Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.
TV URBAN LEGEND: Rebecca Schaeffer’s murder led to the cancellation of My Sister Sam.
Rebecca Schaeffer was a young actress who first came to prominence on the 1980s sitcom, My Sister Sam.
On the show, which debuted in 1986, the eighteen year old Schaeffer played the sixteen year old sister of Pam Dawber’s character, Sam, who was 29 years old and just starting to make it as a freelance photographer. The show was driven by a mixture of age gap situations and the unsteady relationship of the two sisters, as Sam struggles with basically raising her teen sister – how should she treat her? As a parent? As a friend? Etc.
Horrifically, in July 1989, Schaeffer was murdered by a crazed fanatic, Robert John Bardo outside of her apartment building.
Bardo was obsessed with “pure” female personalities, first with the young peace activist Samantha Smith and upon her death in a plane crash, Schaeffer. He had begun stalking her in 1986, but actually stopped, only to continue again in 1989 after seeing her do a scene in a film where she appeared in bed with a man. He felt that she was now tarnished, so he went to, in his mind, get her side of the story.
He actually used information from news articles about the stalker of another celebrity to get ideas on how to find out where Schaeffer lived.
He found her apartment and confronted her. She was pleasant enough to him but asked him not to see her again. He returned an hour later and, upon not receiving a pleasant enough reaction from Schaeffer, proceeded to shoot her point blank in the chest (Schaeffer shouted “Why?” as she collapsed to the ground).
Baldo drove back to his home in Tuscon, Arizona and tried to then walk into traffic to commit suicide, but was ultimately arrested (he is currently serving life in prison – he was prosecuted by Marcia Clark!). Schaeffer died 30 minutes after the shooting.
A popular belief surround the tragedy was that the show My Sister Sam ended because of Schaeffer’s murder.
That is not the case.
The show debuted to strong ratings, but after a move to a different time slot in Season Two (Season One had it on Mondays, snuggled between the popular Kate & Allie and the equally popular Newhart – Season Two had it on Saturdays), the ratings fell dramatically and it was canceled midway through Season Two, in early 1988.
In fact, that is almost certainly why Baldo stopped stalking her for a time (well, that, and the rise in popularity of “pure” teen singers Debbie Gibson and Tiffany), because the show as no longer on the air.
After Schaeffer’s death, USA Network picked up the show and began airing it frequently, even airing the complete 44 episode run (including the episodes never aired on network TV), so perhaps USA’s airings of the show made people think the show had still been around? I don’t know, but it’s a very popular belief that Schaeffer was still doing the show when she was murdered.
Schaeffer’s boyfriend at the time of her death, Brad Silberling, later made a film about the experiences he and Schaeffer’s family went through after her death, it was called Moonlight Mile and it starred Jake Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman and Susan Sarandon.
Schaeffer’s murder did, at least, help create new laws that better protect celebrities from stalkers (including making stalking a possible felony in California), so at least some good came out of such a mind-numbing tragedy.
The legend is…
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