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10 of the Best Classic TV Dads, Reverse Ranked — Just in Time for Father’s Day

Ward Cleaver, Andy Griffith and Mike Brady are only three television fathers who made the list; check out the rest


One of the traditions of television from the very beginning has been the family sitcom, and as we’re approaching Father’s Day, it seemed fitting that we take a look back at the classic TV Dads who have been at the center of many of them.

Everyone’s got their favorites, whether it be Leave It to Beaver‘s Ward Cleaver, Father Knows Best‘s Jim Anderson, My Three Sons‘ Steve Douglas, The Brady Bunch‘s Mike Brady, Happy Days‘ Howard Cunningham or Full House‘s Danny Tanner among so many others.

Whatever the show, the truth is that these TV Dads have largely served as role models for all of their children, and maybe some of us as well.

MUST-READ: 10 of the Best Classic TV Moms, Reverse Ranked — Just in Time for Mother’s Day

10. Herman Munster (The Munsters)

The cast of The Munsters, 1964
The cast of The Munsters, 1964©NBCUniversal/courtesy

You may look at Herman Munster (as played by Fred Gwynne on 1964 to 1966’s The Munsters) as something of a buffoon, crashing through doors, inadvertently reducing chairs to dust and getting involved with crazy schemes cooked up by Grandpa (Al Lewis), but at the same time, he’s a true family man. A loving husband to Lily (Yvonne De Carlo), uncle to Marilyn (Pat Priest) and, especially, father to young Eddie Wolfgang Munster (Butch Patrick). He always tries to instill loving advice and values (sometimes a bit off-kilter) in dealing with a world that looked at the Munsters as being odd, while they were more than comfortable in their own skins.

MUST-READ: Learn so much more about The Munsters

9. Jed Clampett (The Beverly Hillbillies): Classic TV Dads

The Clampetts from The Beverly Hillbillies, 1965
Irene Ryan as Granny Moses, Max Baer Jr. as Jethro Bodine, Donna Douglas as Elly May Clampett and Buddy Ebsen as Jed Clampett in The Beverly Hillbillies, circa 1965Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As the opening theme of The Beverly Hillbillies (1962 to 1971) informs us, hillbilly Jed Clampett (Buddy Ebsen) was shooting at some potential food when he inadvertently discovered oil, making the family instant millionaires. In response, they moved to Beverly Hills, creating one of TV’s great culture clashes. Joining him are mother-in-law Daisy May Moses, aka “Granny” (Irene Ryan), nephew Jethro Bodine (Max Baer Jr) and daughter Elly May (Donna Douglas), only child of Jed and his late wife, Rose Ellen Clampett.

Even though they’ve brought their hillbilly traditions to the land of movie stars, one thing Jed never loses sight of is offering just the right words of advice — even if they seem a bit out of place to us — to help Elly May navigate her new life. At the core of all the comic shenanigans is the fact that he’s a loving family man and father.

MUST-READ: Come and read some stories about a man named Jed … and The Beverly Hillbillies

8. Howard Cunningham (Happy Days)

The cast of Happy Days, 1978
The cast of Happy Days, 1978©Paramount Pictures/courtesy

When you look at Happy Days (1974 to 1984), the enormously popular sitcom set in the 1950s, there were lots of changes that took place over its 10-year run, particularly with the rise of the Fonz (Henry Winkler). But what seems to get lost in all the “ayyyyys” and debates between what is and isn’t cool, is the evolution of Howard Cunningham (Tom Bosley), husband of Marion (Marion Ross) and father to Richie (Ron Howard), Joanie (Erin Moran) and, ever-so-briefly, Chuck (Gavan O’Herlihy, who just kind of disappears).

When the show began, Howard was a fairly conservative father of the era, not easily able to communicate with his children, doing his best to be understanding to them in those changing times, but not always able to do so. As things went on, however, we saw him change and, while always the patriarch, he began taking on a more sympathetic light, was clearly there whenever he was needed and, as it turned out, not only a father to his own children, but to many of their friends as well (particularly Fonzie).

MUST-READ: See the Happy Days Cast Then and Now — And Find Out What They’re Doing Today

7. Danny Tanner (Full House): Classic TV Dads

Full House cast
The cast of “Full House” (1991) Franklin Productions

What’s become obvious in the compiling of this guide is just how many widowed fathers in sitcoms there have been. That’s certainly the case with Full House and patriarch Danny Tanner (the late Bob Saget), father of three girls: DJ (Candace Cameron), Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin) and Michelle (Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen). Danny, it should be noted, is a great father, but he also knows that he’s in over his head, so helping him to raise those young ladies are brother-in-law Jesse Katsopolis (John Stamos) and childhood best friend Joey Gladstone (Dave Coulier).

To be fair, Full House can be sweet to the point insulin may be required, but at its core it is incredibly focused on family and the joys, challenges and triumphs Danny goes through — with Jesse and Joey right beside him — in dong his best as a father and helping to guide his daughter.

6. Tom Corbett (The Courtship of Eddie’s Father)

Tom Corbett: Classic TV Dads
Bill Bixby and Brandon Cruz in The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, which ran from 1969 to 1972©MGM/courtesy

Widowed (there’s that word again) magazine publisher Tom Corbett (Bill Bixby) is raising his young son, Eddie (Brandon Cruz), mostly on his own, though there is some assistance from housekeeper Mrs. Livingston (Miyoshi Umeki).

What The Courtship of Eddie’s Father (1969 to 1972) has that so many other shows don’t, is the establishment of what feels like a genuine father/son relationship, the chemistry between Bixby and Cruz is absolutely tangible. Check out the show’s title song in the video above — it really nails their relationship and why Tom is such a great dad.

MUST-READ: Bill Bixby — The TV Icon’s Biographer and Colleagues Share the Secret Side of The Incredible Hulk Star (EXCLUSIVE)

5. Steve Douglas (My Three Sons): Classic TV Dads

Steve Douglas: Classic TV Dads
Fred MacMurray only had to work a few months a season, unlike everyone else involved with My Three Sons. Put that in your pipe and smoke it! Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

In a sense, My Three Sons (1960 to 1972) can be looked at as a forerunner to Full House in that widower Steve Douglas (Fred MacMurray) is left trying to raise his three boys, Mike (Tim Considine), Robbie (Don Grady) and Chip (Stanley Livingston), which he does with the help of his father-in-law, “Bub” (William Frawley). There would be plenty of changes to be sure over the show’s 12-season run, with characters marrying and moving out, Steve adopting young Ernie Thompson (Barry Livingston), Steve himself getting married and having a stepdaughter, Bub leaving with Uncle Charlie (William Demarest) moving in and so on.

But what never changed was Steve’s gentle fathering and the fact that his children, even if they may have disagreed with some of his decisions, never lost their love or respect for him either. It really connected with viewers even during those changing times, which says a lot about the strengths of My Three Sons.

MUST-READ: My Three Sons Stars Stanley and Barry Livingston Reveal 10 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets About the Classic Sitcom

4. Jim Anderson (Father Knows Best)

Jim Anderson: Classic TV Dads
The Father Knows Best cast.©CBS/courtesy

When Robert Young agreed to star in Father Knows Best (1954 to 1960), he was determined that the lead character, insurance man Jim Anderson, wasn’t viewed as a buffoon where the children were smarter than he was. He got his wish with this gentle family sitcom in which he frequently did get to prove that father did, indeed, know best. Joining him were Jane Wyatt as wife Margaret, Elinor Donahue as Betty, Billy Gray as Bud and Lauren Chapin as Kathy.

As noted, this was a gentle show, which is why one of Jim’s more snotty lines to Bud is so memorable. The teen had done something stupid — exactly what doesn’t matter — and Jim shook his head and said, “You know, there are times I wish I’d gotten to know you before I met your mother.”

Ooh, Jim Anderson gets an edge!

MUST-READ: What Happened to the Father Knows Best Cast Before, During and After the Show

3. Andy Taylor (The Andy Griffith Show): Classic TV Dads

Ron Howard, Frances Bavier and Andy Griffith in The Andy Griffith Show, 1964
Ron Howard, Frances Bavier and Andy Griffith in The Andy Griffith Show, 1964©Paramount Pictures/courtesy

The Andy Griffith Show (1960 to 1968) was set in idyllic Mayberry, a fictional community in North Carolina, that was all about old-fashioned values, but filled with people who you might consider a little “eccentric” (i.e. Otis the Drunk, Floyd the Barber, mechanic Gomer Pyle and Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife). But the voice of reason was widower (yep, another one) Sheriff Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith), who is raising son Opie (Ronny Howard) with the assistance of Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier).

There is probably no better example of Andy Taylor as a father than in the episode “Opie the Birdman,” in which the youth is outside playing with his slingshot, inadvertently killing a bird. Even though Opie is heartbroken over what he’s done, Andy has to resort to a bit of tough love to drive home the significance of his actions. Check it out in the two clips below.

For a show that’s usually so light, it really does capture the challenges of a father trying to raise his son with the proper morals (though we’re admittedly not too crazy about Opie fearing a “whippin'”).

2. Ward Cleaver (Leave It to Beaver)

Ward Cleaver: Classic TV Dads
American actors (clockwise, from left) Tony Dow, Hugh Beaumont, Jerry Mathers, and Barbara Billingsley pose together in a 1957 promotional portrait for Leave It to Beaver (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)

Like Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver (1957 to 1963) stands as a quintessential family sitcom, focusing on Ward Cleaver (Hugh Beaumont), his wife June (Barbara Billingsley) and their sons Wally (Tony Dow) and Theodore, nicknamed “The Beaver” (Jerry Mathers).

The humor is gentle as are the moral lessons, but Ward comes across as eminently compassionate and understanding no matter what his boys do, which may stem from the fact that Beaumont was deeply religious and a real-life minister. Look, a lot of it may seem corny by today’s standards, but it remains enormously heartwarming because the values Ward preaches remain true to this day (check out the video above to see what we mean).

MUST-READ: Much more about Leave It to Beaver and Its Stars

1. Mike Brady (The Brady Bunch): Classic TV Dads

Mike Brady: Classic TV Dads
The cast of The Brady Bunch (1970) Michael Ochs Archives / Stringer / Getty

There’s something fitting about the fact that Mike Brady, played by Robert Reed, tops this list of classic TV Dads given that his TV wife, Carol (Florence Henderson), led our look at television Moms. The reasons are very much the same: when he and Carol were married, they brought together their six kids and made them a true family, and we were able to see those kids evolve to adulthood through a variety of spin-offs that would take the story all the way to 1990.

Through it all, Mike was a true father to all of them, whether they were Carol’s girls or his boys, always knowing exactly what to say (though, as demonstrated in the clip above from The Brady Bunch Movie with Gary Cole as Mike, sometimes it was ripe for spoofing).

MUST-READ: Robert Reed — 12 Little-Known Facts About the Star Who Played Mike on The Brady Bunch

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