Major Dad is AWOL

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.

Photo: next-episode.net

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.”

Photo: nbc.com

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.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

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.

Photo: sharetv.com

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.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com
Gunny

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.

Photo: nbc.com

Some famous faces that popped up on this show included Ruth Buzzy, Peggy Cass, Brian Keith, Vicki Lawrence, and Jameson Parker.

Photo: themoviedatabase.com
Work Life

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.

Photo: retrotvmemories.com
Home Life

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.

Photo: Wikipedia.com

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.

ALF: Amusing, Ludicrous, and Funny

April does begin with April Fool’s Day, so this month we take a look at a few shows I call oddly wonderful. Some of them may be odd, some wonderful and some oddly wonderful. You get to decide. These are shows that were very different but popular hits.

In 1963, My Favorite Martian came to earth to live with a news reporter, Tim O’Hara. In 1978, Mork landed on earth from Ork and lived with Mindy. In 1986, ALF, aka Gordon Shumway, crashed into the Tanners’ garage and moved in with the family. In all three series, the extraterrestrial tries to adapt to earthly ways and causes a lot of complications for the people he lives with.

Photo: slate.com

ALF aired in September of 1986 on NBC. Producer Bernie Brillstein was asked to catch Paul Fusco’s show with his puppet character. Brillstein had managed Jim Henson, so he knew something about this type of comedy. He thought ALF was hilarious and could be the center of a new sitcom. The company was Alien Productions; Fusco became a co-producer and Tom Patchett helped create the series, wrote the scripts, and directed the episodes. ALF produced 99 episodes (in syndication, it was 102 since there were three one-hour episodes during its time on the air).

ALF was one of the first sitcoms to use Dolby surround sound. The show was one of the most expensive sitcoms to produce because of the technical elements surrounding the puppet and the long tapings that developed. To try to help out with the expenses, ALF was licensed for a variety of toys, foods, and other types of merchandise. One fun fact is that every episode was the name of a song. Some of the shows were named, “Hungry Like the Wolf”, “Stayin’ Alive”, and “Gotta Be Me.”

Photo: semestertimes.com

ALF (alien life form) was a sarcastic, sometimes overbearing, character from Melmac. The Tanners take him in to protect him after he crashes into their garage. Willie Tanner (Max Wright) is married to Kate (Anne Schedeen) and they had two children, Lynn (Andrea Elson) and Brian (Benji Gregory). The plan is for ALF to repair his spaceship and then leave. Later ALF learns that his planet was destroyed by nuclear war. Eventually he becomes part of the family as he develops affection for them and vice versa.

Of course, ALF causes no end of trouble for the Tanners. In one episode, Brian is building a model of the solar system as we know it. ALF reveals to him that there are two planets past Pluto which Brian includes and then gets in trouble for.

Photo: noiselesschatter.com

Like Mork, as ALF becomes closer to the family, he is exposed to several of their friends and family. He is friends with Willie’s brother Neal (Jim Bullock), gets to know a psychologist Larry (Bill Daily), has a love-hate relationship with Kate’s mom, Dorothy (Anne Meara), and builds a relationship with a blind woman, Jody (Andrea Covell), who never realizes that ALF is not human.

ALF meant well and often was trying to help someone else when he caused many of his problems.

When Anne Schedeen became pregnant in real life, a baby was written into the show named Eric. ALF temporarily lives in the laundry room but eventually he and Willie convert the attic into a small apartment.

Photo: popdust.com

ALF often talks about eating cats. On Melmac, cats are raised for food. However, he bonds with the Tanners’ cat Lucky and, when Lucky dies, he becomes very sad. He has one heart that is located in his right ear, and he has eight stomachs. ALF claims he came from a large family, his best friend growing up was Malhar Naik, his girlfriend was Rhonda, he attended high school for 122 years, and was captain of his bouillabaisseball team. The sport was played on ice but used fish parts as bats and balls, requiring nose plugs on warm days. Melmac apparently had blue grass, a green sky, and a purple sun.

Photo: metv.com

Despite the funny scripts and fond remembrances viewers had, it was a difficult show to work on. The human actors had trouble playing second fiddle to a puppet, and there were a lot of complications trying to film with ALF. The set was on high tension alert all the time. When the final scene was filmed, Max Wright, who had the hardest time adjusting to working with ALF, walked off the set and left without saying good-bye to anyone. Schedeen said “There was no joy on that set . . . it was a technical nightmare—extremely slow, hot and tedious.” A thirty-minute show could take 20-25 hours to shoot. Schedeen said she was fond of her screen children, but some adults on the show had difficult personalities. Later in life, Wright said he found out the show brought a lot of enjoyment to people and felt better about his time portraying Willie.

One of the issues was that the set was built on a four-foot platform with trap doors all over so ALF could appear anywhere. He was operated from underneath the set and the doors and holes could be treacherous. To avoid wear and tear on the real puppet, a stand-in was used to rehearse named RALF (rehearsal alien life form).

Photo: noiselesschatter.com

Luckily, none of all the problems behind the scenes leaked out to the public. The show was popular in season one. In season two, it reached number five. It continued to hold its own in season three, with tenth place. However, season four saw a sharp decline and the show came in at 39th. In March of 1990, NBC moved the show from Monday to Saturday, but the ratings continued to decline.

The show had one of the most interesting endings in sitcom history. The production team hoped by having a cliffhanger at the end of season four, they could convince the network to bring it back for a fifth season, but it did not work that way. The Tanners take ALF to a field where an aircraft is going to reclaim him. Suddenly he’s circled by a group of military automatons. No one knew if he would be taken to Area 51 or escape. Viewers were left wondering what happened to ALF. NBC executive Brandon Tartikoff later admitted to Fusco they had cancelled the show prematurely.

Photo: horrorgeeklife.com

Six years later, ABC aired a movie, Project: ALF. None of the original cast was in the film. The movie was not well received.

Photo: hobbydb.com

However, the movie was not the end of ALF. The character has had more lives than all the cats he ever ate combined. Marvel Comics developed a series of books in 1987 which ran for four years with 50 issues. An animated cartoon that aired Saturday mornings which was a prequel to the show also ran for a couple of years.

One of the most unexpected outcomes of the show and, in my opinion, one of the funniest, was ALF’s talk show which aired on TV Land. ALF was a talk show host with none other than Ed McMahon as his sidekick. It was on for only seven episodes but featured guests like Drew Carey and Merv Griffin.

Photo: nathanrabin.com

Believe it or not, it didn’t end there. In 1987 while the show was still on the air, ALF appeared on an episode of Matlock. He was in an episode of Blossom when he denies her entrance to heaven in a dream. He was the only extra terrestrial to appear on The Love Boat: The Next Wave. He was a regular on Hollywood Squares. In addition to a bunch of other shows, he appeared on Good Morning America in 2011, on The Simpsons several times, twice on Family Guy, once in Young Sheldon, and a stuffed animal ALF was in a Big Bang Theory show. The guys buy a box at a garage sale after following someone they think could be Adam West. One of the items in the box is the ALF doll.

Photo: bigbangtheorywiki.wikinfofoundry.com

In addition to shows, ALF appeared in a variety of commercials including telephones, Delta Airlines, Super Bowl XLV, and Radio Shack.

If all that is not enough, in August of 2018, Variety reported that there was a possible ALF reboot coming from Warner Brothers. One of the rumored ideas is that ALF would emerge from Area 51 into a world that has drastically changed, somewhat like Austin Powers, I guess.

Photo: noiselesschatter.com

I’m not sure that it would be a good idea to bring ALF back. The original is a classic and extremely funny if you aren’t aware of all the background tension. I think we’ll let the show speak for itself. Here is a typical example of the conversations that Willie and ALF had around the breakfast table.

Willie: You can’t vote, ALF, you’re not a citizen.

ALF: I’ll apply for a green card.

Willie: That’s only if you want a job.

ALF: Pass. (After a pause) I know, I’ll marry Lynn, become a citizen, and then drop her like a hot potato.

Willie: ALF . . .

ALF: Sure, it will be hard on her at first. She’ll cry, drink a little too much, join up with a bongo player named Waquine.

Willie: ALF

ALF: You’d like Waquine, he doesn’t like beets.

Willie: Neither you nor Waquine may marry my daughter and you may not vote.

ALF: Fine, I won’t have a voice in government. Waquine will get deported, and they’ll make him eat beets.

Willie: How many cups of coffee have you had today?

ALF: Forty. Why?