As we wind up our “I Salute You!” blog series, we end with a show that may not be remembered as well as many other military shows: Major Dad. Created by Richard Okie, Earl Pomerantz, and John Stephens, the show debuted in September of 1989 and ran until spring of 1993, producing 96 episodes. Stephens was a producer on Gunsmoke and Simon and Simon (which McRaney also starred in), among other shows. Okie also produced Simon and Simon, along with Quantum Leap and more recently, Elementary. Pomerantz had been involved with both The Cosby Show and The Larry Sanders Show. Although the show is not seen often now, it won best sitcom in 1990.
In September of 1989, Bonnie Churchill wrote an article for the Christian Science Monitor, “McRaney is Major Dad.” They discussed how the show was developed. As McRaney recounted: “‘The eighth and last season of Simon and Simon we began to get the skeleton of an idea . . . It centers around a rather conservative peacetime officer who falls in love with a newspaper reporter, who is rather liberal. She’s a single parent raising three daughters. They get married, and then the real fun begins. When we were discussing which branch of the service he’d be in, I voted for the Marines.’ McRaney also had a vote as co-executive producer, so he won.”
The show was on Monday nights for most of its entire run. The first season it went up against MacGyver and for half the season it was on against Alf and My 2 Dads for the second half. Season two with the move to Camp Hollister found the show going against MacGyver on ABC and both Ferris Bueller and Blossom on NBC, landing in the top 30. The show was again competing against MacGyver and Blossom for season three where it was in the top 10. In season four, MacGyver was gone with American Detective taking its place and Blossom still on NBC. But at some time during the last season, the network moved the show to Friday nights which resulted in the ratings plummeting and the show was no longer in the top 30 and was cancelled.
Major Dad starred Gerald McRaney and Shanna Reed as a newly married couple, John and Polly MacGillis. After left-leaning journalist Polly interviews conservative John, they fall in love. After a whirl-wind three-week romance, they decided to marry and the perennial bachelor’s life is turned upside down. Even though they are newly married, Polly has three daughters (Nicole Dubuc, Chelsea Hertford, and Marisa Ryan) from a previous marriage, so “Mac” must learn to live with a house of females. The girls are 6, 11, and 13. Mac has a hard-enough time learning to be a husband, let alone a father.
The show takes place in Camp Singleton which is similar to the real Camp Pendleton where Mac is the commander of the infantry training school’s acquisition division. Rounding out the cast were Lt Holowachuk (Matt Mulhern), Sgt James (Marlon Archey), and secretary Merilee (Whitney Kershaw). Many of the scripts for the first season had to be rewritten due to the US’s involvement in the Persian Gulf War.
For the second season, the family moves to Camp Hollister, which is similar to Quantico. Mac has been promoted to staff secretary under Brigadier General Marcus Craig (Jon Cypher). Lt Holowachuk comes along as aide-de-camp. Beverly Archer plays Gunnery Sergeant Alva Bricker, known as Gunny, the general’s secretary.
She adds a lot of humorous elements to the show as a no-nonsense, set-in-her-ways woman who seems to have many romantic interests.
Polly becomes the managing editor for the Bulldog, the camp newspaper. She also writes two columns, “At Ease” and “The Suggestion Box.” Originally for the second season, several of the characters were being sent to Saudia Arabia, but because the Persian Gulf War ended, it was decided to send everyone to Camp Hollister instead.
Some famous faces that popped up on this show included Ruth Buzzy, Peggy Cass, Brian Keith, Vicki Lawrence, and Jameson Parker.
Most reviews I read thought the show came into its own after the move to Camp Hollister. It got very positive ratings. Many people appreciated the fact that Marines were shown in a positive light. Before filming the show, McRaney was sent to Camp Pendleton to learn about life as a Marine. He was able to talk with people about their life stories, be outfitted with a uniform, and even got an authentic haircut.
The show provided a realistic insight into the issues that military families face. In addition, the show moved back and forth between home life and career life, so the characters are more balanced and not one-dimensional. Current issues like base closures were often written into the scripts, and in 1990, an episode commemorated the 215th anniversary of the Marines and Dan Quayle, who was the Vice President, made an appearance on the show.
As far as I could find, the show is not available on DVD. I also could not find any networks currently carrying the show, although there are online sights where you can watch it. Perhaps with all the networks now carrying syndicated shows, this series will have a second chance to find new generations of fans.
6 thoughts on “Major Dad is AWOL”
The late 80s and early 90s are a time I’m not familiar with much from television, including this show. It was interesting to read about the shows it was up against. I did like the show Elementary quite a bit though so I’m sure Major Dad had some good moments. That’s cool to learn about the lengths they went to for the show to be realistic.
I had actually forgotten about this show; I remember I thought Gunny was the best character. I was also impressed with the amount of preparation they did to make the show realistic. So many of those 80s shows were that realistic darker comedy and from what I remember this one was just a funny show.
I would love to know what services stream Major Dad or online stores sell the complete series. I saw this show for the first time back in 2019 and fell in love with it. If anyone knows where I could stream it or get the complete series please let me know.
I did find this at ecrater.com
Major Dad – Complete Series – Digital Download
Major Dad – Complete Series – Digital Download5 available
Shipping: US-Mainland: free (more destinations)
Condition: New other, see desc
Returns: does not accept (more)
This is a listing for the complete series as ISO downloads. All digitial downloads will be sent within 24 to 48 hours after purchase.
An ISO is digital version of a DVD. It’s basically the DVD without the physical disc. It will function like a DVD and read like one in your media player. You’ll still have access to the menus and episode/chapter selection feature as well.
The reason the prices are lower for ISO files is because they don’t need to be shipped. We also don’t have to charge for the cost of materials (discs, sleeves) used in making the physical discs that require shipment.
We are also able to complete the order within the same/next day time frame since the files will be sent within 24 to 48 hours of the purchase.
This is a first for me to respond to a comment. I am an old lady now and have time for TV and just finished all 4 seasons. During the 90s I was extremely busy raising a family, working and being the head of house. I would have loved to have been able to watch this with my family of three children since there father had left home. I love all the facets the subject matter covered. It went right along with our lives. I was so sorry to see it end. It have me great joy and pleasure . I also had a brother in the Marines and one in the Navy. Never really understood their lives or the military. Thanks for making this available and bless the entire production crew and cast for such quality and amazing cleaver writing and timing.
Thank you so much for reading and commenting. Now that you have some tv time I look forward to hearing about other shows you are watching.