His face is familiar, but odds are, you don't know his name. He's Ted McGinley, and he's been a working actor in Hollywood for more than 20 years. Is he successful? Sure, by the standards of an industry in which many more actors wait tables than actually appear on stage or screen.
But hiring him for your sitcom could be a huge risk -- because Ted McGinley may be cursed. Put him in your cast, and your TV show could be doomed.
Josh Mankiewicz: “Has anybody ever said anything to you, ‘Hey, by the way, we know about this?’"
Ted McGinley: “Then I say, ‘Aren't you scared to be standing next to me? Can you believe we're going to read this together?’"
So far in his career, McGinley has appeared on more than two dozen TV shows. And with each cancellation, he moves right on to the next.
Mankiewicz: “When a show goes down does any actor feel responsible, but not you?”
McGinley: “Often, possibly not enough, people have that feeling… But I certainly don't have that feeling, no.”
The McGinley curse was first spotted by "Jump the Shark," a website devoted to the ups and downs of television. In cyberspace, Ted is Jump the Shark's patron saint.
Jon Hein: “I don't think he comes onto a set and people are like, ‘Oh, there goes the show.’ But again, if you look at the track record, that's the result.”
Mankiewicz: “But when he's on the set, there goes the show?”
Hein: “Well, yeah.”
Jon Hein runs Jump the Shark. He's watched thousands of hours of TV, searching for the exact moment when a show begins to lose steam. The website's title refers to an old "Happy Days" episode, when the Fonz went water skiing and, yes, jumped over a shark.
Hein: “You pretty much knew it was all downhill from that point on.”
Mankiewicz: “And so "jumping the shark" is the point where a TV show has crested and begins to go downhill creatively?”
Hein: “Exactly, you feel it in your gut.You're watching your favorite show and it's like -- oh, why did they bring in the new cute kid for? They had a baby, why? And all those moments, you know them, when they happen. And that's when a show jumps.”
And Hein says, in moments like those, you'll often find one Ted McGinley. Here's the case against him. For his very first TV job, Ted joined "Happy Days" when star Ron Howard left after a salary dispute. Hein says the comedy went downhill fast. Ted then dropped anchor on "The Love Boat," playing the ship's photographer, Ace. Soon, Hein points out, the show fell from the top 20, to number 56 in the ratings. And soon could no longer be found in your local listings. Ted then landed on "Married with Children," as the new husband of next-door neighbor Marci. Hein says the sitcom's quality fell sharply, and then it too went off the air. Then, like a kind of Typhoid Mary of bad ratings, Ted showed up on "The Practice" in 2001, as a main character's sperm donor.
Two seasons later, ratings were down and half the cast was fired.
Hein: “Look, I wish him nothing but the best. But the bottom line, if you see him, the show's going to jump.”
McGinley: “I have to say, the first time I came across the website, it hurt my feelings. I was hurt by it. It's not fun to read those sort of things.”
McGinley says Jump the Shark has jumped the gun. Ted says he doesn't know about any "creative decline,” but in the real world of network executive sharks, Ted may actually keep shows alive.
His proof is that “Love Boat” stayed on the air three more seasons after he joined, four more seasons for "Happy Days," and seven extra seasons for "Married with Children."
McGinley: “After I came onto ‘Happy Days’ it went four and a half more seasons. Nowadays, if you could get two shows on the air, you've won.”
And it is true in Hollywood, that every show eventually goes off the air, and no single actor -- unless he's a big star -- can make or break a show. The scripts, the time slot, and the competition all make the real difference.
The best proof is that despite Jon Hein and his website, Ted keeps getting hired.
Mankiewicz: “It's never cost you any work?”
McGinley: “No ,not yet. Not yet. Once it does I'll find out where the guy lives and I'll hide out in the bushes with a big axe.”
Mankiewicz: [To camera] “At the time, we didn't take McGinley's threat seriously. Only later would we know.”
McGinley: “Now you know why I asked you where you lived before we began.” [Laughter]
Ted's working once again, this year on the new ABC sitcom "Hope & Faith." But co-star Kelly Ripa says she didn't know about the Jump the Shark curse when Ted joined the cast.
Kelly Ripa: “That whole website thing, first of all, I must be Ted's dream, because I don’t own a computer, I don’t know how to use a computer, so I am computer free.”
Still, Ripa says she's not worried. And neither were we -- until Ted brought it up.
McGinley: “You're very brave to have me on, by the way.”
Mankiewicz: “Yeah, well we've been on 10, 11 years now.”
McGinley: “Yeah. You're not going anywhere. You must feel very secure having me. The clock is ticking.”
I tried to laugh it off. But people at work didn't find it funny. Even my good friends seemed to be avoiding me. It all came to a head in New York.
Stone Phillips: “Hi Josh.”
Mankiewicz: “Hi Stone.”
Phillips: “So I hear you're doing a piece about Ted McGinley.”
Phillips: “Jump The Shark Ted McGinley?”
Mankiewicz: “In fact, that's what the story is about—“
Phillips: “What are you crazy?”
I needed an expert opinion.
Mankiewicz: “Is there anyway you can protect yourself from, you know, the McGinley hex?”
Hein: “Like an anti-McGinley device or something like that?”
Mankiewicz: “Yeah. If I coat myself in aluminum foil or something?”
Hein: “Not that I know of.”
Not good. But, then it hit me. Remember, even if Ted does kill TV shows, it often takes him years.
McGinley: “I look at it from the other point of view. When I come onto a show, I'm possibly extending the show, an extra year, an extra season.”
Mankiewicz: “That's how we look at it, having you on Dateline.”
McGinley: “I love Dateline, by the way.”
Mankiewicz: “Me too.”
And I do. But just in case, I’m looking into a second job at NBC, maybe flipping burgers.