If you think this is an easy question to answer, guess again. Wide boundaries outline the category of "Single Dads" on TV. After devoting an embarrassing amount of time studying the phenomenon, I've come up with four cardinal rules to identify TV Single Dads:
Mindy's Dad doesn't make it.
"The TV Single Dad must be seen in an active parental role, living with and providing support for the children without assistance from their biological mother or stepmother."
Dad must be an obvious participant in providing for the children's well-being; food on the table, sharing the same roof, taking her to school. Therefore, this rule excludes Mindy McConnell's dad on Mork and Mindy, since Mindy doesn't live in her dad's house and is not having her basic need for shelter met by him. Her relationship with her dad is more like being a neighbor than a daughter. This situation is typical with many adult children of Single Dads on TV.
Ben Cartwright counts.
On the other hand, Ben Cartwright on Bonanza does qualify as a TV Single Dad under this rule, since he provides a roof over his sons' heads, even though they're all obviously adults and capable of fending for themselves.
"The TV Single Dad must be the actual head of the household in which the children reside."
Grandpa from The Munsters is knocked out of contention by this act because, although he is Lily's father, Herman
Munster is the head of the household. Grandpa lives with Lily and Herman, not the other way around.
It's the Big One for Fred.
Fred Sanford does qualify by this rule, however, even though it often appears that it's really his son Lamont whose efforts are keeping the roof over their heads on Sanford and Son.
If only they had *stayed* "All Alone"...
"The TV Single Dad must be single for the majority of the run of the series."
Face it: without this rule, Mike Brady could arguably be counted as a TV Single Dad, even though he stopped being single about twenty minutes into Episode One of The Brady Bunch.
Fortunately, the show got cancelled.
On My Three Sons, however, Steve Douglas does count, because for the majority of the series he was a single dad, even though he remarried during the last season.
Note that the Mike Brady Matrimonial Clause also covers retroactive revelations of single dad-hood: On the last episode of MacGyver, it was revealed that MacGyver was a single dad. Too bad! You can't plug in a long-lost son at the end of a series and expect to qualify for this TV Single Dads Hall of Fame.
The ship's aground.
"The TV Single Dad must be a true parent or guardian, not just a mentor."
The Skipper on Gilligan's Island does not qualify as a TV Single Dad. He's the captain, and Gilligan is his first mate. He is not Gilligan's "father" in any way, shape, nor form.
Never meanin' no harm...
This rule does get bent a little, though, when it comes to someone like Jesse Duke on Dukes of Hazzard. After all, he is the guardian of the three cousins, Bo, Luke, and Daisy Duke. They may be all grown up now, but they still live on Uncle Jesse's farm, where he continues to provide room and board.
It's an important distinction to understand, because one does not *have to* be a dad to be a TV Single Dad. Examples would be the endless Uncle Bills and Brother Charlies of Family Affair and Party of Five
With these four rules in place, you'd probably guess that picking out TV Single Dads would be a piece of cake. But it's not, even with the rules, and that's what makes things interesting.Does Jack Albertson's character count as a TV Single Dad on Chico and the Man? Is Mike Farrell's character on Providence a TV Single Dad, even though his dead wife's ghost still provides advice to their daughter? And what about David Seville and those chipmunks?
Author's note: As a general rule daytime dramas, or soaps, are exempt from inclusion in lists such as this. Sooner or later, *all* soaps wind up having a TV Single Dad in one form or another. Therefore, I'm going to be cruel and waive all soap plots from having claim to this list. Sorry!
As any Film School degenerate can tell you (I'm a Film School degenerate, so I'm telling you), all genres have identifiable motifs and clichés , signaling their identities though mise-en-scene devices (must have been French Film School).
Even for the Great Unwashed, it's obvious that there are certain elements typical to TV Single Dad shows. Some of this narrative furniture may be missing from particular shows, but most exhibit some or all of these trademark features:
Over the years, creating these lists of shows highlighted a repeating story formula: Dad, mourning the loss of recently departed Mom, tosses the kid(s) in a pickup truck /airplane / boat and moves to a completely different locale, usually with an exotic climate. The family is composed of an Angry Son or Daughter, and an Obedient, Quiet Daughter.
The dialog of the first episode of Formula #1 shows always includes this Angry Exchange sequence:
Angry Son/Daughter: "I hate this stupid place! You took me away from all my friends!"
Dad: "Get used to it. We're staying."
Angry Son/Daughter: "We wouldn't even BE here if Mom were alive!"
[Silence. Long, slow turn of Dad's head towards A.S./D. Dad opens mouth. A.S./D. storms out of house into the snow / blowing sand / rain.]
Here's a typical Angry Exchange, this one from The WB's Everwood:
Watch for these shows. They're frequently cancelled after a season or two, but it's always interesting to spot them on the first episode.
Remember, if you think of anything I've missed (and I'm sure I've missed a bunch) please e-mail me. Thanks!
Fair question. Halls of Fame are usually the top sampling of any group or organization. However, since this is my site, I get to make the rules! Therefore, this Hall of Fame denotes those Single Dad shows that actually made it to television; that didn't die after a focus-group screening or, worse yet, never made it out of a script binder. If you don't like my criteria for membership in the TV Single Dads Hall of Fame, write your own website!