Babies have been the go-to TV plot device since Lucy brought Little Ricky into the world way back in 1953.
That I Love Lucy episode – which was cleverly timed to air on actress Lucille Ball’s real life baby due date – drew 44 million viewers. But, more importantly, it formed the template for future TV series searching for a ratings boost. When the going gets tough – always go baby.
There are many reasons for a veteran show playing the ‘baby” card – some understandable, some cynical, and not all of them successful.
Inevitability seems behind the decision to have a baby on How I Met Your Mother. Lily and Marshall – the “couple” of the series – have been talking about having a baby almost as long as friend Ted’s been talking about how he met his kids’ mother. At this point, I’m more interested in the baby than the mother. At least we got a due date on the baby.
And we knew The Office’s Jim and Pam would one day have a baby. That was a given. But two? What used to be the “fun” couple of the show are now the tired, distracted, want-to-leave-the-party-early-cause-babysitters-don’t-come-cheap couple.
Inevitability was no doubt the motivation behind neurotic young couple Paul and Jamie Buchman going baby on Mad About You (1992-1999) in season five. Afterall, they’d been treating their dog Murray like a furry baby anyway, so what’s the difference? The big surprise came in the series finale when a flash-forward plot showed that their baby had grown up to be, gasp, Janeanne Garafolo. I blame Paul’s side of the family…
Desperation was in the wind when Roseanne (1988-1997) hit its eighth season with lower ratings. Cue the arrival of Roseanne’s baby “Jerry Garcia”. The show – which started out blue collar gritty – would eventually evolve into a slapstick fantasy in which The Connors won the lottery and produced another baby (from cranky daughter Darlene). The show would culminate with the lame finale revelation the final season had been a dream in Roseanne’s head.
Malcolm In The Middle (2000-2006) got so desperate in the ratings in season four, it introduced a fourth boy (Jamie) – rendering the show’s title confusing. Malcolm’s not in the middle anymore? What gives?
When that failed to stop audience desertion, the show served up yet another pregnancy in its final season. Baby five – who would have rendered Malcolm back in the “middle” – didn’t materialize as the show was cancelled.
Sometimes a hit show will introduce a baby simply because they’ve run out of ideas. Friends (1994-2004) had a real long run so it’s no surprise they went “baby” a few times (not to mention a few weddings as well).