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5 TV Dads Who Deserve a Mug

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Loyal viewers are familiar with those stalwart TV dads like Cliff Huxtable and Ward Cleaver. But in honor of Father's Day, we thought we'd salute some of the lesser-known, unsung TV patres familias who have been overshadowed by those with better syndication deals.

1. The Single Dad Who Wasn't Meant to Be

Picture 42.pngEight is Enough was based on the writings of newspaper columnist Tom Braden. Dick Van Patten was cast as the patriarch of the Bradford family. The series was supposed to be a typical mom-dad-kids nuclear family comedy/drama, but Diana Hyland, who was cast as wife Joan Bradford, was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy after filming just four episodes. She never returned to the show, and her death was written into the show. Scripts were quickly re-written and Van Patten did an admirable job of playing a single dad raising eight children (none of whom looked like they could be remotely related to one another). The Powers That Be eventually decided that the Bradford family needed a mother figure, so Tom married Abby, who'd been written into the series as his son's tutor.

2. The Dad Who Was Inspired by the Show

Picture 6.pngThe Courtship of Eddie's Father was based on a 1963 film. In the TV version, Bill Bixby played Mr. Eddie's Father (as he was always addressed by Mrs. Livingston, his Japanese housekeeper). He was a widower raising a young son (Brandon Cruz), and each episode featured some serious dad-and-son bonding time, when the pair would wander the beach or play in the park and ponder life's minutiae. It was all very crunchy granola parenting which was never practiced by any dads in my neighborhood"¦for that matter, none of the fathers on my block regularly sported wind-blown hair, bell bottom slacks and chest-revealing shirts. In real life, Bixby was so impressed with Cruz that he longed to have a family of his own. He eventually married and had a son, Christopher, on whom he doted. Tragically, Christopher was only six years old when he died of cardiac arrest brought on by acute epiglottitis. Bixby and Cruz remained close until Bixby's passed away in 1993.

3. The Dad Who Kept It Cool

Picture 51.pngWhen it comes to TV dads, was there any more tolerant than Steven Keaton? Remember his reaction on an episode of Family Ties upon returning home from a weekend vacation to find that Alex had turned the family home into a hotel for rabid college sports fans during his absence: "Parents are conditioned to put up with a few minor accidents when they leave their children home alone. A broken vase, spilled milk on the rug. There was a kangaroo... in my living room." (Spoken in the measured, even tones that Michael Gross made Steven's trademark.) Sure, there were times when he'd occasionally lose his cool (such as during a game of Scrabble, when he insisted that the family not only accept Zoquo "“ Greek for water sports - as a word, but must also use it in casual conversation), but overall he was the understanding, level-headed dad that we all wished we'd had.

4. The Dad Who Irritated His Sons
Picture 7.pngBen Cartwright was nothing if not tenacious. The Bonanza patriarch went through wives like modern men go through tube socks. Luckily, despite Indian attacks and horse riding accidents, each of his wives lasted long enough to provide him with a son. Adam, Hoss and Little Joe Cartwright helped their devoted Pa to manage the half-million acre ranch called The Ponderosa. Behind the scenes, all was not well with the eldest of the Cartwright clan. Pernell Roberts, who played Adam, was tired of wearing his toupee, but since he was only 13 years younger than Lorne Greene, the producers wanted him to look as young as possible. Roberts also bristled at having to refer to Greene as "Pa," saying that a 34-year-old university-educated son would never address his father thusly. Roberts departed the show after six seasons, but Bonanza carried on for an additional eight without him.

5. The Dad Who Was a Cad Off Set
Picture 8.pngCharles Ingalls of Little House on the Prairie fame was the ideal dad to a generation of late 70s kids whose fathers were spending more time at work than at home. He was a hardscrabble bootstraps kind of guy who never had two nickels to rub together yet he always had time to spend with his ever-expanding family. It was Landon's hope that Little House fans would ignore the tabloid reports of his canoodling with on-set makeup artist Cindy Clerico (who would eventually become his third wife) and focus on the solid family values expressed on his show instead.

So who is your favorite TV dad? We left quite a few off our list, from Hank Hill to Doggie Daddy, because we were sort of on the fence about them and wanted our loyal readers to chime in with their votes.

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Shhh...super secret special for blog readers.

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The Time Douglas Adams Met Jim Henson
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On September 13, 1983, Jim Henson and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams had dinner for the first time. Henson, who was born on this day in 1936, noted the event in his "Red Book" journal, in characteristic short-form style: "Dinner with Douglas Adams – 1st met." Over the next few years the men discussed how they might work together—they shared interests in technology, entertainment, and education, and ended up collaborating on several projects (including a Labyrinth video game). They also came up with the idea for a "Muppet Institute of Technology" project, a computer literacy TV special that was never produced. Henson historians described the project as follows:

Adams had been working with the Henson team that year on the Muppet Institute of Technology project. Collaborating with Digital Productions (the computer animation people), Chris Cerf, Jon Stone, Joe Bailey, Mark Salzman and Douglas Adams, Jim’s goal was to raise awareness about the potential for personal computer use and dispel fears about their complexity. In a one-hour television special, the familiar Muppets would (according to the pitch material), “spark the public’s interest in computing,” in an entertaining fashion, highlighting all sorts of hardware and software being used in special effects, digital animation, and robotics. Viewers would get a tour of the fictional institute – a series of computer-generated rooms manipulated by the dean, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, and stumble on various characters taking advantage of computers’ capabilities. Fozzie, for example, would be hard at work in the “Department of Artificial Stupidity,” proving that computers are only as funny as the bears that program them. Hinting at what would come in The Jim Henson Hour, viewers, “…might even see Jim Henson himself using an input device called a ‘Waldo’ to manipulate a digitally-controlled puppet.”

While the show was never produced, the development process gave Jim and Douglas Adams a chance to get to know each other and explore a shared passion. It seems fitting that when production started on the 2005 film of Adams’s classic Hitchhiker’s Guide, Jim Henson’s Creature Shop would create animatronic creatures like the slovenly Vogons, the Babel Fish, and Marvin the robot, perhaps a relative of the robot designed by Michael Frith for the MIT project.

You can read a bit on the project more from Muppet Wiki, largely based on the same article.

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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.

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