"Everybody recognizes that John loved that show... He'd have wanted the show to continue," Lloyd Braun, chairman of ABC Entertainment Television Group, said in a telephone news conference.
Braun and ABC Entertainment President Susan Lyne said the sitcom will debut next Tuesday as planned and that the network will air the three episodes Ritter filmed before his death last week.
After that, the series co-starring Katey Sagal will go into repeats while writers retool it and production starts. No date was given for when the show will return to the air.
Ritter, making a TV series comeback 25 years after he starred in "Three's Company," became ill on the "8 Simple Rules" set and died Thursday of an undetected heart problem. He was 54.
It hasn't been decided if the death of Ritter's character, Paul Hennessy, will mirror what happened to the actor, ABC executives said.
Ritter's series, which premiered last year with solid ratings, was considered a key part of ABC's comeback effort and anchored its Tuesday night lineup of family comedies.
ABC knows it's facing a difficult task, rebuilding a comedy on a death and especially that of the series' star, network executives acknowledged.
"We're going to take it an episode at a time," Lyne said. While the idea of recasting Ritter's role was quickly rejected, new characters will be added at some point, the ABC executives said.
Although Braun lauded Sagal as a "fantastic actress" capable of taking on a greater role in the series, he said it would become more of an ensemble production.
Ritter's widow, actress Amy Yasbeck, and the series' cast and producers supported the decision to keep going, Braun said. An ABC News tribute to Ritter aired Tuesday night.
A similar episode in television history came when comic Redd Foxx died in 1991, after making seven episodes of his comeback series on CBS' "The Royal Family." The show returned without him six months after his death, but lasted only a few episodes.
Comedian Freddie Prinze, star of "Chico and the Man," committed suicide in 1977 in the third year of the popular NBC sitcom. The network cast a new, younger Chico but the show was gone in a year.
The rarity of such occurrences makes it difficult to predict how "8 Simple Rules" will fare, Braun said. "I think it will be a show we'll be proud to put on," he said.
Each of the first three episodes already shot will start with a special introduction, featuring the cast members. The next new show will deal with Paul Hennessy's death.
"Future episodes will take viewers into the Hennessy household as they experience the loss of a father and construct a new life together," said Braun. "We will play out the situation as real life."
Executives said they considered a number of options, including canceling the show.
"This is a business," analyst Steve Sternberg of the ad-buying firm Magna Global USA said of the network's decision. But it's a risky one, he said.
"Initially, the show could benefit from the publicity," Sternberg said. "But they will have to do it well. If they don't, it could flop quickly and ABC will look bad doing it."