25 Facts About Your Favorite TGIF Shows

ABC
ABC

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.

ABC

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.

ABC

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.

Warner Bros. Television

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).

Friday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Digital Projectors, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, and Speakers

Amazon
Amazon
As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 4. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

12 Festive Facts About White Christmas

Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, and Danny Kaye in White Christmas (1954).
Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, and Danny Kaye in White Christmas (1954).
Paramount Home Entertainment

In 1953, Paramount Pictures set out to make a musical built around and named after the most popular Christmas pop song of all time. At that point “White Christmas” had already become a holiday classic thanks in no small part to Bing Crosby’s hit recording of the song, but would it translate to the same success on the big screen?

With Crosby’s star power leading the way and Michael Curtiz in the director’s chair, White Christmas overcame some early development struggles and even some anxiety from composer Irving Berlin to become one of the most celebrated holiday movies of all time. Here are 12 facts about its production and reception.

1. The song "White Christmas" was already a hit.

Though the film didn’t come along until 1954, the story of White Christmas actually began more than a decade earlier, when Irving Berlin composed the future holiday classic that would become the title track. Berlin wrote the song in 1940, and the next year Bing Crosby—the singer still most identified with the song, despite many cover versions—sang it on his Christmas radio show.

By 1942, Crosby had recorded the song, and over that same year it made its first film appearance in Holiday Inn, starring Crosby and Fred Astaire. The film helped earn “White Christmas” the Oscar for Best Song in 1943, and over the course of the 1940s the song climbed to #1 on the charts several times. It would go on to hold the title of bestselling single of all time for decades, until it was finally eclipsed by Elton John’s rewritten 1997 version of “Candle in the Wind.” Because of the song’s enduring popularity, particularly during the World War II years, it was only natural that Hollywood would want to capitalize, and by 1949 what would eventually become White Christmas began to take shape at Paramount Pictures.

2. White Christmas was originally set to co-star Fred Astaire.

By the late 1940s, Irving Berlin and executives at Paramount Pictures were working on piecing together White Christmas as a movie musical with the title song as its centerpiece, and they had big plans for the film’s stars. The project was originally envisioned as the third installment of an unofficial trilogy of buddy musicals starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. The duo had already teamed up for Holiday Inn in 1942 (which also featured “White Christmas”) and Blue Skies in 1946, and White Christmas was supposed to mark a triumphant reunion. Unfortunately, Astaire ultimately turned the project down, reportedly due to lack of interest and a concern that he might be getting too old for such a film.

3. Bing Crosby almost passed on White Christmas.

While most of the casting drama surrounding the film was tied to the Phil Davis character, there was also a point during pre-production on White Christmas that the film almost had to go searching for a new Bob Wallace. In January of 1953, when Astaire decided to back out of the project, Crosby also decided he wasn’t sure the film was right for him, and initially planned to take time off to be with his son following the death of Crosby’s wife, actress Dixie Lee. Later that some month, though, Crosby decided to stick with the project, and White Christmas moved ahead.

4. Danny Kaye was cast at the last-minute.

Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen in White Christmas (1954).Paramount Home Entertainment

With Fred Astaire out of the picture, Paramount had to search for a new star to play Phil Davis to Bing Crosby’s Bob Wallace, and settled on Donald O’Connor, who was fresh off the success of Singin’ in the Rain. O’Connor was all set to play Davis in the film, but became ill shortly before production was set to begin. Now anxious to find a new co-star in time, the studio offered the role to Danny Kaye, who decided to go for broke and request a salary of $200,000 plus a percentage of the film’s gross. Kaye was apparently certain the studio would say no, but they agreed to his terms rather than attempting to wait it out for O’Connor’s health to improve. Kaye was cast as Phil Davis, and O’Connor would later go on to work with Crosby on Anything Goes.

5. Rosemary Clooney couldn’t dance.

Rosemary Clooney was one of the most acclaimed and beloved singers of her generation, and with White Christmas she became a co-star of one of the most acclaimed and beloved musical films of all time. Clooney was able to do this despite one particular shortcoming, which she was always honest about in both interviews and in her eventual autobiography: She was not a dancer. Clooney’s character, Betty Haynes, only has two real moments of dance in the film—in “Sisters” and in the “Minstrel Show” medley—and both times the choreography is rather simple and (in the case of “Sisters”) makes use of a prop to help make the scene visually interesting without too much actual dancing involved.

6. Vera-Ellen couldn’t sing.

Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen in White Christmas (1954).Paramount Home Entertainment

To complete the duo of the Haynes sisters, Rosemary Clooney was paired with Vera-Ellen, who was already an experienced and acclaimed movie musical performer considered by many to be one of the best dancers in Hollywood at the time. Clooney recalled feeling “inadequate” when paired with her new co-star in terms of learning her limited White Christmas choreography, but also noted that their dynamic was rather evened out by both Vera-Ellen’s patience and the fact that she couldn’t sing. Vera-Ellen’s vocals were dubbed in White Christmas, largely by an uncredited Trudy Stevens, but by Clooney herself for the song “Sisters.”

“If they could have dubbed my dancing, now, we would have had a perfect picture,” Clooney later joked.

7. Bing Crosby improvised a lot of his White Christmas dialogue.

By the time White Christmas came along, Bing Crosby was one of the biggest movie stars in the world, a veteran singer and actor who could pack audiences in and commanded respect on the Paramount Pictures lot. This meant his job came with a lot of perks, including the opportunity to embellish and flat-out improvise much of his dialogue on the fly. As co-star Rosemary Clooney recalled later on a commentary track for the film, when Bob Wallace used phrases like “slam-bang finish,” it was often because the phrases were favorites of Crosby’s. Clooney also recalled that the little monologue Crosby’s character goes on when they meet in the Columbia Inn lounge for sandwiches and buttermilk was largely made up by Crosby on the spot, faux German accent and all.

8. Bing Crosby didn’t like shooting White Christmas's "Sisters" scene.

One of the most famous scenes in White Christmas involves Bob Wallace and Phil Davis rolling up their pant legs and lip-syncing to Judy and Betty Haynes’s song “Sisters” in an effort to cause a diversion so the sisters could escape a vengeful landlord and hop on a train to Vermont. It’s an instantly memorable, and very funny movie moment, but apparently Bing Crosby was actually somewhat uncomfortable about the scene. In an effort to liven the performance up and get a rise out of his co-star, Danny Kaye improvised the moment when he begins to slap Crosby with his feathered fan. If you watch the scene closely, you can see Crosby caught off guard by this, and by the end of the scene the two men are cracking up on camera for real. According to Rosemary Clooney, Crosby was convinced that the take was unusable, but director Michael Curtiz liked the spontaneity of it, and used it in the finished film.

9. White Christmas features an Our Gang cameo.

Early in the film, as Bob and Phil get to know the Haynes sister, they discuss the sisters’ brother Benny, who Bob and Phil knew from the army and who ostensibly connected them for their meeting at the club. Judy Haynes then offers to share a recent photo of Benny, who Phil had already referred to as “Freckle-faced Haynes, the dog-faced boy.” The photo appears only briefly, but fans of the Our Gang series of comedy shorts might recognize Benny Haynes. He’s played in the photo by Carl Switzer, who was Our Gang’s Alfalfa.

10. White Christmas was the first movie released in a new format.

A scene from White Christmas (1954).Paramount Home Entertainment

At the time White Christmas was produced, film was having to increasingly compete with television for the attention of the American public, and this meant numerous gimmicks were deployed to get people to go to the movies. This included even more prevalent use of color on the movie screen (at a time when television was still a black and white medium), as well as a more ambitious use of aspect ratios to emphasize the “big” in big-screen. White Christmas was envisioned as a Technicolor showcase, but it also became the first film to be released in Paramount’s new widescreen format, VistaVision.

The format featured special film magazines that were mounted to the side of the camera lens, which fed the film negative through the camera horizontally rather than vertically. This created a more detailed widescreen exposure that was then printed vertically just like any other film. The result was a format that could play on virtually any movie screen and offer an increase in quality, unlike other contemporary large format options like CinemaScope, which required an adapter.

11. Irving Berlin was nervous about White Christmas.

By the time White Christmas was in production, the title song was one of the bestselling and most beloved songs in the world, and had already been in heavy circulation for more than a decade. Still, that didn’t stop Irving Berlin from being nervous about how the film would be received. Though he wasn’t always on the soundstage during shooting, Rosemary Clooney later recalled that Berlin showed up every day at the cast’s recording sessions for the soundtrack, and as Crosby and company recorded the finale version of “White Christmas” the legendary composer couldn’t stop nervously pacing around the studio. Eventually, Berlin’s worried look proved so distracting that Crosby went over to him and said: “There’s nothing we can do to hurt this song, Irving. It’s already a hit!"

12. White Christmas was the biggest movie of 1954.

White Christmas was released in the fall of 1954 and, on the strength of Berlin’s songs and the Technicolor and VistaVision production values, quickly became a hit for Paramount. The film was the highest-grossing movie of 1954 with a box office take of $12 million. It was also the biggest hit of director Michael Curtiz’s career, which was impressive considering his resume already included classics like Yankee Doodle Dandy and Casablanca.

Additional Sources:
White Christmas: A Look Back with Rosemary Clooney (2000)
White Christmas commentary track by Rosemary Clooney (2000)
Backstage Stories from White Christmas (2009)
Christmas in the Movies by Jeremy Arnold (2018)