Thank you Hilary Duff for saving Lizzie McGuire…and How I Met Your Mother…and Sex and the City.
Hilary Duff is an icon of television, who has been essentially saving reboots for the entirety of the decade single-handedly. Since the premiere of Disney Channel’s Lizzie McGuire on January 12, 2001, which launched her career and paved the way for her expansion into the movie and music industry, Duff has had consistent work in entertainment.
The Lizzie McGuire Movie in 2003 served as the original show’s finale, detailing Lizzie’s Italian adventure the summer before entering high school. The film was a success, and the film’s soundtrack with the song, “What Dreams Are Made Of” went triple platinum. But the story of Lizzie McGuire was not over.
Lizzie McGuire Reboot
At the 2019 D23 Expo, Hilary Duff made an appearance, announcing that Disney would be reprising her classic title role in a Disney Plus Exclusive. The series was to feature original Lizzie McGuire cast members, and was headed by the original writer and producer Terri Minsky. Among the many film and television announcements from the 2019 D23 event, the Lizzie McGuire reboot was one of the most exciting for fans who had grown up beside Duff.
Sadly, in 2020, Hilary Duff broke the news on her Instagram that the show had been canceled. Initially, it seemed to be another one of the many canceled projects due to the ongoing pandemic. However, over time in subsequent interviews and on social media, Duff has made it clear that creative differences were in fact at the root of the show’s ending.
In a recent interview with Cosmopolitan she detailed the original concept of the show:
“My character was moving back home with her parents because she caught her soon-to-be fiancé cheating on her, and she was falling flat on her face at the moment and being like, “I need to pivot because everything that I thought was wasn’t, and I’m turning 30.”
This concept is certainly an interesting one, and it’s also one that works. Lizzie as a character was, at her core, just a girl who dealt with problems every girl had: fights with friends, mean girls, annoying little brothers, zits, crushes, etc.
So an adult Lizzie who didn’t know where she was going in life, trying to find love, and having to move back home definitely would reflect the problems that many of her fans in their 20’s and 30’s now have. However, executives at the last minute decided that the concept had to be reworked.
Robert Carradine, who played Lizzie’s father on the original series, expressed his surprise and frustration:
“When we did the read-through of the first two scripts, there were literally three rows of chairs, and in each chair was some kind of a Disney executive. I mean, there were 25 of them in there. …Every single step of that trajectory had to be greenlit by somebody who’s high up in the organization. So, you go to all that trouble, and they decide at the last minute, out of the blue, that it needs to be more kid-friendly? I don’t get that.”
Hailee Todd, who played the matriarch of the McGuire family, expressed a similar reaction:
“I’m sad. We had the best time when we got together for those two episodes. It felt like no time had passed, except that all of a sudden these kids were adults… It just seems ridiculous. There’s always more to it than you hear, and I certainly am not privy to those conversations in the back room.”
Though two episodes had been filmed, the show could certainly have gone on in a more “kid-friendly” capacity, but Duff refused. Standing by the integrity of her character, Duff refused to water down the real adult problems that a realistic Lizzie would be facing in this modern world. She expressed publicly that she would rather see the show moved to Hulu or canceled permanently than see it move away from who Lizzie was.
Frustratingly, the concept of the original reboot does work in practice; after the announcement of the Lizzie McGuire reboot, Nickelodeon followed suit and successfully premiered an adult version of the beloved show iCarly in 2021 on Paramount+ to critical praise. Duff has still not lost hope that the new Lizzie McGuire could be made, but thankfully, we were saved from an overly sanitized reboot that could have been inferior to the original series.
Lizzie McGuire is not the only series that Hilary Duff saved. Bunheads was a short-lived ABC Family comedy-drama series created by Amy Sherman-Palladino, best known as the creator and executive producer of Gilmore Girls (2000–07). Starring Broadway darling Sutton Foster in the lead role, Bunheads had all the charm and wit of Gilmore Girls before it, with many cast members from the series returning in new roles.
Sadly, the short shelf life of the series left Sutton Foster without a show, and she was not seen in a project headed by Palladino until Netflix released 2016’s Gilmore Girls: A Year in a Life. Her cameo in the miniseries allowed Foster and writer Palladino to indirectly address the Bunheads’ ending, with her character cynically stating, “Everybody’s a critic.” after being featured in a failed musical production in the fictional town of Star’s Hollow.
Enter: Hilary Duff. Sutton Foster was to have the lead role in the successful series that she deserved with the help of Lizzie McGuire herself. Younger was a critically acclaimed comedy-drama television series created and produced by writer/director Darren Star. The series ran from 2015-2021 and followed lead Liza Miller (Foster) navigating a complicated work and personal life as a 40-something divorced mom who is working as a 20-something in publishing.
Though the series gets it’s original juicy story-lines from Liza’s double life and steamy romance, the strength of the series soon reveals itself to be the female friendships of the show. Most especially is the bond of Foster’s Liza and Duff’s Kelsey. This friendship developed on and off screen, with the chemistry on camera translating to a close relationship between the two actresses, as well as their young daughters.
“Like our characters, we also have each other’s back. Hilary, it has been amazing to watch you evolve over the six seasons, just as a human- how you have navigated your career and personal life… It has been a ride for sure. We are a true team. We have to lean on each other every day. I look to her constantly.”
It is through Duff and Foster’s chemistry that Younger found success. This was not the first or last time Duff would bring a project new life.
How I Met Your Father
How I Met Your Father is a spin-off of hit CBS series How I Met Your Mother (2005-2014), a series that was originally attempted in 2014 as How I Met Your Dad. However, following conflicts between CBS and the creators over the pilot, the original version of the spin-off series wasn’t picked up and never aired. In 2021, it was announced Hulu (where Duff had originally hoped Lizzie McGuire‘s reboot could find a home) would air a series based off of a rewritten script of the How I Met Your Dad from series creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas.
Notoriously, How I Met Your Mother was a loved series with many loyal fans, largely based to the writing of Bays & Thomas, but it is also has one of the most hated series finales of all time. Due to the non-linear storytelling that the writing team used to frame the series’ stories, the end of the series had to be decided and filmed at the end of season three. However, by the end of the ninth season when the show ended, the characters were in very different places mentally and emotionally than they were 6 years previously. The ending that had been pre-packaged simply did not make sense based on how the leads had developed. The uproar was so great that an alternate edit of the final scene from the finale had to be released by the network.
While the stars of How I Met Your Mother have gone on to great projects, fans agree that their characters deserved far better. Certainly, the show could have at least ended in a way that affirmed the show’s message in the universe leading us to where we are meant to be. Once again, Hilary Duff’s involvement provided a second chance, as her charm in her lead role as Sophie in the new series gives fans of How I Met Your Mother a chance to see characters similar to that of original cast navigate life and love. And in doing so, Duff inadvertently saved a beloved character of an entirely different series.
Sex & The City
Sex and the City was a show that was a cultural phenomenon, truly revolutionary, and the original series lasted six seasons from 1998-2004. The romantic comedy-drama created for HBO by Darren Star, was a show that focused on four best single friends dealing with sex and the city, as well as life and love. Though the show was salacious, the strength of it was not the frank conversations on sex and gender roles, nor was it the frequently featured high-fashion (though both of those were highlights). The true heart of the show, like Younger after it, was the friendships of the women in the main cast.
Leading ladies Charlotte, Miranda, and Carrie were all great characters in their own right, but truly fan favorite and standout was Samantha Jones played by Kim Catrall. Unfortunately, things were not as friendly off set, and Catrall was not close with her co-stars. In 2021 when Sex and The City followed in Gilmore Girls’ footsteps and released a sequel miniseries on streaming called And Just Like That, Catrall did not return. This ended up being amazing for Catrall, as the show was panned by both fans and critics, and many expressed gratitude that the writers were not given the opportunity to ruin Samantha.
Instead, like the late Bob Saget before her, Catrall had already moved on to the voice of the older and wiser lead in How I Met Your Father. Playing the mother, AKA Duff’s Sophie, Catrall provides essential narration giving the perspective of the story for how exactly she came to meet the titular “Father”. Not only is this a victory for Catrall, as her career was not tainted by participating in the inferior series, but it is a victory for the fictitious Samantha Jones. Both, it seems, have moved on to better things.
Throughout her career, simply by being the charming leading lady that she is, Hilary Duff has brought new life to various series. In doing so, she sparred the legacy of at least 3 different major television series. And for that, as a major fan, I must say a sincere thank you.