Gavin MacLeod was a serious actor. So why was he on The Love Boat?
Popular art is always held in a careful balance between the poles of critical and commercial success. While it's tempting to agree with the literati—the privileged few with the power to damn a show with the stroke of a pen—there's something to be said about just being popular. If art is meant to make us feel, then a show that connects with a huge amount of people is as (if not, more) worthwhile than a show that tickles the critics.
Take, for instance, The Love Boat. Even the creatives involved with the series understood that it wasn't of award-winning caliber. Instead, The Love Boat was meant as a pleasurable escape, an hour-long vacation. It had something for everyone. So climb aboard. They've been expecting you.
Gavin MacLeod, The Love Boat's Captain Stubing, had long been a star of both stage and screen before he set sail. His decades-long career saw him in hit shows like McHale's Navy and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. But MacLeod's choice to join the cast of The Love Boat was often met with consternation. He often fielded questions from critics like, "As an actor, how can you do a show like that?"
His answer shut journalists down, while also raising up the show that gave him top billing.
"As an actor, how can I not do a show like Love Boat?" Macleod asked the Scranton, Pennsylvania Times-Tribune in 1982. "It's successful. It's fun. It helps me support a lot of people. I did a song and dance number with Ginger Rogers last year. Where else but in Love Boat could you do that?"
The key to The Love Boat's success, and the factor that drew MacLeod into the show, was the way it appealed to the populace.
"If a show like Love Boat doesn't make it, there's no such thing as commercial television," he explained. "It's giving people what they want. The proof is in the ratings. We've been on six years and only lost our time slot three times."
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