So you saw Ted McGinley on Mad Men, right? Fun. I don’t know if it was the way he was made up, or simply because I’m slow on the uptake, but I didn’t quite recognize him at first, and then I slowly started to realize that I’d seen this guy somewhere, and then I finally realized he was McGinley. I think that’s one possible advantage of Mad Men‘s anti-spoiler fetish: because they don’t release any details of who’s going to be in an episode, a familiar face like McGinley or Linda Cardellini actually has some kind of impact, as you start to recognize them through the ’60s clothes and makeup. Most shows publish the guest cast list in advance, and that does take away from the fun of recognition.
We should note, though, that the idea of Ted McGinley as the man who destroys TV shows has been over for a long time. I don’t even think the creator of “Jump the Shark” was even seriously suggesting that he was a jinx, since it didn’t make any sense – Married… With Children did fine with him in it. However, some people resented him replacing David Garrison, and the fact that he joined most of the other shows he’d joined had been dying either in the ratings or artistically or both: Happy Days, The Love Boat, Dynasty. Plus he popped up for a few episodes on The John Larroquette Show after that show jumped the shark (which is to say, after the first season). So he was easy for TV fans to identify as a sign of shark jumping, and that was his main identity.
But now, McGinley is almost that guy you bring onto a show to prove that you’re immune to the so-called curse. I recall that when he popped up on Sports Night, his first big part after Married ended and after the JTS site became popular, it almost seemed like Aaron Sorkin was defying the curse, or at least demonstrating that it wouldn’t affect him. I don’t know if that was his intention (with that or McGinley’s part on West Wing; it could be he just likes his acting), but that’s what it felt like. And with Mad Men, his appearance has gotten a huge amount of buzz for the show, even though all this buzz is based on a website that doesn’t even exist any more. You could say that bringing Ted McGinley on is a wise move for a show; he’ll get twice the publicity another actor will get, and when the show then does not implode, it’ll seem like a major victory.
As to why McGinley got added to so many shows, in some ways it was just an example of how writers and producers use the same people when they move from show to show. After he was chosen to be the new “nice guy” on Happy Days after Ron Howard left. (The role never worked, but McGinley managed to avoid blame. He emerged from his four years on the show as a good-looking guy who could play comedy fairly well, and that’s a combination that’s always in demand.) When that show ended, there weren’t a lot of sitcom jobs left, and some of the writers wound up going over to another geriatric comedy franchise, The Love Boat. McGinley had already been tested out as a guest character on that show, and now he became a regular. When The Love Boat finally ran out of gas, Aaron Spelling, who always liked to use the same actors over and over again if he liked them (see Locklear, Heather) transferred him to Dynasty for a year. And then he got Married With Children, which had a couple of writer-producers who’d worked on Happy Days . I don’t think they wrote for McGinley’s seasons, but they liked and appreciated the shock value of casting wholesome sitcom people in non-wholesome parts, since the whole show was based on the idea of doing all the stuff they couldn’t get away with when they worked on other sitcoms.
So the guy has had a good career, and it eventually led him to some guest parts on classy dramas like West Wing and Mad Men. But the reason he kept joining shows in mid-run, probably, is just that Hollywood is a small town, producers have a small circle of actors they like and trust, and Happy Days made him a known quantity: they knew he could act a bit, and that he could fit into an existing show without embarrassing everybody.