© 2021 KSUT Public Radio
NPR News and Music Discovery for the Four Corners
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Arts & Life

If TV Has It, Alan Thicke Probably Did It

Seen earlier this month at the Whistler Film Festival, Alan Thicke had a long career in lots of aspects of television.
Seen earlier this month at the Whistler Film Festival, Alan Thicke had a long career in lots of aspects of television.

Steven Keaton of Family Ties was more earnest. Phillip Drummond of Diff'rent Strokes was more reserved. Al Bundy of Married ... With Children was more outrageous. But perhaps no sitcom dad of the '80s was more purely genial than Jason Seaver, played by Alan Thicke, who died Tuesday at 69.

Family shows had hooks then — as they do now — and on Growing Pains, the hook was that mom Maggie (Joanna Kerns) went back to work as a journalist, meaning Jason, a psychiatrist, set up his office from home and took over more of the day-to-day responsibilities with their three kids. As is often the case on TV, they had a troublemaking one (Mike), a brainy one (Carol) and a wisecracking one (Ben). At the time the show bowed, in 1985, the idea of a TV father who was a primary caretaker because his wife was at work rather than because she was dead was still relatively novel, and it wouldn't have worked without Thicke's careful balance of two well-worn tropes: the cool dad you could talk to and the embarrassing dad who was a complete goober.

Perhaps it's only right that this fall, he had a cameo in the pilot of This Is Us, NBC's new, surprisingly successful family drama — which features a dad of the 1970s and '80s.

It follows logically that Alan Thicke put a stake in the ground as a TV character, simply because he was so much a creature of television in so many different ways. He'd been a writer for shows and specials starring performers including Paul Lynde, Bobby Darin, Flip Wilson and Richard Pryor. (Richard Pryor! And Alan Thicke!) He wrote for Fernwood Tonight. In fact, he never got an Emmy nomination for Growing Pains, but he got two as a writer, for America 2-Night, a later Fernwood incarnation, and a Barry Manilow special. (Barry Manilow! And Alan Thicke!)

He had multiple talk shows and, inevitably, a reality show called Unusually Thicke.

And, not for nothing, he wrote or co-wrote some of the catchiest TV theme songs ever written, back when TV had catchy theme songs. He co-wrote this one, for Diff'rent Strokes.

He co-wrote this one, for The Facts of Life.

He wrote themes for game shows, too — one for The Joker's Wild and the first one for Wheel of Fortune.

He really never stopped. He was in the Netflix Full House follow-up, Fuller House. He was absorbed in recent years into the Hallmark movie universe, where he played bosses and brusque but loving fathers. He was — in a nod to his Canadian-ness — an old collaborator of Robin's teen-pop alter ego, Robin Sparkles, on How I Met Your Mother. He was a judge on Top Chef Canada.

Alan Thicke was a guy who worked — a lot. He talked, he hosted, he wrote, he acted, he made music. And he tweeted. In fact, just a few days ago, he tweeted a link to a piece in which he told a reporter that by a certain point in a career, one is either "an icon or a punchline."

"P.S.," he added. "I alternate."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Related Stories