If you watched television on a Friday night in the 1990s, it was hard to escape the family-friendly programming block known as “TGIF.” From 1989 to 2000, ABC’s clever marketing campaign turned a block of its Friday night sitcoms into one marathon viewing session. As Hulu readies to relaunch the retro lineup of shows, we're going back to the ‘90s and behind the scenes of these classic sitcoms.
1. THE SAME MUSICIANS WROTE THE THEMES FOR FULL HOUSE, PERFECT STRANGERS, FAMILY MATTERS, AND STEP BY STEP.
Jesse Frederick was the performer, and Bennett Salvay was the writing partner. (Jeff Franklin also received a writing credit for the Full House theme.)
2. THE ORIGINAL PREMISE FOR FULL HOUSE WAS CALLED HOUSE OF COMICS.
Jeff Franklin, a former writer for Laverne & Shirley, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, and Bosom Buddies (where Bob Saget was the warm-up comic) initially conceived of a show about three stand-up comedians living in the same house. ABC told him they were looking for their own version of the very popular family-oriented shows of the time, like Family Ties, so he made some changes.
Franklin admitted that he never thought ABC would like his idea, and that the scenario he dreamed up of a widower inviting his best friend and his brother-in-law to live with him and help raise his children is a scenario that exists “nowhere in the real world.”
3. PERFECT STRANGERS WAS INSPIRED BY THE 1984 OLYMPICS.
Television producers Thomas Miller, Robert Boyett, and Dale McRaven all agreed that watching international athletes experience American life while in Los Angeles for the 1984 Summer Olympics got them thinking about exploring that kind of culture shock in a series. While Bronson Pinchot was their first choice for European immigrant Balki, he had already committed to another show, Sara, for NBC. When that show was canceled, he agreed to do Perfect Strangers.
4. YOU CAN CREDIT (OR BLAME) PERFECT STRANGERS FOR FAMILY MATTERS.
It’s not often that a spinoff exceeds the popularity of the original, but Family Matters proved otherwise. The elevator operator in Balki and Cousin Larry’s apartment building in Perfect Strangers was Harriette Winslow (Jo Marie Payton), who made regular appearances in the third and fourth seasons along with her police officer husband, Carl (Reginald VelJohnson). The characters migrated to their own series in fall 1989, which turned Jaleel White’s Urkel into a superstar. (Bronson Pinchot and Mark Linn-Baker filmed a cameo for the Family Matters pilot, but it never aired.)
5. STEVE URKEL WAS ONLY SUPPOSED TO APPEAR IN ONE EPISODE OF FAMILY MATTERS.
Though it’s difficult to imagine the Winslow family without their nerdy neighbor, Steve Urkel was never intended to be a regular character on the show—let alone its main character. His introduction came about midway through the first season, and he was originally slated to appear in just a single episode. But the suspenders-wearing pre-teen was an instant hit with audiences, and his role was quickly beefed up to meet—and sometimes overindulge—audience demand.
6. DINOSAURS WAS PARTIALLY INSPIRED BY A CHOW MEIN COMMERCIAL.
In a DVD special feature segment titled Pre-Hysterical Times: The Making of Dinosaurs, Jim Henson’s son, Brian, says that his father’s early work for La Choy brand Chinese food planted the seed for a show about walking, talking dinosaurs. “The La Choy dragon just wrecked everything, and I think my dad always thought that was a hilarious character. I think maybe [Dinosaurs] had the roots in that.”
7. ABC RAN AN INTERNET POLL ASKING WHETHER CORY AND TOPANGA SHOULD GET MARRIED ON BOY MEETS WORLD.
Boy Meets World creator Michael Jacobs wanted the show’s iconic couple to marry before the show ended. ABC disagreed with the decision. The network executives thought that the characters, who were 20 years old, were far too young to get married. It was actually Jacobs who suggested the Internet poll. The audience wanted to see their favorite couple marry, and they did midway through the last season.
8. THE UNOFFICIAL PILOT FOR SABRINA, THE TEENAGE WITCH AIRED ON SHOWTIME—AND FEATURED RYAN REYNOLDS.
On April 7, 1996, nearly six months before Sabrina, The Teenage Witch premiered, the show's "unofficial pilot" premiered as a TV movie on Showtime. In the movie, Sabrina's last name was Sawyer. Ryan Reynolds portrayed Seth, Sabrina's (short-lived) love interest.
9. MR. BELVEDERE’S CHRISTOPHER HEWETT HAD ALREADY PLAYED A TV BUTLER.
Before being cast as Mr. Belvedere, Christopher Hewett popped up on American television in 1983 as another butler: Lawrence, a replacement for the departing Hervé Villechaize, on Fantasy Island. The roles were not necessarily foremost on his mind: In 1986, he described his typecasting as a house servant to be a “terrible bondage.”
10. MARY-KATE AND ASHLEY OLSEN WERE HIRED FOR FULL HOUSE BECAUSE THEY DIDN'T CRY AT THEIR AUDITION.
Because child labor laws severely limit the hours a very young child can work in a day, twins were needed to play the role of Michelle Tanner on Full House. Out of the 10 sets of twins who auditioned, Mary-Kate and Ashley were the only ones who both behaved.
11. LOUIE ANDERSON WAS PERFECT STRANGERS’ ORIGINAL COUSIN LARRY.
In a slightly more cynical version of the Perfect Strangers pilot, comedian Louie Anderson appeared as Cousin Louie opposite Pinchot’s Balki. Producers thought the chemistry was missing, so Anderson was let go; of the several actors to audition after his departure, everyone agreed Pinchot had the best dynamic playing against fellow Yale graduate Linn-Baker.
12. HANGIN’ WITH MR. COOPER RECYCLED THE SET FROM GROWING PAINS.
For the pilot episode of Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper in 1992, producers reused the Seaver family’s living room set from Growing Pains, which had been canceled earlier that same year. Both TV shows filmed on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, California. Alan Thicke, who played Dr. Jason Seaver on Growing Pains, even dropped by to wish Mark Curry good luck while filming the pilot for Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper.
13. BABY SINCLAIR'S CATCHPHRASES ON DINOSAURS CAME FROM AN ACTUAL BABY.
While developing the personalities for each of the characters on Dinosaurs, co-creator and writer Bob Young used his third son for inspiration. “Not the mama” and “I’m the baby, gotta love me” became the most popular quotes from the series and were printed on T-shirts, buttons, and other merchandise.
14. THE TV VERSION OF CLUELESS DEBUTED ONE YEAR AFTER THE MOVIE.
One year after the film opened, the Clueless TV show debuted. Rachel Blanchard stepped in for Alicia Silverstone as Cher, while Elisa Donovan, Donald Faison, and Stacey Dash reprised their roles as Amber, Murray and Dionne, respectively. The series ran for three seasons, wrapping in 1999.
15. THE WINSLOWS’ YOUNGEST CHILD TOTALLY DISAPPEARED ON FAMILY MATTERS.
In the show’s fourth season, the Winslows’ youngest daughter, Judy, is seen walking upstairs … but never comes down. By the time season five rolled around, Judy was no more. Nor was she ever mentioned again throughout the remaining seasons. The reason for Judy’s departure? Rumor has it that she wanted more money.
16. PAT ROBERTSON WAS NOT A FAN OF SABRINA, THE TEENAGE WITCH.
The former minister and television personality complained about the series. According to Entertainment Weekly, he deemed the series "an example of insidious New Age thinking."
17. TOM CRUISE WARNED BRONSON PINCHOT TO STEER CLEAR OF TELEVISION.
Before landing Perfect Strangers, Pinchot had a supporting role in 1983’s Risky Business starring Tom Cruise. While on the set, Pinchot told US Magazine that Cruise picked up on the fact he was low on funds. Cruise offered to lend him money and cautioned him against ever doing television. “Whatever you do, don’t do it,” Cruise allegedly told him. Pinchot explained that, as he was not Tom Cruise, he wasn't in a position to turn down anything.
18. MANY FUTURE STARS GOT EARLY BREAKS ON BOY MEETS WORLD.
Jennifer Love Hewitt was one of many young starts to make a guest appearance on Boy Meets World. Future Parks and Recreation star Adam Scott played school bully Griff Hawkins on the second season. Freaks and Geeks star Linda Cardellini spent a few episodes almost breaking up Cory and Topanga. In 1995, the same year that Clueless came out, Brittany Murphy played Trini for two episodes. A couple of future Buffy stars also appeared on the show: Charisma Carpenter and Julie Benz.
19. BOB SAGET DID NOT PLAY DANNY TANNER IN THE FULL HOUSE PILOT.
Bob Saget was producers' first choice for the role of Danny Tanner on Full House, but he was employed on CBS’ The Morning Program. Paul Reiser was also on the list, but he opted to star in My Two Dads, the other new sitcom involving a plethora of fathers, instead. John Posey portrayed Danny in the original pilot seen by the network, but after Saget was fired from his job (The Morning Program would end up lasting all of nine months anyway), Franklin re-shot the pilot for broadcast with Saget.
20. TAPING ON MR. BELVEDERE WAS HALTED WHEN HEWETT INJURED HIS TESTICLES.
Producer Jeff Stein told Maclean's that an urban legend about Hewett injuring his own testicles by sitting on them—necessitating that the production shut down for an entire week—happens to be true. “He fell backwards riding in a convertible in the Hollywood Christmas Parade,” Stein said, causing trauma to his genitalia. Another version of the story told by Adam Sandler, who guest-starred on an episode, involved Hewett coming in for a table read and accidentally sitting on his testicles.
21. JIM HENSON NEVER GOT TO SEE A SINGLE EPISODE OF DINOSAURS.
Sadly, Henson passed away in 1990, a year before the sitcom went into production and premiered on ABC. Before his death, the master puppeteer worked with designer Kirk Thatcher to develop the characters and the general ideas for the show. The political themes and more fleshed out sitcom elements came later with the help of co-creators Bob Young and Michael Jacobs, and Brian Henson made sure that the final product was something that would make his father proud.
22. FULL HOUSE’S UNCLE JESSE WAS ORIGINALLY GOING TO BE UNCLE ADAM.
But John Stamos told Franklin he was much more comfortable as a “Jesse.” Franklin had no problem with that, because Jesse was the name of Elvis Presley’s twin brother.
23. STEVE URKEL CROSSED OVER ONTO A NUMBER OF OTHER TGIF SHOWS.
Urkel’s popularity made him a hot commodity on the sitcom crossover front; he made appearances in Full House, Step by Step, and Meego. He was also mentioned, but not seen, in an episode of Boy Meets World.
24. FRIENDS FILMED IN FULL HOUSE’S SOUND STAGE AFTER ITS CANCELATION.
When John Stamos guest starred on Friends’ 2003 episode “The One With the Donor,” he claimed that Dave Coulier’s underwear was still on the roof of his old dressing room.
25. THE ENTIRE CAST OF PERFECT STRANGERS WAS PART OF THE RAPTURE.
In an exceptionally bizarre reference, the rapture-like disappearance of part of the world’s population in HBO’s The Leftovers apparently included the entire cast of Perfect Strangers. It was initially a throwaway line, but was referenced a few more times throughout the series' three-season run, with Linn-Baker even starring in an episode (as himself).