For a series to become a viable product for syndication, a studio must amass several seasons' worth of episodes.With the new TV season a week away, ABC execs had "little choice but to dive in and make the decision" whether to continue the series without Ritter, said ABC Entertainment Television Group Chairman Lloyd Braun, also on the conference call.Their first thought was to cancel the show, Lyne said.The episode, which wasn't available for critics to review last week, brought home the random, stupefying nature of death as the cast and characters addressed this new gap in their lives.The writers could have fallen back on maudlin sap and fancy speeches, but commendably, they didn't.The same fate befell "News Radio" when Phil Hartman was shot dead by his wife, who then turned the gun on herself, in 1998. Television's even less forgiving now than it was then, which means that the revamped "8 Simple Rules" has a mountain climb ahead of it.More than 20 million tuned in for the Hennessys' laugh-free return last week, making it a rare success in a lackluster November. The tears and mourning blurred the line between the characters' feelings and the cast's true emotions, creating an hour that felt tragically, realistically heartrending.Instead, the Hennessys' sorrow was allowed to exist as hollow, unchartered space, exactly as it should be. So, somebody's going to have to take up the cornball slack around here." A fitting statement, because Paul's funeral is over.Conveyed through a series of glimpses, the episode's deft writing showed how death swoops in and weighs down the simplest of conversations. He would say anything, he didn't care how silly he was. Tonight at 8 on KOMO/4, the series takes the Hennessys back to their half-hour time slot, while the specter of Dad's death remains present."That was our initial instinct, because John is clearly irreplaceable; he was such a powerful force in our company, and certainly on that show, that our first instinct was that we should retire it." But after talking to other cast members and producers, as well as Ritter's wife, actress Amy Yasbeck, the ABC suits said, they decided to try to keep the show going.They did, however, quickly dismiss the idea of recasting Ritter's role.