Gavin MacLeod was a serious actor. So why was he on The Love Boat?

The actor opens up about the critically-derided show.

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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9 Comments

murgatroid45 4 months ago
He also starred as overweight mobster "Big Chicken" on Hawaii 5-0.
AgingDisgracefully 5 months ago
Why? Maybe because the James Bond roles weren't being offered.
McGillahooala 5 months ago
My rule of thumb, if the critics hate a show, it’s got to be good.
Bapa1 5 months ago
I read his auto-biography. Between McHale's Navy and The MTM show, he was constantly taking any role he could. When he was offered LB, he didn't want to repeat the process. It was strictly for the money, and who could blame him.
15inchBlackandWhite 5 months ago
Professional actors, particularly experienced ones like Gavin McLeod, know that it's a very tough career choice. Years of workshops and soap commercials and Shakespeare in the Park and dinner theater in Akron, Ohio while waiting tables and catching odd jobs hoping to get your big break. They learn from that experience that unless a project is at an Ed Wood level of horrifically bad you don't turn down a steady paycheck.
Yep. Gotta get paid if you’re going to survive. So many people can never take an actor seriously after they do something like the Waltons or Little House or something similar. That actor’s not necessarily some lame weirdo, they’re just trying to make a living. We all do jobs we would prefer to not do.
Andybandit 5 months ago
GM is very good on LB, MTM, and HH.
Runeshaper 5 months ago
I think a lot of people enjoyed The Love Boat. Who wouldn’t want to find love on a cruise 🚢?
Leannap 5 months ago
I love watching The Love Boat. It's my favorite show!
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