Dead Air: Jennifer Slept Here

She lived here. She loved here, laughed here, and wept here. She slept here, and she never really left here. Jennifer slept here.

By Chris Stewart
December 06, 2002

Continuing the theme of 80s TV shows and their truly bizarre premises, I present to you Jennifer Slept Here. Let me guess – you’ve never heard of it, right? I’ve yet to find anyone who has. Most people think I’m insane, but in this case (unlike other cases), I’m actually in the know. This show did, barely, exist.

The pitch meeting version is that a family moves from New York to Hollywood where they move into the mansion of a deceased film star. Only she’s still there, as a ghost. In a strange twist, only one member of the family can see here. And the wackiness ensues. Like I’ve said before – pretty much anything went in the 80s. They say conflict creates comedy. In the 80s it had to be extreme conflict. New York family, with their rebellious teenage son, moves to La La Land where only he can see and communicate with the dead starlet.

Even though traditionally small children and dogs have an easier time seeing the nearly departed, in this case it was the teenage son, Joey (a good, solid 80s sitcom boy’s name). Despite the family having an actual munchkin child, all plot hooks went to Joey and the titular Jennifer. I’m assuming this was because execs felt no one would want to watch a small child talk to a ghost week after week (a moot point, as no one wanted to watch the show period). It apparently never occurred to them that there’s something a little odd about teaming up a teenage boy and a blonde bombshell.

Y’see, Jennifer was played by Ann Jillian, who is by all accounts one of the cutest women to ever appear on network television. And yet Joey seems about as fazed by talking to a ghost as he was talking to a perky, slinky ghost, which is to say, not fazed at all. Oh sure, when you really think about it, having a lady ghost wandering your room when you’re Tiger Beat age is probably more trouble than it’s worth. But I don’t think it ever occurred to Joey that it was anything, either hot and sexy or pain-in-the-ass. I don’t think Joey thought at all. I think there was something a little odd about that kid.

Besides Jillian, the only other recognizable face on the show is Georgina Engel, whom you’ll remember from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Neither of them could save the show (or perhaps both being extremely blonde, they canceled one another out, thus dooming the show) and at the end of the ’84 TV season, once the basic 13 episodes ran out, NBC pulled the plug.

Now, you think this would be a lesson, but no. In 1989 NBC tried Nearly Departed, where a ghostly Eric Idle haunts a sitcom family. It only lasted six episodes. Ghosts and sitcoms just don’t mix I’m afraid. The only success the supernatural has ever had on TV has been in the realm of drama, and even there it’s touch and go.

Actually, I’ve thought about it a bit and I can’t swear totally that it was ratings that got the show canned. I’m not totally familiar with Ann Jillian’s biography, but I know enough that at around the time the show was ending, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The good news is that she survived it and continues to live in good health to this day. I bring it up, not only because it’s a slightly sad, but ultimately happy story, but because I wonder how much this impacted the death of the show. It wasn’t getting great ratings, but were they good enough that it could have continued had she not gotten ill? I dunno. All we’re left with is a quaint snap-shot of prime time television in 1984.

Well, I’m am at any rate. Most of you don’t even remember it. Thhhhhhpt!