The One Percent

Rich Dad, Poor Dad

Wealth and Poverty Among TV's Single Dads

by Jim O'Kane,

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Seasonal feature reporting is mostly a recycling business.

As holidays come and go, the "Life" or "Weekend" section editors of newspapers and websites will Google each other's archives and try to find a new spin on the same twenty topics that are pulled out of mothballs for yet another annual airing of once-intriguing tales. It's the reason you hear about how much merchandise mentioned in The Twelve Days of Christmas actually costs every year, or how much the gross tonnage of retail Halloween chocolate exceeds the weight of Valentine candy every October. The stories are familiar evergreens, and recycle through various news outlets year after year.

Part of the reason why is so popular in the month leading up to Fathers' Day is the need for fresh grist for the feature editors. Unlike typical media outlet content, all the articles here are either based on interviews with primary sources, or derive new insights from collections of previously unanalyzed data. Thanks to a decade and a half of Alert Viewers writing in about forgotten TV Single Dad series, there's now quite a stack of information about the details of these old TV shows. So, we can spend a bit of time with spreadsheets and pie charts and sort out trends and anomalies in the sixty year history of TV's Single Dads.

Courtesy NBC UniversalOn this land we put our brand: Cartwright is the name. Fortune smiled the day we filed the Ponderosa claim...

This year, the hot topic in politics and media has been "The 1%" folks - - the legendary, mind-bogglingly rich people who seem to pay too few taxes, make too much money, and appear to be responsible for everything from high gas prices to the reason your favorite show was canceled. As everything in daily life seems to have an odd counterpart in the world of television, it's probably a good idea to spend a little too much time examining the nature of wealth and poverty in the world of TV Single Dads.

Ground Rules

A couple of big problems appear when trying to figure out the wealth and poverty of TV Single Dads. For one thing, we need to define exactly what makes someone part of "The 1%" in the real world, and try to apply that definition in the TV world.

According to the folks at The New York Times, you can qualify for being part of "The 1%" by either wealth (what you have) or income (what you earn). If it's by wealth, your balance sheet needs to show at least $8.4 million in the "Assets" column. If we're talking income, your annual paycheck needs to be at least $380,000.

These are nice, concrete numbers - - but h ow do they apply to TV Single Dads such as Papa Smurf? What kind of tax form does the blue guy with the beard fill out? What are the economic systems in non-human societies?

Another issue is the matter of history and setting. Lucas McCain of The Rifleman probably didn't make a lot of money compared to present day law men, but he wasn't exactly penniless back in the 19th Century. Is he middle-class, or poor? What metrics can be used for Single Dad Tom Mason in the post-alien invasion world of Falling Skies?

As of 2012, there are 272 identified TV Single Dads, and for this review, each of them will need to be assessed and categorized if we're going to find out how their relative wealth or poverty impacted the popularity of these shows.

Let's focus on the basics: each TV Single Dad's wealth will be considered only in relation to other characters on their show. We can't extrapolate how much cash a TV Single Dad's estate would be worth in today's dollars, or how their income would affect their lifestyle in the current environment. Therefore, folks like Duncan, Man-at-Arms on He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, would be considered to have an average income for his home world of Eternia, even though Duncan's personal gear would be worth millions on planet Earth. Worf on Star Trek: The Next Generation would fall under the same classification as "average," though he had access to a replicator that would allow him to literally order up tons of diamonds in moments.

As to categories, we'll work with four types: Poor, Average, Rich, and The 1%. The difference between Rich and The 1% is somewhat subjective but it's usually decided as being someone clearly known in their show as being extremely wealthy, along the lines of Bruce Wayne in any of the Batman series, or Jed Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies.

Follow the Money

Let's take a look at the income graph of the 272 TV Single Dads on the site. What becomes instantly clear is that the solo dads on TV are, by almost two thirds, a part of the middle class with "Average" incomes. There are only 8%, or 22, TV Single Dads who could be classed as "Poor."

Wealth Distribution

It's not surprising that the share of TV Single Dads who are classed as part of "The 1%" is actually more than 1%. Viewers enjoy watching shows about rich people, and the TV Single Dad genre is no exception. The most surprising statistic, though, is the size of the share of The 1% Single Dads - - nearly one in five Single Dads on TV falls into this category.

Adding together the 7% "Rich" dads with the 19% share of "The 1%" dads means that more than a quarter of all TV Single Dads are well-off. Again, it's not surprising to find this many of the dads are considered wealthy: stories about TV Single Dads and their children are a lot easier to tell if Dad has enough spare income that he's not struggling at work all the time.

Now that we know the distribution of wealth in the TV Single Dad world, let's take a look next at how the dads on TV earned what they've got.


Holy smokes, that's a lot of pie slices to talk about!


The giant "Other" piece of the job pie speaks to the huge amount of non-standard careers of TV Single Dads, be they housekeepers, like Tony Danza's character on Who's the Boss? -- or Alaskan gold prospectors such as Monte Markham's quick-frozen dad on The Second Hundred Years. Part of the appeal of TV Single Dads is that they seem to live unusual lives, and their career choices are often no less unusual.

The most common career, not unexpectedly, is the field of law enforcement. Criminal justice appears to be a ready source of both drama and comedy on TV shows in general, and the TV Single Dad genre makes use of the many opportunities of police procedurals to tell stories. Consider examples on current shows, such as Nathan Fillion's character on ABC's Castle, or Tom Selleck's role as the Chief of Police of New York City on CBS's Blue Bloods. Both of these shows play the fatherhood angle pretty strongly during every episode. It's a traditional role for TV Single Dads, going all the way back to the days of Chuck Connors and The Rifleman.

Becoming a doctor or a medical professional is the second most common career choice among TV Single Dads. Again, like law enforcement shows, medical dramas and comedies are popular drivers of stories on TV. Everyone from Chiropractor Jon Cryer on Two and a Half Men to General Practitioner William Shatner on $#*! My Dad Says seems to be in the medical profession.

News Media and Entertainment jobs turn up as the next most-popular careers for TV Single Dads. Since the shows are on television already, it seems natural to set the plotlines into the very industry that created these series. A few obvious examples of TV or entertainment-based Single Dad careers would be Bob Saget's morning show host role on Full House, and Louis C.K.'s job as a stand-up comedian on his self-titled show Louie.

Maybe one of the most interesting factoids to emerge from this pie chart is the unemployment rate for TV Single Dads: currently, it stands at a mere one percent. A rare example of this category would be David Keith's role of the unemployed Arlo Weed on NBC's short-lived 1991 series, Flesh 'n' Blood.

The term "unemployed" doesn't include TV Single Dads who have retired - - the retired category describes more than four percent of all TV Single Dads. Two obvious examples of retired TV Single Dads would be Uncle Jesse Duke on The Dukes of Hazzard, as well as Stacy Keach's character, Ken Titus, on the former FOX series Titus.


Brass Tacks: The Top Ten Richest TV Single Dads

Everyone loves a great list, so let's get to it. Here's a countdown of the wealthiest TV Single Dads in the history of television.

Uncle Bill DavisNumber 10 - Uncle Bill Davis (Brian Keith), Family Affair. By day, a hugely successful civil engineer, living in a posh midtown Manhattan penthouse. When work is over, he's Uncle Bill to Jody, Buffy and Cissy. It's hard to believe that Uncle Bill dated supermodels, could afford an English butler, and still barely made the list.

Michael BluthNumber 9 - Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman), Arrested Development. Despite having a father in jail and seemingly zero business acumen, Michael Bluth still manages to keep the family business in the black. Remember: CNBC's Jim Cramer upgraded the Bluth Company stock from "Don't Buy" to "Risky," so the Bluth fortune might not evaporate when the series returns to Netflix in 2013.

Dr. QuestNumber 8 - Dr. Benton Quest (voice of John Stephenson / Don Messick), Jonny Quest. Who says you can't make money fighting giant robot walking eyes and building pulsating, shoulder-fired laser cannons? Dr. Quest was quite probably the most dangerous TV Single Dad in the history of the genre. It's amazing Jonny lived through the series.

Edward Stratton IIINumber 7 - Edward Stratton III (Joel Higgins), Silver Spoons. The NBC series that made Ricky Schroder a TV star - - it's the plot of the movie Arthur, except the Dudley Moore character has Ricky for a son and a toy company for a business. The toy company seems to be quite lucrative, because it makes money even though the childish dad appears to know very little about how the industry works.

Mr. PresidentNumber 6 - President Samuel Arthur Tresch (George C. Scott), Mr. President. I think it's safe to assume that the POTUS is a member of The 1%, especially if the guy playing the President is General Patton himself.

Ben CartwrightNumber 5 - Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene), Bonanza. The Cartwrights owned a thousand square miles of timber and livestock on the shores of Lake Tahoe. That would be quite a...what's the word? Oh, a BONANZA of wealth in any time period. As Danny DeVito said in the movie Tin Men, 50 year-old Ben Cartwright lived on the Ponderosa Ranch with "his three 49 year-old sons."

O.K. CrackerbyNumber 4 - O.K. Crackerby (Burl Ives), O.K. Crackerby. A short-lived NBC series from 1965, Burl Ives's title character was described as "The Richest Man in the World." Not sure if he could back that claim up, as all that wealth couldn't keep his show on for more than 17 episodes.

Jeff TracyNumber 3 - Jeff Tracy (voice of Peter Dyneley), Thunderbirds. Rocket genius billionaire who spent his money buying his own private island and equipping it with an array of aircraft and spaceships to rescue people in danger around the world. Tracy must have made a great deal of money to be able to provide this service internationally - - which is even more impressive when you consider that he's a foot-tall marionette.

Jed ClampettNumber 2 - Jed Clampett (Buddy Ebsen), The Beverly Hillbillies. The rise from being a "poor mountaineer" who "barely kept his family fed" to being a billionaire living in the middle of 90210 country made for an extremely successful series. Jed stayed rich because the Texas Tea kept flowing, and Mr. Drysdale made sure he didn't invest in most of nephew Jethro's crazy schemes.

Bruce WayneAnd... Number 1 - Bruce Wayne (Adam West), Batman. It's amazing how many people forget Bruce Wayne was the legal guardian of Dick Grayson. What did they think the phrase "youthful ward" meant, anyway? Wayne Industries had enough cashflow that the development of a Batmobile, a Batcave, and simple a Bat-everything could be developed and put to use without anyone noticing how much money was being siphoned off for The Batman's crimefighting hobby. You know you've got money if you can pay for a Batmobile with petty cash.

The Bottom Five

There's a Yin for every Yang, so let's take a look at the bottom five poorest TV Single Dads.

Dr. Byron OrpheusNumber 5 - Dr. Byron Orpheus (voice of Steven Rattazzi), The Venture Bros. The overly-dramatic Necromancer Dr. Orpheus is so broke, he has to sublet a laboratory / apartment from fellow TV Single Dad Rusty Venture, in the Cartoon Network's perfect parody of Jonny Quest.

Fred G. SanfordNumber 4 - Fred G. Sanford. (Redd Foxx), Sanford & Son. During the five year run of the series, did Fred Sanford ever sell anything from that salvage store?

Hank DearbornNumber 3 - Hank Dearborn (Dick Kallman), Hank. A sitcom that tried to make a series out of the lighter side of identity theft, penniless older brother Hank tried to fake his way through college without paying tuition, all while managing to keep his little sister from falling into foster care. A rare series from the mid-1960s that actually completed its storyline in the final episode.

Ron SnuffkinNumber 2 - Ron Snuffkin (Tyler Labine), Sons of Tucson. Short-lived FOX TV series (is there any other kind?) that appeared and disappeared just two years ago. Ron Snuffkin was blackmailed into being a surrogate dad for two scheming kids while their real dad was doing 25 years in jail for embezzlement. Surprsingly similar to Malcolm in the Middle, with the added benefit of a TV Single Dad in the mix.

Moses PrayAnd... Number 1 - Moses Pray (Christopher Connelly), Paper Moon. Based on the movie of the same name, the TV Single Dad in this show was a small-time grifter who was constantly outmatched by his wise-beyond-her-years daughter Addie, played by Jodie Foster. If he were a better grifter, maybe they wouldn't wind up always flat broke, or on this list.



People enjoy reading these lists for the sake of arguing about them. Does Bruce Wayne have more money than Jed Clampett? How poor is Fred Sanford if he's got a storefront in L.A.? That's the beauty of lists, though. If you have debatable points about the order of the lists, or the dads I may have overlooked, I'm sure you'll let me know.

Enjoy! And Happy Fathers' Day.