Gerald McRaney thought it was time to get into uniform after seven years as laid-back detective Rick Simon on "Simon & Simon."
"I'd wanted to do a show about somebody in the service to show the human side," says McRaney, who stars in the new CBS comedy "Major Dad.""I'd gotten fed up with people in the service being portrayed as bumbling fools or Rambos. I have a lot of friends and relatives in the service. They're just ordinary people. I wanted to do a sitcom. I couldn't face the rigorous schedule of doing another hour show."
McRaney plays Marine Maj. John D. MacGillis in "Major Dad," which opens CBS' Monday night comedy block. His new bride, Delta Burke,is one of the stars of "Designing Women," which follows later in the evening.
Unlike Rick Simon, MacGillis is ramrod straight, neat from his pressed uniform to his polished boots and has his receding hair cut so short he almost looks bald.
MacGillis, a conservative career officer, marries a liberal newspaper reporter who is a widow with three daughters. The longtime bachelor, a man long used to an environment of men, suddenly finds himself surrounded by women. The major's wife, Polly, is played by Shanna Reed.
"Polly may be liberal, but she's steeped in a lot of old-fashioned ideals," McRaney says. "Rearing her children has top priority with her. But the show's about more than just a nuclear family. Most of the stories take place in the home.
"You knew that Ozzie Nelson was a band leader from the radio show but on television you never knew what he did for a living. Here, you see Mac at work. Some of it takes place at his office, and the Marine Corps is a family, too."
MacGillis is a hardnose, which is the nature of the business, but he's also very good at what he does. McRaney portrays him as a man who's dedicated and cares about his job and the people he works with. He sees the major as a man whose skills would allow him to take a much higher-paying civilian job. He remains in the Marine corps out of patriotism and a sense of duty.
On "Simon & Simon," televised by CBS from 1981-88, McRaney played the offbeat, casually dressed half of the brother-detective team. In fact, Rick Simon almost reached the point of being lazy. He rode around in an old pickup truck and lived on a houseboat. A.J. Simon, played by Jameson Parker, was conservative, clean-cut and aggressive.
"I have mixed emotions about `Simon & Simon' ending," he says. "Its time was due, but I miss working with the people. Well, most of the crew's on `Major Dad.' I miss working with Jameson. I'm thinking of having him come in the show as my liberal brother-in-law. Maybe an attorney for the ACLU."
McRaney says if he had to define himself he would say he's a conservative. "I'm a registered Democrat," he says, "but I'm a conservative in that I believe in conserving ideals and values that have proven correct. Some people say that's rigid, but there's a big difference."
McRaney was born in Mississippi and began working as an actor in New Orleans before moving to Los Angeles. His first job here was on an episode of "Night Gallery." After that came roles on "The Rockford Files" and "Gunsmoke" before landing a starring role on "Simon & Simon."
He met Delta Burke when he did a guest role on an episode of "Designing Women." He played Dash Goff, one of the former husbands of her character, Suzanne Sugarbaker.
"I don't see how I could go back (on `Designing Women') again with both of us working," he says. "I told them the only way I could go back as Dash with this Marine haircut was that I could explain he's taking chemotherapy.
"Besides, Delta and I have been busy getting married and honeymooning. We bought a place in Pasadena. We're still thinking about buying a house in the South since we're both from the South."
They are developing a television movie called "Love and Curses," in which they would play a couple in the manner of "The Thin Man."
The idea for "Major Dad" came up when McRaney was still on "Simon & Simon."
"We went through a lot of proposals," McRaney says. "He was going to be the widowed father of three. We decided that was a bummer. Then we decided he should marry a widow of three. That's less depressing. He was always in the Marine Corps. We thought of making him a drill instructor. I thought he should be an officer because a D.I. is too much of a stereotype. You know, the image of barking at the children. We picked the rank of major because of my age, which is 42."