Mad Men‘s casting department really has a knack for finding buzzworthy, nostalgia-baiting guest stars. Refugees from Gen Y touchstones like The Secret World of Alex Mack, Saved by the Bell, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer have been showing up on the series for years. Last season, Pete Campbell — himself played by a veteran of The WB — romanced Rory Gilmore both on and off-camera. This season, Don Draper’s doing the same with Freaks and Geeks‘s Lindsay Weir.
And last night, the show dipped even further into the nostalgia well by bringing in a TV ringer with one of the biz’s worst reputations: Ted McGinley, a man known as the “patron saint of shark jumping.” McGinley played the head writer of To Have and to Hold, the soap opera currently employing Megan Draper. When the actor’s face first appeared onscreen, the Twitterverse let out a collective squeal; when he invited Don and Megan to come home with him and his wife, “smoke some grass… and see what happens,” they gasped in shock. Could McGinley’s appearance — and the specter of the 1970s, which has already ruined Harry Crane’s hair — possibly signal the beginning of the end for Mad Men?
Not really. We already know that Mad Men will most likely conclude with its 7th season next year — and that ending can’t exactly be blamed on McGinley. Even if an end date weren’t set in stone, Weinerites would have reason to breathe easy: As EW explained in an article published 10 years ago, Ted McGinley is not a killer. Yes, the guy does have a history of being cast on shows that get canceled, including Happy Days, The Love Boat, Sports Night, and Hope & Faith. But all shows are canceled eventually — and as McGinley himself pointed out in that old EW feature, it took him three and a half years to “kill” The Love Boat, four and a half years to “kill” Happy Days, and a full seven and a half years to “kill” Married…With Children.
If that’s serial murder, bubble comedies like Happy Endings and Suburgatory would be lucky to cast McGinley. Whether McGinley’s arrival generally signals a creative decline for a given show, though, is another question entirely, one that necessarily can’t have an objective answer — though to be fair, “jumping the shark” can and does often happen long before a series gets canceled. Happy Days, for instance, aired for six more seasons after The Fonz strapped on his water skis.
With all this in mind, let’s take a look back at some of McGinley’s most memorable roles, all on shows that he supposedly ruined. Don’t worry — watching these clips won’t kill your computer. At least, we don’t think it will.
McGinley joined the cast of the long-running sitcom in its eighth season, after original star Ron Howard left the show. He played Richie’s cousin Roger, a teacher and eventual principal who worked with The Fonz at Patton High School — and once disciplined a young Crispin Glover, in his pre-Back to the Future days. The show lived well into the ’80s, and McGinley stuck around to see its end — without once literally jumping over a shark himself.
The Love Boat
Even before Happy Days went off the air in 1984, McGinley began ditching Milwaukee for the Pacific Princess. The long-running show was undoubtedly already in decline by the time he joined its cast; after nine seasons, two of which featured McGinley as a regular, the boat finally docked for the last time in 1986. In the meantime, at least there were plenty of in-his-prime shirtless shots.
Even McGinley’s season-long role on the long-running soap doesn’t really hold up to the “show killer” myth. He joined Dynasty in the fall of 1986, but the series survived two more seasons after his character — the awesomely named Clay Fallmont — made his exit. Here’s a clip of Clay’s meet-cute with Heather Locklear’s Sammy Jo, his future onscreen wife.
Married… with Children
McGinley’s longest small-screen run was on this brash Fox sitcom, which brought the actor in to fill the void left by departing second banana David Garrison. McGinley’s Jefferson D’Arcy stuck with Married until its 1997 cancellation, giving the actor’s defenders their best ammunition against his detractors. Clearly, Al Bundy kept him close because Jefferson was so handy around the house.
Dancing With the Stars
After Married… with Children went off the air, McGinley’s small screen career hit a bit of a rough patch. His comedies Sports Night and Charlie Lawrence quickly came and went; his next series, ABC’s Hope and Faith, lasted three seasons but only ever achieved middling ratings and a ho-hum critical reception. Adding insult to injury, McGinley joined the cast of Dancing with the Stars during the reality competition’s 7th season in 2008 — only to find himself the second star eliminated. That’s so not mambolicious.
Batman: The Brave and the Bold
So maybe there isn’t much merit to the whole “show killer” thing. That hasn’t stopped people from applying the label to McGinley — and if you can’t beat ’em, you might as well join ’em. The actor lampooned his undeserved reputation in the final episode of Cartoon Network’s Batman: The Brave and the Bold, replacing the actor who usually voiced Aquaman and even breaking character during this wonderfully meta moment from the show’s conclusion. Note to television: Can you please find some project for both McGinley and James Van Der Beek? It might be quickly canceled — but while it lasted, it’d be dynamite.