Ted McGinley talks Happy Days, The West Wing, and being the “patron saint” of jumping the shark
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Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.
The actor: Not long after a casting agent spotted Ted McGinley’s picture in GQ, he stepped into his first full-time acting gig—Roger Phillips on Happy Days—and maintained constant career momentum throughout the ’80s and ’90s, earning series-regular roles on Dynasty, The Love Boat, Married With Children, and Hope & Faith. McGinley can currently be seen as King in Notes From The Heart Healer, the third in an ongoing series of Hallmark Channel films.
The Note (2007) / Taking A Chance On Love (2009) / Notes From The Heart Healer (2012)—“King”
Ted McGinley: Notes From The Heart Healer is the best of the three, in my opinion. It’s the third of the set, of the trilogy, and it’s pretty good, I think. There’s a young girl in it [Laci J. Mailey] who I think is a breakout star. I mean, this was a really fun one to do all around, but she’s just so beautiful.
The A.V. Club: How is it to work on Hallmark movies? They walk that tightrope between heartfelt drama and schmaltz, and they’re obviously trying to err on the right side of it, but—
TM: Yeah, well, Doug Barr—he directed all three of these films, and he wrote the second and the third, and he co-wrote or sort of rewrote the first—Doug has a pretty good eye for what’s enough, I think. You’re right, though. And I think some people will always see it as schmaltzy material. But the truth is, there’s an audience out there that just wants to be able to sit down and have a nice evening with their family where they don’t have to worry about, “Oh my God, what’s going to come up?” There’s a whole group of people that are just sort of sitting on the fringe, looking for something to watch, and Hallmark has a very loyal audience, so we just try to keep feeding that audience. I think it’s kind of cool.
AVC: How did you find your way into these films in the first place?
TM: I guess they just kind of found me. [Laughs.] The Note just sort of came my way, and I read it, and I thought it was really interesting, especially for me, who’d been flying back and forth to New York to do Hope & Faith. I’d fly back and forth every week, spending a lot of time on airplanes, and I started thinking, “What if…?” And this whole story is about this guy who, as his plane is going down, wants to write a note to somebody. That’s kind of a cool concept. So it just caught my interest, and I thought, “Yeah, actually, that’d be great.” And working with Genie [Francis] was amazing, because she’s just such a pro. By the way, this was different for her, because she’d never done one-camera work, and the technique is a little bit different. But she picked it up right away. So, you know, it just sort of felt like it belonged. And we didn’t have the time or the money to move the camera very much, and we did a lot of scenes where we were just sitting, like, in the hallway or the stairs of the building. But it worked so well. It was like, “Wow, these two people really have good chemistry.” So it’s been a nice gig for me. I like it. It’s one of those things that you kind of look forward to. Some of them, you’re just like, “Oh boy, this one’s gonna be like pushing a rock up a hill.” [Laughs.] But this one just felt really good.
AVC: Was it always intended to be a trilogy of films?
TM: No, we just did one. But then the first one was the most successful Hallmark Channel movie they’d ever made, so they said, “Well, we’d better make another one!” And then the next one did well, and they thought, “Well, this is pretty good.” Now my real bone of contention is that this is a series. There’s no doubt about it, that this could be a series, like Touched By An Angel or one of those kinds of series. This is that. It has an audience, the stories tell themselves. All you’ve got to do is open the newspaper, and there’s 50 stories that work in the format of this show. I mean, every day. I saw one yesterday about a guy who—I’m trying to remember if it was a car accident or a stroke, but when he came to, all of a sudden he was a genius. And I thought, “That’s so interesting. What would happen to the people that he loved who are all around him?” That right there could make for a cool story. Hallmark is not really set up to do this as a series, I don’t think. But they should. Instead of spending their money on Martha Stewart, they could spend it on this particular series. [Laughs.] It could work!
Happy Days (1980-1984)—“Roger Phillips”
TM: First job ever. Right out of college. No training, no nothing. I remember in high school trying to get home from water-polo practice in time so I could see Happy Days on television when it first came on, because I was so blown away by it. It was just such a cool thing. I mean, stuff like Potsie climbing in Richie’s window. And I thought it was great that there was this greaser guy who lived above the garage and was just the coolest guy around. It was so interesting, and it was different. And then one day I went to a meeting, and then the next thing you know, I’m on the show with these people I’ve been racing home to see. And I thought, “This can’t be happening!” And then the first day, the first actual show we did, I remember thinking, “I’m literally not going to make it through this. I think I might just faint. And if I faint, what will happen? Will they just say, ‘Thanks for coming’?” I was so nervous. Oh my God, that was just… well, it was an amazing job. But you talk about a training ground. All of my training came sort of on the job.
AVC: Is it true that the job more or less came through a casting director spotting a picture of you in GQ?
TM: Yes. Joyce Selznick, who I guess is the niece of the great David O. Selznick, had this talent search that they were doing. She was hired by ABC, and they would go out and try to find interesting people and whatnot. I walked into this meeting, and she had pictures of me all over the floor of her office. [Laughs.] From different magazines and stuff. This was my last day in L.A. before moving to New York, but she said, “We’re gonna put you on tape.” I thought, “Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard all this before.” She said, “No, seriously, we’re coming to New York. I want you to start studying, because we’ll be there in three months, and when we get there, we’re gonna put you on tape.” And I didn’t do anything. I just thought, “You’re so full of baloney. I don’t believe it.” Just another one of those creepy Hollywood stories, you know? Anyway, the next thing you know, three months later, the phone rings. “We’re here! Hope you’ve been working on it!” [Laughs.] And I went in and I did a screen test—I had to read these sides—and they signed me to a contract to ABC so they could hold me for one year, and they would pay for all my classes, anything I wanted to do as far as preparing myself, and then I would hopefully just go out and work for ABC. And that’s how I got Happy Days. Well, actually, first there was a show, a rescue show called 240-Robert…
AVC: With Mark Harmon.
TM: Exactly. Well, they canceled the show because of the ratings, and then in the summer reruns, the ratings were so good that they picked it back up, but Mark had already gone on to do Flamingo Road, and the whole cast had gone elsewhere, so they had to recast it. And I was a lifeguard at the time, and they were looking for someone who could do, like, search-and-rescue and all that kind of stuff, so since I had some of that training… Anyway, ABC sent this guy, Rick Rosner, the tapes out in California, and he’s going through them, there are supposed to be six contenders or whatever, and he called up at the very end and said, “Well, who’s this seventh guy?” And they said, “Oh no, he’s not in the deal. He’s brand new. We’re not flying him out or anything.” And he said, “Well, I’ll fly him out!” So this guy sends me a ticket to fly out from New York to California, he meets with me, and he says, “All right,” so they start working with me and trying to help me get ready. But then I met Garry Marshall the same time I was there, and Garry did the same thing, and… I guess Garry grabbed first, and that was it. I was just so fortunate, because the other show only went on for six episodes. [Laughs.] I don’t know what would’ve happened if I’d done that show. You just never know.
AVC: When you came onto Happy Days, you weren’t exactly replacing Ron Howard, but you were definitely helping fill that void a bit.
TM: Well, they were looking for an all-American straight guy to play against the Fonz… “straight guy” meaning to help set up jokes. [Laughs.] And the one thing Garry Marshall is brilliant at, I think, is that he can pick types of people, and he’s really good at sort of categorizing you a little bit, and putting you in and then working with that. He knows what the audience is going to categorize you as, in other words. Films like Pretty Woman or whatever show that, I think. He just has that eye. And for me, I was just sort of an all-American kid anyway. I really was the guy I played, so my acting was horrible. [Laughs.] But it didn’t get in the way so much. Well, okay, actually, it did get in the way, but I was who I was, and that came across. But I know it had to be very taxing for Henry [Winkler] and everybody, because I didn’t even know what comedy was, really. I didn’t know the rhythms, the timing, or any of that. But that was a pretty good place to learn.
Sports Night (1998-1999)—“Gordon”
TM: Aaron Sorkin’s writing is… [Hesitates.] I’ve always said that the word “genius,” especially in Hollywood, is way overused. I’ve met a couple. And Aaron Sorkin is, I would say, the No. 1. I’ve never seen anything like his material. I remember he would come out late—like, right before table reads and stuff, which I don’t do well with—but you couldn’t wait to see what you got, like you were going to get a special dessert or something. And you always knew he would tie in some genius moment, and you’d think, “Oh my God, that’s so good, I can’t wait to do it.” I just love his material, and I loved that experience, working up against Felicity Huffman and Peter Krause. I was a lucky guy.
AVC: Even though you’d no doubt picked up on comedy rhythms by then, that was still a different kind of comedy rhythm than what you’d been used to.
TM: Yeah. For sure. In fact, that was a comedy, but I wasn’t doing comedy. It was just really smart writing. That’s the hardest to write, but it’s the easiest to play.
AVC: Was that a case where you were offered the part, or was it an audition?
TM: [Hesitates.] I can’t remember which it was. Usually, if you’ve been doing stuff and you get onto a little bit of a roll, they’ll make you an offer. If not, then you’ve got to go in an audition. And, y’know, it could’ve been either one back then. Now I have to go in and audition for roles.
Pearl Harbor (2001)—“Army Major”
TM: That was exciting for me, because I wanted to see, “What is it that these guys are doing?” Having worked now for all these years, I’d never been on a movie like that. This was the most expensive ever made at the time, I think, and I remember thinking, “Well, what are they doing that I’m not doing? What’s happening on these movies?” And I got there, and I realized that they waste more money, and everything is exponentially bigger. But it was a great experience, and Michael Bay was so cool to me. He’s got kind of a tough reputation, but he was really cool to me. Because I was only supposed to have, like, two or three lines, but he’d say, “Hey, can you come back tomorrow? Because I’ve got two scenes I need to put you in.” And he put me in all kinds of scenes and moments, and I think that was just to be cool. I’m the only one who can really see me, because sometimes it’s just my arm or something. [Laughs.] But I’m in there! I found the whole thing really exciting, but yeah, that was filmmaking on the biggest level, and… the thing I learned is that, even when you’re filming these big landscapes, it doesn’t replace the intimacy of a scene. You always have to be able to get in and find intimate moments.
I remember that Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett were just sort of… You know, I think they’d been through basic training together, and these were long days, and I think they were all just sort of getting tired of it. And then Alec Baldwin came in, and he was there when I was there, and Alec just sort of lit up the set. And this was before he became as popular again—you know, he was popular, but he had sort of a down period there for a little while, and this was during that period—and I remember walking away and telling people, “They need Alec Baldwin on that set so much, because he’s making it a nice place to be.” Before, it didn’t have that sense of joy. There was no, like, “Hey, this is fun!” Because I think they’d been going on such a rough schedule.
Jennifer Garner was on there, too, and she was cute. I just love her. My wife [Gigi Rice] had done a show with her, Significant Others, so I kind of knew her and could at least say “hello” to her in passing. She was my only friend. [Laughs.]
Young Doctors In Love (1982)—“Dr. Bucky DeVol”
TM: [Laughs.] Oh, my goodness, what a… That was fun. And that was before Revenge Of The Nerds, right? So that was my first film, which was quite a thing. I remember Sean Young had a puppy, and it had been raining, and we had to go out to our trailers to change and whatnot, we had these white doctor coats on, and her dog… She kept picking her dog up and getting the dirt all over her coat, to the point where the costume people were about to kill her. [Laughs.] There were a lot of characters on that film. It was stunt casting all around. Harry Dean Stanton was hysterical. Never wanted to learn his lines because he said it would take away from the spontaneity of the character’s moments. It was really just an interesting time period. I enjoyed the hell out of it. That’s when I thought, “This is what I could do every day.” I mean, being on a movie set was really exciting. And Garry Marshall was more… I mean, God, he was so generous to me early on in my career. I actually tested for the lead, Michael McKean’s role, so I was really bummed that I didn’t get it. I didn’t deserve to get it. [Laughs.] But it was still exciting to be a part of all that, so I was, like, “This is definitely what I want to do.” I had actually been thinking about maybe going back to school and really attacking it and maybe trying to be a doctor at some point if I could, thinking, “Maybe this business isn’t for me,” but then that movie came up, and I was, like, “This is a blast!” And it was challenging, too, because I wasn’t very good at it. [Laughs.] But I figured I’d get better and better, so I decided to stick with it.
The Big Tease (1999)—“Johnny Darjerling”
TM: The only thing I really remember about that was that it’s the only time I went into an office to audition and they told me on the spot, “You’ve got the job.” That was pretty cool. [Co-writer/star] Craig Ferguson was in there with the director, and they said, “All right. You’ve got it.” And I was, like, “What?” “You got the job. That was really good.” And I said, “That’s cool!” [Laughs.] But, you know, I’ve never actually seen it! I know I have it somewhere. I’ve just never watched it. Most of my stuff, I never really watch. I mean, I’m not one of those guys who doesn’t like to look back, but I just always figure one day I will. I just haven’t yet. I’m not someone who likes to go to screenings or openings. I have a hard time watching it around a bunch of other people. I like to watch it by myself. And then once I had kids, I stopped having the time to watch anything. [Laughs.]
Dancing With The Stars (2008)—contestant
TM: You know, my wife and I… [Hesitates.] I hate to admit it, but we watch American Idol and Survivor and The Biggest Loser. If we’re going to watch TV, those are the three shows that we watch.
AVC: And Dancing With The Stars?
TM: That’s a good one. I just wish I had watched it before I was on it. [Laughs.] I just look back and think, “God, you were a moron!” That was just so silly. Not one of my better choices. I said no, and my wife and a couple of buddies that I grew up with talked me into doing it. So between the three of them, I thought… Well, first of all, I was shocked that these guys even knew what the show was, let alone watched it. [Laughs.] I remember one time when it first came on, I thought, “Who would watch this?” And then it kept getting more and more popular, but it just wasn’t for me, so I never watched it. And the next thing you know, I’m on it. But at least I had the experience. And it was a lot of fun. I have to say, I’d do it again in two seconds.
Charlie Lawrence (2003)—“Graydon Cord”
TM: Loved it. I was not a huge Nathan Lane fan before I got that. I thought I’d seen him do what I thought he did, and when I showed up… I think he’s the best actor I’ve ever seen, as far as someone taking a script, opening it up, and reading it. It would just fly. It would just take off. I thought, “Who does this? Nobody!” It was just a miracle. You know, he’s been doing it so long, and he’s been in so many different situations, you can’t throw him. And he’s just so quick and so smart. I remember thinking, “I think this guy may be the greatest actor I’ve ever seen.” [Laughs.] Now, if I directed him, I wouldn’t let him use any of his tricks. I’d force him to go outside of what he knows. But I think he is brilliant. I mean, just brilliant. If you wrote a script and you had the choice of people to sit down and read it at the table for investors or for a network, that would be the guy, because he is a no-miss. And if it’s not funny, he’ll make it funny. He just knows. And he just blew my mind. Love Nathan Lane. And Jeffrey Richman, who’s now doing Ed O’Neil’s show [Modern Family], was the executive producer. But that was a good group of people. T.R. Knight was on there as well, and I really loved Laurie Metcalf. That was a super-exciting cast to be a part of.
AVC: Any thoughts on why the series didn’t take off?
TM: You know what? I think it was about five years ahead of its time. If that show came out today, it would probably work, because it just was… it dealt with some pretty interesting issues. Nathan Lane’s character was an openly gay congressman, maybe too openly gay for people at the time, but today in television, there’s a lot of those characters, and I think that people would be more amenable to a character like that today. But that was a great show. And a fun job.
Revenge Of The Nerds (1984) / Revenge Of The Nerds III: The Next Generation (1992) / Revenge Of The Nerds IV: Nerds In Love (1994) —“Stan Gable”
TM: I always say Stan is one of my top favorite characters. I love Stan Gable to this day. I’m very proud of Revenge Of The Nerds. It’s held up really well over time, and that was one of the first two movies I’d ever done, so it was super-exciting to be a part of it. I didn’t really know what I was a part of, though. I couldn’t even say the name out loud, I was so embarrassed to say Revenge Of The Nerds. [Laughs.] Every day we’d have dailies, and we’d invite all the hot girls from the school to come and watch dailies with us, and they had beer and pizza and sandwiches. I mean, you just don’t do that on movie sets. But we were on a campus, and we created this great buzz out there. It was just so much fun, and I thought, “It can’t be better than this!” It was just really a gas. That was fun filmmaking, and we all got to pitch ideas constantly. We were constantly coming up with new bits. You’d come back to the trailers, and all the guys… Well, Tim Busfield [who played Arnold Poindexter] was relentless. He’d have like, 15 ideas, and 14 were horrible, but one was genius. [Laughs.] He was, “Hey, how ’bout this? How ’bout this?” And we’d pitch them to the director, and to his credit, Jeff Kanew would say, “All right, let’s try that.” And we’d do it, and either it’d work or it wouldn’t. Most of the movie was done that way.
AVC: The majority of your scenes were done with Donald Gibb, who played Ogre.
TM: Yeah. Who I haven’t seen since. But it’s been fun to watch his career. I mean, he’s made a career out of playing that character. [Laughs.] I think he was just married at the time, or maybe he was just having a baby, and it was a really stressful time for him because he had to be away from home, so that was tough for him.
AVC: So you were in the first, third, and fourth films, but what happened with the second one? Scheduling problems?
TM: I don’t know. I think they offered me a part, but it wasn’t very big, so I just said, “No, thanks.” And then the third one, they had a big part, and the fourth one, too. But by the fourth one, you pretty much had to show up, because if you didn’t, they’d say, “Well, we’ll just hire someone to play you, then.” [Laughs.] It was blackmail! But it was all fun. I think they were trying to make it into a series at some point, but it never happened.
The West Wing (2000-2001)—“Mark Gottfried”
AVC: You must’ve made an impression on Aaron Sorkin on Sports Night, since he had you on The West Wing as well.
TM: Well, probably not big enough. [Laughs.] But I mean, please, to be a part of something that outstanding? That would be one of the first things I’d put on my résumé, that I was a part of that show. Both of those shows. Because they’re much smarter than I am. [Laughs.]
AVC: Has it been a struggle for you to find dramatic roles, given that people so readily associate you with sitcoms?
TM: Yeah, for sure. Hollywood’s all about, “Let’s make this easy: This is what you do, so you go over here in this group, and we’re not gonna call you.” And that’s why these little independent features I’ve been working on—because people like me get the opportunity to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily get to do. Same with the Hallmark or even Lifetime movies.
Herndon (1983)—“Shack Shackleford”
TM: [Laughs.] Now that is genius. You’re the first guy who’s ever brought that up. That show—it was a pilot—was directed by Garry Marshall, it was written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, who are two of the most successful film and TV writers in history, and it had Michael Richards, who basically played the same character he played on Seinfeld. And that was just amazing. What happened was, Paramount and ABC were at war at that time, and they wouldn’t pick up each other’s stuff, so nothing ever happened to it. But it was awesome, and so much fun. Michael Richards did a back-flip out of a chair, but someone had moved the couch and didn’t tell him that they’d moved the scenery around, and he went right into the arm of the couch and broke, like, two ribs. So we had to take off something like three weeks in the middle of the pilot, which didn’t exactly help things. We had stupid issues like that. But that thing should’ve gone. I think somewhere in this pile of junk I still have the pilot. I hope I do, anyway.
So yeah, Michael Richards was very, very similar [to Kramer]. These were two guys who had grown up together, gone to high school together, and I was the king of the football team and Mr. Everything, and he was this total nerd. But we were friends, and now we were going to room together, but life had changed, and like most guys like that, I was sort of ebbing a bit, and… I’m trying to remember, but I think he was giving me a job, ’cause he was this genius guy who’d become very successful, so he was giving me a chance. It was a good concept, and it would’ve been a good show, I think. I remember that I didn’t look as old as Michael—because I wasn’t—so they had me wear a fake moustache. That did not help. [Laughs.] I do not look good with a moustache.
Major League: Back To The Minors (1998)—“Leonard Huff”
TM: You know, sequels can be dangerous, and they can be hard, and unfortunately, the way [Major League: Back To The Minors] was written, they sort of did the ending twice in the movie. That was such a great job, though. We had so much fun. Another great cast to be a part of. The bummer was that I didn’t get to do any baseball. I kept sort of licking my chops the whole time, wanting to get out there and throw the ball around, but I was always in a suit and tie and all that stuff, so I never got to do it. We filmed in the Metrodome with nobody there, and that was, like, “Is this happening?” There were so many cool moments in that movie. I just loved it.
Wayne’s World 2 (1993)—“Mr. Scream”
TM: That was exciting to be a part of, because I love both those guys. At the time, I’d just come from this camp I was working at, a camp for kids with cancer called Dream Street, and I would go and live there for eight days. So I got the job while I was at the camp, and, y’know, when you leave this camp, you have no voice whatsoever. It’s seven nights and eight days of just non-stop, no-sleep action with these kids. So I thought, “Oh my God, I have no voice and they want me to be Mr. Scream?” So I showed up, and I said, “Look, I don’t have very many of these screams in me, so hopefully we can get it.” And they worked it out fine, but I’m sure they were, like, “Why did we hire this guy if he can’t scream?” [Laughs.] I loved the mislead of that, too, by the way. But Dana Carvey was… Well, both he and Mike were just so cool. One of them gave me a blanket that said Wayne’s World 2, and they just went out of their way to be extra kind and generous. I thought, “Wow, you guys are really cool!”
Hope & Faith (2003-2006)—“Charley Shanowski”
TM: Great. Loved it. One of my most favorite jobs, because they were totally open to input, and I could come up with bits. After we’d done what was written, we could try other bits, so… I had a lot to do with the character, and I was an integral part of that show, which was really exciting.
AVC: It was also a pretty long run, too.
TM: Three seasons. And I loved, loved, loved Kelly Ripa and Faith Ford. And then Megan Fox played my daughter. It was just ridiculous. I had an apartment in New York that I had to go back and forth from, and my family would come out and visit. Not often enough, unfortunately, because everybody was so busy. But that was a pretty cool gig. When you’re working in New York City, there’s not a lot that can beat it.
AVC: How weird has it been watching Megan Fox grow up?
TM: Well, actually, Megan’s always been sort of very mature, acting older than her age, so she hasn’t really changed that much. She’s maybe more secure now, but she was always real steady, very “yes” or “no” or “I’m not interested in that.” What everyone thinks she should be interested in, she’s not. She’s a really interesting person. So it’s been great to see her be successful, but it doesn’t shock me in the least, because she was always way funnier than everyone thought she was, and she’s obviously smoking hot, and she was amazing. I’ve seen people come and go through Hollywood, where you’re, like, “I don’t quite get what you have. What is it?” [Laughs.] With Megan, there was never any doubt, so it didn’t surprise me in the least. It’s been fun to watch, and I’m very proud of her. And, you know, she met [her husband] Brian Austin Green on our show.
TM: [Laughs.] That was also great and fun to be a part of. I remember the two girls were just sort of in their own world, and they were so good. Michelle Williams and… was it Kirsten Dunst? Yeah, I remember sitting there watching them, thinking, “Oh, my God, you guys are so good. This is really funny!” And then I had to work with Teri Garr, and we laughed so hard that we almost couldn’t do it. I mean, it was just so much fun, just a great, great job with her. I was so impressed with her. And she’d just been diagnosed with M.S. not too far before that. She just was amazing. And so enjoyable to work with. All we did was laugh. We laughed so hard. And I did see that one. [Laughs.] That one turned out pretty good.
Dynasty (1986-1987)—“Clay Fallmont”
TM: I was in a love triangle between Heather Locklear and Catherine Oxenberg.
AVC: And you got a paycheck on top of that?
TM: [Laughs.] Yeah. But I would’ve paid them. And gladly. One of the great jobs of all time. I did not like and did not appreciate the fact that it was sort of a nighttime soap opera, and they kept wanting me to do these… You know, there were guys on the show that would do these big, giant dramatic turns into the camera and stuff, and I kept saying, “I’m not doing that. I’m just not gonna do it.” So I think after a year and a half, they were, like, “Yeah, he’s not gonna do it.” [Laughs.] But I really enjoyed it. Jack Coleman and I, we had a great time. That was really a fun group. John Forsythe was just a great guy, and Joan Collins… You know, her reputation was really tough, and sort of cold and bitchy, but she was anything but. She was like a sexy pussycat, just always trying to push buttons to get reactions, but she was fun. I really liked her.
The John Larroquette Show (1995-1996)—“Karl Reese”
TM: Loved. [Laughs.] Well, I mean, my wife was on the show, so I felt a great responsibility. Because, you know, I think I got the part because of that, and I didn’t want to… [Hesitates.] It was one of the most stressful times for me ever, I think, because I didn’t want to embarrass her. And I’m never a guy who comes in and says, “Oh, I can do this,” anyway. I always walk in there thinking, “Oh, God, I hope I can do this.” But I’ll never forget it, because the audience had sort of a big… not a standing ovation, but it was a great reaction to it at the end, and I thought, “God, that was such a win!” I was so excited. That was neat. It was a very reaffirming moment for me as an actor, even though it was a small-scale thing.
Physical Evidence (1989)—“Kyle” / B.L. Stryker (1989)—“Mitch Slade” / Evening Shade (1990)—“Kyle Hampton”
TM: I met Burt Reynolds up in Toronto when I did Physical Evidence, which was directed by the other genius, Michael Crichton. He may not have been a genius director… [Laughs.] But he was a genius. Amazing. The guy’s brain was just ridiculous. But I met Burt there, and then Burt asked me to come down and do a play at his theater after that, and that’s where I met my wife. And then we just hit it off. We became friends right away, and whatever he had going on, I went in and did. I did a couple of B.L. Strykers and a few other things out there.
AVC: Do you still keep in touch?
TM: You know, I rarely talk to him. You know, I don’t want to be the guy… [Hesitates.] He knows that if he ever needed me or wanted me to bug him, I would, but I’m not that guy. He sort of has his perimeter up, so it’s hard to get in there sometimes, but we have friends who are still very close to him that we’re close with, so we’re on a constant Burt update as far as what’s going on with him. [Laughs.] My wife actually went out there with him to Indiana about a year ago, and he is 100 percent responsible for a large part of my life right now. I wouldn’t have my kids, I wouldn’t even know my wife if it wasn’t for Burt.
He loves young actors. There’s nobody better as far as that goes. He just wants to hang out with them. He loves that energy, he loves to laugh, he’s a great guy. His biggest problem was that he didn’t want to let go of being the world’s biggest movie star, and I think he might’ve been the happiest guy in the world if he’d just run a theater company with young actors, because that’s what he was good at. He was just so great. He directed our play, and I just thought, “This guy, this is where he belongs.”
The Love Boat (1983-1987)—“Ace Evans”
TM: I think you mean Ashley Covington Evans. [Laughs.] They called him Ace for short. That was a great gig. That was one of the all-time great gigs, one of the greatest, nicest casts I’ve ever been a part of, and just so much fun. [Laughs.] I mean, that job was a joke, it was so much fun. If you went on the cruises and you didn’t have a major storyline, you just played. Traveled and played and goofed around, and it was all first class. Aaron Spelling and Doug Cramer would give you first-class tickets for two people, and everything was top-notch. I thought, “Wow, nobody else does it like this.” And as far as the work goes, it was just… You know, what was so great was just to see all of these people come through. I mean, the people that came through there were amazing. Just one after the other. People you would never imagine did The Love Boat did The Love Boat.
AVC: Who were some of your favorites?
TM: Tom Hanks, for one. Colleen Dewhurst. Stewart Granger, I got to know him on one of the cruises, and he turned out to be really interesting. Ricky Martin was on there with Menudo. Janet Jackson. I’m trying to think of some of the others. I mean, honest to God, almost anybody from that era that you could think of was on the show. Milton Berle gave me so much grief. He would just come at me. I mean, it was all in good fun. He was having a laugh. At my expense. [Laughs.] But it was so funny. And Ted Lange and Fred Grandy and Gavin MacLeod and Bernie [Kopell], those guys, we just had so much fun. And they accepted me right away. They were just really cool. That was a great, great gig.
Married With Children (1989-1997)—“Jefferson D’Arcy”
TM: A great, great gig. Another one of the great gigs of all time. [Laughs.] Amazing cast, super-fun. I mean, I’d have to say that, looking back on the jobs I’ve had, I’ve been so lucky, because so many of them have been… There just aren’t any other shows like those. I never got a call on that show. No one ever said, “Be in at 9 a.m.,” or, “Be here by 10.” You’d look at the script, and you go, “Okay, I’m in the third scene, so I’ll come in at 10:45.” And if you were late, everybody went to the couch or went and got food in the little kitchenette area and then sat around and said bad things about you ’til you got there. [Laughs.] And we laughed and howled. That was brutal. But such a great show to be a part of. I’m proud I got to do that. It was fun for me, because I’d come from Happy Days and The Love Boat and kind of had one sort of audience, so when I went to Married With Children, it was, like, “Whoa, what happened here?” [Laughs.]
The hardest thing, what nobody really gets, is that when you come into a show, they’re waiting for you to be an asshole. They’re waiting for you to rock the boat and screw it up, and nobody really wants to have another person to deal with. All that stuff. So to get your point across, to do what you’d kind of like to do sometimes, you have to know not to step on toes and know when to keep your mouth shut sometimes. It’s kind of an art. It’s difficult. But I think one of the reasons guys have hired me more than once is that I grew up in athletics. I’m a team player. It doesn’t have to be about me, and I get what it means to be a team player, to be a part of it. I’m there to support everybody. And I think I take that approach when I work, and it’s worked out for me.
Batman: The Brave And The Bold (2011)—“Aquaman 2”
TM: Voice work is the best job in America. [Laughs.] There’s no doubt about it. Voiceover stuff, doing cartoons, you cannot have more fun than that. Animation stuff is really the greatest job. It doesn’t matter what you look like. You show up, do it, you go home. And when you’re there, you play. It’s like a fantasy. It’s really a cool deal. And I’ve loved all of those gigs I’ve done. That would be my ideal job.
AVC: The role on The Brave And The Bold also gave you a chance to poke a little fun at your reputation.
TM: Yeah, for sure. At that point—I don’t really know that it’s the greatest idea, but that one was pretty special and unique. I’ve been lucky enough to do a few Family Guys, too. Just little parts.
AVC: It has to be asked: How do you feel about people calling you “the patron saint of shark-jumping” and so forth?
TM: Um… [Sighs.] I used to have sort of a line that it wasn’t that big a deal. But look, this is the way I really feel. I’m ticked off that the guy who started it [Jon Hein, founder of JumpTheShark]—well, first of all, I feel like he got the idea from me. I mean, I’m the one who used to go around talking about how I’d been on all these shows. I’ve got articles from before the website came up where I was actually saying these things, quoted in the articles. So I sort of was my own worst enemy. But I don’t like the fact… I think it’s sad that the Internet is so filled with negativity, and that some guy who’s never done anything or couldn’t do anything can just get up and start this negative thoroughfare for just what a horrible guy I am, I guess. Or how horrible a show is. It’s just a copout. So, y’know, I’m unhappy that it exists, and I used to not make such a big deal about it, but I feel like it’s definitely damaged my career a little bit. I think there are people that are scared of that. Not many, but I think probably once or twice, someone will go, “Oooh, probably not.” It’s not been the highlight of my career, that’s for sure.
But the truth is, I can name actors who’ve had one show after another that just came and went like candy. My thing is that I’ve come on iconic, classic television shows, and… I mean, I worked seven and a half seasons on Married With Children, four on Happy Days, and probably three, three and a half on Love Boat. I didn’t just show up and then… I like to think I helped extend the life of the shows, and that I actually helped add to the show. And I don’t really appreciate being the one you can blame for it, because it’s actually not the case. I just think that it’s a shame that you can make a living doing something like [JumpTheShark]. It’s too bad, but that’s the way it goes. I feel like the whole thing has kind of died out somewhat. What I’d really like to do is figure out a way to profit off of it. [Laughs.] I don’t know how, but there’s gotta be a way. I’ve just got to figure it out.
It’s funny, because I’m at a weird stage. I’m in my 50s, you know? My wife’s in her 40s, and now she’s playing grandmas on television. But that’s just the way it works here. When you age up a little bit, things get trickier. I used to go out for shit in pilot season and have, like, three auditions in one day. This year, it was, like, three for the whole pilot season. And I tested for them, I went up for them, but it just gets trickier and trickier as you get older, so now I’ve got to sort of start thinking about what I might be doing. It’s going to be interesting.
AVC: At least you’re still keeping busy: You’ve done a couple of one-off episodes on shows like Psych and Breaking In, and if the IMDB can be trusted, you’ve got a pair of indie films in post-production—180 and Right Next Door.
TM: Yeah, and I could do that all the time, those little one-episode deals, but it’s hard for them to see you as a guy who can have a show if that’s what you’re doing all the time. But, you know, if I’ve got to keep my kids in health care and I’ve got to keep everyone fed, then I’ll do whatever I have to do.