How they got their start: Nancy McKeon

By: Start TV Staff     Posted: October 24, 2018, 12:39PM

Image: Sony Pictures Television

Nancy McKeon has come a long way since she was the girl who could cry on cue in Hallmark greeting card commercials. That's reportedly the reason she was cast in her most famous role, as Jo on the 1980s sitcom The Facts of Life. It was as the tomboy with a 'tude Jo that many viewers at home first met McKeon, when she joined the cast in 1980. Yet that fateful day when the new girl waltzed into Mrs. Garrett's dorm for girls was not actually the first time we saw McKeon dealing with tensions as a young kid learning the ways of the world.

No, the actress who decades later was cast on The Division as inspector Jinny Exstead, actually got her start on a TV crime drama. The year was 1977, and the show was Starsky & Hutch. McKeon appeared in overalls with a pink bow atop her head at the age of just 11 in the episode "The Crying Child." In it, she played the older sister of a boy who's being abused. It was a special episode that shed light on the challenges officers face in domestic abuse cases, and in it, McKeon shows range, smiling to cover up her brother's secret and shying away from help as her face falls when a teacher discovers the truth. If The Facts of Life was impressed by her emotional Hallmark commercials, just imagine how fast she'd have been cast if they'd caught this first role.

Before The Facts of Life, McKeon's child star chops saw her appear on shows like The Love Boat and Fantasy Island, and she also did voicework on Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! In 1979, she featured in a TV movie and short-lived series written by Stephen J. Cannell (The Rockford Files), both called Stone, but when that show didn't pan out, it freed her up to start learning the facts of life.

After her '80s series ended, McKeon starred in a couple short-lived sitcoms. The first was Can't Hurry Love, a show that followed four friends in New York, and the second Style & Substance, where she played a Midwesterner charged with taming a narcissistic business mogul played by Jean Smart (Designing Women). Neither show panned out, but McKeon's next pivot returned to her earliest crime drama roots.

On The Division, McKeon joined a long tradition of sitcom stars turned TV cops, following in the footsteps of Dick Van Dyke (The Dick Van Dyke Show/Diagnosis Murder), Buddy Ebsen (The Beverly Hillbillies/Barnaby Jones) and Ted Danson (Cheers/CSI: Crime Scene Investigation). It's a show that perfectly straddles the actress' worlds: depicting the personal conflicts between female characters just like The Facts of Life, only these woman all happen to be part of the same division of a police department, a unit with a bond as strong as Starsky & Hutch.

Watch The Division on Start TV


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