The Teen Drama Dads
Happy Father’s Day… to the teen drama dads!
Like the teen drama moms, some of the patriarchs on the core teen dramas were great. And some… weren’t. We had nearly perfect pops, deadbeat dads, and seemingly everything in between.
Let’s break it down!
Beverly Hills, 90210
Jim Walsh (James Eckhouse)
Do we have Jim to thank for “Beverly Hills, 90210”? If his accounting job never required the Walsh family to move to Beverly Hills, we wouldn’t have the premise that led to the show that kickstarted the genre. Like wife Cindy, Jim was a full-time presence for seasons 1 through 5. After another job-related move, this time to Hong Kong, he appeared in a season 7 episode (when son Brandon visited for Spring Break) and returned to Beverly Hills with Cindy in the season 8 finale. Read my 2010 interview with Eckhouse, in which we discussed his exit from the show, here.
Bill Taylor (John Reilly)
When Kelly’s dad was first glimpsed in the season 3 finale, he had no dialogue. And when he showed up in Beverly Hills in season 6, he was played by a different actor. With a recurring role, Reilly helped bring the complicated relationship between father and daughter to life in seasons 7 and 8 too. After the actor passed away earlier this year, I had the honor of participating in an edition of the “Beverly Hills 90210 Show” podcast dedicated to him.
John Martin (Michael Durrell)
What Felice Martin lacked in warmth, her better half made up for. But Donna’s dad wasn’t infallible. After all, in season 10, we learned that he wasn’t just Gina’s uncle… he was also her father. Hiding that for so long is pretty unforgivable, but Durrell — who recurred in more than 30 episodes — also had a way of making John pretty likeable. The episode dedicated to the character’s death, “Doc Martin,” is one of the series’ saddest and among my favorites.
Jack McKay (Josh Taylor)
A few different actors played Dylan’s dad, but Josh is really the only one who matters. Over the course of just 12 episodes, Jack wasn’t the greatest father, but Josh’s chemistry with Luke Perry was top-notch, evident both before Jack’s apparent death and when Dylan learns years later that his father is still alive and embarks upon a reunion. It should be noted the aftermaths of both John’s and Jack’s deaths made my list of Top 10 Saddest Moments back in 2009.
Other “Beverly Hills, 90210” Dads: Conrad Scanlon, Mel Silver, Rush Sanders, Kenny Zuckerman, Chancellor Arnold, Jesse Vasquez, Daniel Hunter, Ben Sosna, Steve Sanders
Mitch Leery (John Wesley Shipp)
As Dawson’s dad, Shipp powerfully conveyed the heartbreak of a man whose wife has cheated on him in the first season of “Dawson’s Creek.” And when his run as a series regular came to an end in season 5, he commanded the screen with parting scenes featuring not just James Van Der Beek, but also Katie Holmes and Joshua Jackson. Mitch’s fatal accident made my 2009 list of the Most Shocking Deaths, and Shipp discussed his departure with me that same year.
Mike Potter (Gareth Williams)
Joey’s father is behind bars when “Dawson’s Creek” begins. A season 1 scene in which she confronts him over his failings is also among the genre’s saddest in my book, though some may argue that title is more fitting for their season 2 confrontation before Mike heads back to prison. Williams only appears in seven episodes throughout the series, but in his season 6 appearance, he’s more of a typical dad — concerned about his daughter’s choice in boyfriend.
Other “Dawson’s Creek” Dads: Bodie Wells, John Witter, Principal Green, Theodore Lindley, Joseph McPhee, Greg Hetson
Sandy Cohen (Peter Gallagher)
Sandy regularly makes lists of television’s best dads. No, not best teen drama dads — best TV dads, PERIOD. The honor is well-deserved. As a series regular for all four seasons, Gallagher proved a master of both comedy and drama. And with a moral compass that virtually never strayed, Sandy may have been Seth’s father and Ryan’s surrogate dad, but that didn’t stop many of us from wishing he was ours too.
Jimmy Cooper (Tate Donovan)
Jimmy screwed up. A lot. But his intentions were usually pure… wanting to provide for his family and be there for daughter Marissa (and ostensibly Kaitlin too). Donovan was a series regular for the show’s first two seasons, bumped down to recurring status in season 3, and then only made one guest-starring appearance in season 4 — in one of my favorite holiday episodes.
Caleb Nichol (Alan Dale)
Kirsten and Hailey’s dad was really something else — a man more obsessed with business than family, to the point where he forced his illegitimate daughter, Lindsay, to take a DNA test. Dale recurred in the show’s first season, with the finale featuring Caleb’s wedding to Julie. But by the end of the following season — for which Dale was a series regular — he was dead of a heart attack, leaving much emotional damage in his wake.
Frank Atwood (Kevin Sorbo)
Ryan’s dad isn’t introduced until the series’ fourth and final season, having been in prison until that point. Ryan is in no hurry to reunite, but father and son eventually do and begin to repair their relationship. At the same time, Frank builds one of the romantic variety with Julie and they end up having a son together. Sorbo recurred in seven episodes.
Other “The O.C.” Dads: Carson Ward, Neil Roberts, Gordon Bullit
One Tree Hill
Dan Scott (Paul Johansson)
If Sandy is one of television’s best dads, Dan is certainly among the worst. When the series begins, he’s openly maligning Lucas, the child he had out of wedlock, and well, things only get worse from there. Johansson, as a series regular, was the show’s villain for the first seven seasons. He was a guest star in season 8 before rejoining the main cast for the ninth and final season, which offered Dan a redemption arc involving his other son, Nathan.
Keith Scott (Craig Sheffer)
Keith didn’t officially become a dad until after his passing, but who are we kidding? He was a father figure to Lucas from day one. And portrayer Sheffer was a series regular through most of season 3, with his status changing after Keith was shockingly murdered by Dan, his own brother. In seasons 4 and 9, Sheffer returned for special guest appearances that were typically quite moving. And it’s downright heartbreaking that little Lily, Keith’s daughter with Karen, never got to meet her father.
Other “One Tree Hill” Dads: Larry Sawyer, Jake Jaglieski, Jimmy James, Royal Scott, Nathan Scott, Mick Wolf, Paul Norris, Clay Evans, Ted Davis, Julian Baker
Rufus Humphrey (Matthew Settle)
Similar to Gallagher, Settle was one of the few teen drama dads to remain a series regular for the show’s entire duration. Rufus, a former rocker, was often a sounding board to son Dan, a concerned parent with Jenny, and an awkward stepfather with Serena (and Eric). He and Lily also bore another child, Scott, whose time on the show could be summed up as… confusing? Irrelevant? All of the above?
Bart Bass (Robert John Burke)
Jack McKay wasn’t the only father to come back from the “dead.” The billionaire businessman faked his death and had virtually no affection for son Chuck, with whom he was typically at odds, making Bart one of the show’s villains. Perhaps it’s only fitting then that when Bart died for real in the series’ penultimate episode, it was during a dispute with his only child. Burke recurred in nearly 30 episodes across four of the show’s six seasons.
Other “Gossip Girl” Dads: Howie Archibald, Harold Waldorf, Cyrus Rose, William Van Der Bilt, Vanya, William Van Der Woodsen, Russell Thorpe, Steven Spence, Chuck Bass
Harry Wilson (Rob Estes)
In the same way that Jim’s job led the Walshes to move to Beverly Hills, so did Harry’s, with the Wilson patriarch getting hired as the new principal at West Beverly (though relocating to be near his mother Tabitha was another motivation for the movie). That allowed him to be involved in kids Annie and Dixon’s lives at both home and school, and occasionally cross paths with the other young characters too. That all came to an end, though, after season 2, when Estes left the show despite being a series regular… and Harry left his family.
Ryan Matthews (Ryan Eggold)
A fling with Naomi’s older sister Jen results in an unexpected pregnancy, making Ryan a dad… except Jen doesn’t want her child to have a schoolteacher as a father (seriously), leading a distraught Ryan to drink and drive. The tables turn when Jen later abandons their son and Ryan takes on caregiving responsibilities. But in season 3, Ryan appears on the show less and less, even though Eggold was still a series regular. The character ultimately moves to Paris so he and Jen can co-parent… and then Eggold’s presence on the series was officially no more. You can check out my 2010 interview with Eggold here.
Other “90210” Dads: Charles Clark, Omar Shirazi, Ty Collins, Jeffrey Sarkossian, Spence Montgomery, Finn Court
Which teen drama dad could you see yourself cracking open a beer with? And which isn’t worthy of a fond Father’s Day celebration?
Reminder: TeenDramaWhore premium subscriptions include perks like exclusive content, fan interviews, trivia parties, and Zoom chats with the genre’s key players. Subscribe here!
I looooved Dan’s redemption arc in OTH’s last season. I usually never like the "parents storylines" in teen dramas, but I liked that one a lot. Also, I agree that Sandy Cohen is one of the best TV dads! That reminds me, did you hear in the last WTTOCB episode that Melinda mentioned a few times that Sandy was not a good parent? I was like whatttt? She didn’t explain why she thought that and I was super confused. I mean I personally think Seth was a bit too spoiled but that’s the only flaw I can think!