Forgotten TV Sitcom Dads from the ’80s and ’90s
The dads who will have you saying, “Oh yeah, I remember that guy!”
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They weren’t the stars of the show, and sometimes they didn’t even make it into the episode. But they made us laugh, and they popped in to offer snippets of TV dad wisdom when they were around, and that’s what really counts. Here are the TV sitcom dads you totally forget even existed.
George Henderson, Harry and the Hendersons
You might vaguely remember this show, and that heart-wrenching scene at the end with John Lithgow where he’s trying to get Harry to leave to avoid certain capture, and he just decks him in the face? And how a betrayed, bewildered Harry looked down at John, and all John could do was turn away? Well, nope, that’s the movie you’re remembering, and for good reason; the movie is now a cult classic, and the show was widely panned by critics, considered generally lackluster in comparison. Harry took up permanent residence with the Hendersons for three seasons, eventually finding fame from the public the family so feared, with George Henderson — aptly played by Bruce Davidson — tried to balance a growing career, family, and Bigfoot, all while keeping a low-profile.
Here’s a fun 10 seconds of Harry completely destroying the Henderson household, as George mostly just tries to avoid the flying debris of what used to be his furniture:
George Owens, Mr. Belvedere
ABC Photo Archives
While technically the head of the Owens family, George was a good-natured second fiddle to the sarcastic ever-dapper housekeeper for which the show is named. The two may have gotten off to a rough start (and they frequently butted heads when it came to raising the kids), but George never followed through on his threats to fire the man who would become his best friend in the end. All in all, George Owens had a surprising amount of character development through the series’ five-year run, and he was good for a self-depreciating quip now and again, like any good TV dad should be.
This TV spot featuring George and Mr. Belvedere perfectly captures their quippy relationship:
Ted Lawson, Small Wonder
Sitcoms and science-fiction collided in 1985 when Ted Lawson — a robotics engineer — set out to create a helper robot, V.I.C.I., or “Vicki,” as she was called. Ted heavily blurred the lines between his work life and his home life by then adopting his invention as his daughter so she could “fully mature” and learn from real humans, i.e.: the rest of the Lawson family. Throughout the series run, Ted Lawson spent most of his time tweaking Vicki with upgrades (so they could explain away the fact that Vicki ages) and just trying to keep his daughter’s secret safe, probably because he stole what had to be millions of dollars worth of equipment from work.
Small Wonder was one of the most bizarre shows of the decade — and it was the ’80s, so that’s really saying something. Check out the TV spot, and marvel at how something like this actually got made:
Martin Crane, Frasier
There are apples that fall straight down from the tree … and there are apples like Frasier and Niles, who fell as far away from said tree as they possibly could. Unpretentious, easygoing, and down to earth, Martin Crane was introduced during the run of Cheers, but the character really had a chance to shine in the spinoff that focused on his snooty adult sons. Like his sons, he is stubborn and known for holding a grudge, but that’s about where the similarities ended. Even with their problems, Martin was caring, and clearly did his best to be patient through their personality conflicts. He was also quick with a one-liner or a funny jab at his sons, and he always had his little jack russell terrier, Eddie, in tow.
Here is father and son in what starts out as an argument, and turns into a touching, learning moment:
Ray Campbell, Sister, Sister
Legal step-father to half of the Campbell twins, Ray ran a successful limousine business, and he ran a tight ship at home — at least he tried. A stern but caring parent, Ray really seemed to want what was best for his daughter (eventually daughters), even though he could be super overprotective. While the series focused mainly on the twins, Ray was far from a background character — active in his kids’ lives, but also having a life of his own, which consisted mostly of sticking his foot in his mouth in front of beautiful women, and arguing tooth and nail with Tia’s mom, Lisa, as demonstrated in this classic clip:
Edward Stratton III, Silver Spoons
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Edward Stratton III was a man-child who owned a toy business. He had no sense of responsibilities, and having been born into extreme wealth, he had pretty much zero practical life skills. Edward is neither a good dad, nor a good businessman. In fact, he’s generally not good at very many things at all — but despite his initial reservations about suddenly being a dad, he ended up being pretty chill about meeting the kid he didn’t know existed, even though it was questionable who was raising whom.
The pilot episode gets to the point right away while Edward tries his best to drown out reality with Pac-Man:
Henry Warnimont, Punky Brewster
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Not the title character’s real father, of course — as the building manager of an apartment building, he discovered Punky living in one of the vacant units after having been abandoned by her parents. A reluctant father-figure at first, Henry raised the ’80s’ spunkiest kid with a rotating cast of colorful characters, eventually going to court to fight for legal custody over her. While Punky is obviously the memorable part of both the live-action series, and the cartoon that followed a few years later, “Punky Power” wouldn’t have been possible without the support and encouragement from her adoptive dad — who, despite himself, was nurturing from the get-go.
Watch the charming beginning of what was a truly heartbreaking premise for a family sitcom:
Lester Jenkins, 227
A show about a typical, middle-class American family that would end up setting the tone for American sitcoms for the next decade, 227 followed the lives of the Jenkins family at 227 Lexington Place in Washington, D.C. Lester may have been the “head” of the household in name, but there was no question that he and Mary were a solid team. A supportive husband and father, Lester remained pretty easygoing despite the shenanigans of his intrusive neighbor, Jakee (who pretty much stole the show as the series wore on). Lester also readily displayed affection towards his wife and kids — something TV dads typically left up to TV moms prior to the ’80s.
The upbeat theme intro is reminiscent of the famous Jefferson’s song, Movin’ On Up, which was about halfway through its’ series run when 227 first premiered:
Willie Tanner, Alf
NBC Universal, Inc.
Easily overlooked due to the popularity of the show’s furry alien namesake, but it was Willie’s shortwave radio that led Alf to find the Tanner household to begin with. The episodes largely revolved around Willie and fam trying to hide the existence of their unusual houseguest, but Willie was actually a pretty interesting character: He liked helping people (he worked as a social worker), and he displayed a keen interest in science and space. While he and Alf clashed in nearly every episode, Willie was compassionate, involved, and seemingly a pretty good dad — even though he spent way more screentime with Alf than his actual kids.
Here’s a classic Willie and Alf moment featuring the usual sarcastic barbs, and banter — oh and Alf totally almost kills Willie:
Nick Russo, Blossom
Starring a colorful, likeable teen with a quirky fashion sense that probably led to the ruining of so many neckties in the early ’90s, Nick Russo was a single dad working as a musician, just doing his best. His eldest son, Tony, was a recovering drug addict, and much of Nick’s own motivations are a result of feeling he failed his son in the past. Nick focuses much of his energy into being super protective of his two youngest kids, Joey (Whoa!), and Blossom, and helping Tony stay clean. While he could be overbearing, he was also nurturing, and he offered real guidance, not just to his kids, but to Six, Blossom’s hyper-linguistic bestie, a kid who clearly needed structure.
Watch Nick do some top-notch dad-ing coaching Tony for his upcoming job interview: