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Classic Television’s Greatest Douchebags (1950s-1980s)

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An essential element of a good TV show is having a character who audiences love to hate.  You can’t have a show consisting of only cheery do-gooders – you’ve got to have a character or two with issues to make things interesting.  Television of the 1950s-1980s was populated by an ample supply of these jerks, a-holes, and all-around douche bags…. and we loved them.  Here are the ones that make the top of my list, but please let me know of any glaring omissions and add your own!

 

boss-hogg-herb tarlek

Boss Hogg (“Dukes of Hazzard”) – Crooked and annoying as hell, but what would the show have been without him?

Herb Tarlek (“WKRP in Cincinnati”) – He was a sleazy salesman with no moral compass, but he was also a loser, which made him somehow endearing.

 

Mel on Alice, Louie on Taxi

Mel Sharples (“Alice”) – He was a grumpy taskmaster, but the waitresses loved him anyway, as did audiences.  “Hey, Mel… Kiss my grits!”

Louie DePalma (“Taxi”) –  Has there ever been a better douche bag of the small screen?  DeVito played the role to perfection.

 

dan fielding on night court_bookman on good times

Dan Fielding (“Night Court”) – He could have been just a one-dimensional cartoon of an asshole lawyer, but Larroquette made it so much more.

Nathan Bookman (“Good Times”) – “Buffalo Butt”, “Booger” were the names the Evans clan hurled at him, but I always felt a little bad for Bookman.  He wasn’t the greatest character in the world, but I have fond memories nonetheless.

Kirk on Newart and Eddie Haskell on Leave it to Beaver

Kirk Devane (“Newhart”) – Most people prefer Peter Scolari’s douchbag to Steven Kampmann’s Kirk Devane character who was cut from the show after the first season.  Not I.  I thought Kampmann’s comic timing was spot on, and was sad to see him go.

Eddie Haskell (“Leave it to Beaver”) – I would say “loved to hate” doesn’t really apply here.  I just “hated”.

Ted Knight on Mary Tyler Moore and Frank Burns on MASH

Ted Baxter (“The Mary Tyler Moore Show”) – The cocky airheaded newsman has been done many times, but Knight did it best.

Frank Burns (“M*A*S*H*) – Don’t get me wrong – I loved Winchester, but there was no replacing the weasley, yet hilarious, Frank.

 

Larry Hagman on Dallas, Cosmo Spacely on the Jetsons

 J.R. Ewing (“Dallas”) – An adulterous and ruthless prick, yet audiences couldn’t get enough of JR.

Cosmo Spacely (“The Jetsons”) – From Mr. Slate on “The Flintstones” to Mr. Twinkacetti on “Perfect Strangers” TV is riddled with jerk bosses; however, my personal favorite is the damn-near-abusive Spacely.  (Mr. Burns on “The Simpsons” is just a wee bit too evil to make this list.)

 

mr roper and archie bunker

Stanley Roper (“Three’s Company”) – Sure, he was wildly homophobic, a cheapskate, and a horrible landlord, but Fell played him in a non-threatening, humorous manner that was both awful and adorable.

Archie Bunker (“All in the Family”) – Perhaps the textbook definition of loveable douchbag.  He epitomized the racist hard-boiled attitude which the “enlightened” Boomers sought to replace.  Yet, O’Connor gave the character warmth and depth, and kept the character from being an unlikable cartoon…. in fact, propelling the character to become one of TV’s all time greatest.

But before we go, I think it’s only fair to give a quick shout out to the ladies.  Although, none can claim to be TV’s greatest “douchebags”, there was no shortage of mean spirited and hard-hearted gals on classic television….

Agnes_Moorehead_Bewitched_Alison Arngrim Little House on the Prairie

Endora (“Bewitched”) – She made Darrin’s life a living hell.  Given that Darrin, himself, was no prize, we secretly routed for her.

Nellie Olson (“Little House on the Prairie”) – The cast of the The Bad Seed seem like angels compared to nasty Nellie.

There’s plenty more where these came from. Perhaps, there needs to be a “Classic Television’s Greatest Bitches” list in the near future.

  • Nick25

    Archie Bunker DOES NOT belong on this list!

    • Hmm. I agree that curmudgeon doesn’t equal douche, so maybe it’s a bit harsh. However, I’ve had a chance to watch some episodes of late, and Arch does have moments of borderline douchbaggery.

      • Nick25

        Every friggin’ thing Archie ever said was dead on accurate! Meathead should be the douche that’s on this list!!!!

      • BG

        Funny thing is Archie is supposed to be a Republican WASP…in real life, he would’ve been a Catholic Union Democrat who rightly thought his hippie son in law was a meathead.

  • johnbrooks

    No list could top old Ferretface, Frank Burns.

  • Fred Johansen

    The Newhart one is a tough call. I did love Scolari in Newhart which I personally think was one of the greatest series of the 80’s and that’s saying alot.

  • The4thStooge

    I thought I knew my Newhart, but I’d totally forgotten that Steven Kampmann was the show’s first douchebag. Then again, I remember the “Larry, Darryl and Darryl” era most.

    Ah, Vic Tayback and “Alice.” The show that inspired me to want to be a waitress…until my parents told me what a waitress does, and that it’s not nearly as fun as TV made it look. The fact that I was 5 may have had something to do with it.

  • Jacques Shellac

    Mason Capwell on the Soap Santa Barbara. Classic douche!

  • Frank Burns was a great antagonist to the rest of The Swamp and was great as a foil for the other characters, but it was one note. Winchester, on the other hand, was never the like-for-like replacement for Burns. He could be sympathetic or pompous, a hero or an obstruction (never a villain), difficult or a helping hand. That’s not to say Winchester was inconsistently written; he was a finely drawn character and superbly played by David Ogden Stiers. Winchester could never be on this list.
    Now Herb Tarlek was a classic douche; almost at odds with everyone else in the cast. He always assumed he and Jennifer Marlowe were destined to be and to be fair she did string him along quite a bit. However, like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day she was hoping he’d change but of course he never did.

  • The sad thing is Herb Tarlek is real. Most radio sales guys are douchebags, who work to try a get the on-air staff fired out of jealousy. The bad thing is management will listen to these guys, even though they are lying through their teeth 90 percent of the time. We had a Herb at the radio station I work for. His suits we better looking but he had the worse toupee and drank on the job.

    Let me also say you left one off: Dr. Kelly Brackett from Emergency. This guy yells at everyone one on the staff because they aren’t up to his standards. How many times did Dr. Early and Nurse Dixie tell him he was being a jerk and he never changed.

  • Beppo1963

    Phil Hartman’s portrayal of the odious-yet-awesome Bill McNeal on Newsradio would deserve inclusion if this list was broadened to include the 90’s.