest career. "It put me on the map," he says. The series also brought him an estimated income of more than $1 million per season in its last years, enough to furnish an antique-filled home in Studio City and provide him with two convertibles, a Mercedes and a Rolls-Royce.

This month Estrada is traveling to England to join Laurence Olivier, Orson Welles and Tony Curtis in a movie for European television called Where's Parsifal? He also plans to star in his own TV movies. (Last season his company produced Honeyboy, a fight drama for NBC co-starring Morgan Fairchild.) Last February he became engaged to Kathleen Anne Shower, an actress and model with two daughters, aged 7 and 4. Says Estrada, whose first marriage ended in divorce, "I can relate to those little girls because I came from a home that busted up when I was 2."

As one of TV's most prominent His-panics, Estrada says he wants to find another series in which he can be a role model for kids. "I'm the Great Brown Hope," he says. "Ponch may have died for me personally, but he hasn't died when the fans react every time I walk into a restaurant or an airport. Ponch lives on."

NBC's Fame will have another life this fall, in syndication to 103 stations, and most of the Fame regulars (including Gene Anthony Ray, Valerie Landsburg, Debbie Allen and Erica Gimpel) will be back. Lee Curreri, who plays Bruno, Fame's ace of the keyboard, still feels kindly toward NBC, which did renew other low-rated but critically praised series, and stayed with Fame for two seasons before dumping it. "I think NBC did a good job," he says. "Having the show on at all was a gamble."

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