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Dads on TV are No Longer as Perfect, But More Real

Once upon a time, you could count on dads — at least the ones on your favorite primetime television shows. They were reliable and predictable. You always knew they would arrive home in time for dinner and chime in with wise words of advice. But, times have changed and so have the dads on the small screen.

Just in time for Father’s Day, Forbes.com looks back at the evolution of the TV Dad from the 50s-today. In the TV Dinner decade, Jim Anderson and Ward Cleaver ruled the roost on “Father Knows Best” and “Leave it to Beaver,” respectively. After arriving home from their 9-5 jobs, they would take off their suit jackets, unbutton their ties and help solve family problems.

In the turbulent 60s and 70s, TV dads lost their footing. For instance, Archie Bunker on “All in the Family” was deeply flawed — he was angry, selfish and prejudiced.

By the conservative 80s, dads regained their standing in TV households. Bill Cosby always had a wise — and funny – piece of advice for his kids on “The Cosby Show.”

The late 80s and 90s saw the rise of the “idiot dad,” according to Forbes.com. Think of Homer Simpson and Al Bundy on “The Simpsons” and “Married with Children.” “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Family Guy” continued the trend of the ineffectual, bumbling dad.

“It used to be that father knew best, and then we started to wonder if he knew anything at all,” says Matt Roush, senior television critic at TV Guide Magazine. “Dads became bumbling fools and the butts of jokes.”

As I recently wrote, TV moms have changed quite a bit since the 50s too. But while there’s a trend towards dysfunctional moms, the depiction of dads on TV is a bit more nuanced.

TV Dads are becoming more complex. “Modern Family” and “Parenthood” are two perfect examples — they each feature a variety of dads playing all sorts of family roles. On “Parenthood,” there is a stay-at-home dad, an old-fashioned solve everything dad, and an “accidental” single dad trying to make good. “Modern Family” features a same-sex couple that struggles through adoption and fatherhood and an older father with a second family.

“We’re getting a real insight into dads now,” says dad Dean McDermott, who stars in Oxygen network’s reality show Tori and Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood with his wife, Tori Spelling. “Parenthood doesn’t come with a manual, and we’re seeing dads make mistakes and in different situations. It’s about time. It takes the pressure off us.”

Who is your favorite TV dad?

Photo: Oxygen Media

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