22 Facts About Family Matters

Warner Bros. Television
Warner Bros. Television

It began as a family show about Chicago cop Carl Winslow and his family, but fairly quickly morphed into “The Steve Urkel Show.” Here are 22 things you might not know about Family Matters.

1. IT WAS A SPINOFF OF PERFECT STRANGERS.

Family Matters all began with its matriarch, Harriette, whose character originated in the third season of Perfect Strangers as the elevator operator at the Chicago Chronicle, the fictional newspaper where that series’ main characters—Larry and Balki—worked. In the end, Family Matters emerged the victor, running a full season longer than Perfect Strangers. 

2. STEVE URKEL WAS ONLY SUPPOSED TO APPEAR IN ONE EPISODE.

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. 

3. THERE IS A REAL STEVE URKEL.

Well, there’s a Steve Erkel. He’s a friend of series co-creator Michael Warren, who named the (then) one-off character in honor of his buddy. But as Urkel’s popularity grew, so did the number of prank calls placed to Erkel. 

4. URKEL BECAME AN INDUSTRY UNTO HIMSELF.


Urkel’s popularity extended far beyond the television screen. The merchandizing bonanza behind the character included Urkel posters, books, lunchboxes, clothing, trading cards, and a talking doll. In 1991, Ralston even introduced an Urkel-branded breakfast cereal called Urkel-Os

5. URKEL CROSSED OVER ONTO A NUMBER OF OTHER 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.

6. ALL THIS URKEL DIDN’T PLEASE THE REST OF THE CAST.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Jaleel White admitted that the sudden popularity of his character caused a little tension on the set. “Things were definitely strained in the early going,” he said. “There’s no sense in hiding that. There was a division between myself and the rest of the cast, but over nine years and 215 episodes, obviously relationships get better. I still talk to certain cast members to this day.” 

7. THE WINSLOW’S YOUNGEST CHILD TOTALLY DISAPPEARED.

In the show’s fourth season, the Winslow’s 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. 

8. JAIMEE FOXWORTH CONTINUED ACTING. SORT OF.

Seven years after getting the boot from Family Matters, Jaimee Foxworth—the actress who played Judy—popped up in a film project ... though it was the kind of film that might make Eddie Winslow blush. In 2000, under the screen name Crave, Foxworth began working in adult films. By 2008, she was Celebrity Rehab-bing it with Dr. Drew. These days she's raising her son and working on a book about being a child star.

9. JAIMEE FOXWORTH WASN’T THE ONLY JUDY.

In the pilot episode, Judy Winslow was portrayed by another actress entirely: Valerie Jones, whose only other credits were on two episodes of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (playing two completely different roles). 

10. THERE WERE TWO HARRIETTES, TOO.

In an odd move, JoMarie Payton—who played Harriette—left midway through the series’ ninth and final season (the role was assumed by Judyann Elder for the remainder of the show). Though rumors have long persisted that her departure was due to Urkel fatigue, Payton set the record straight with TV Series Finale in 2010, stating that she “just wanted something else to do, just to energize me a little bit more, on the creative side.” Though she had wanted to leave prior to the show’s final season, it wasn’t until year nine that she was contractually able to do so. “I was like a free agent and so when they went to CBS and all, they asked me to come back. And I really didn’t want to come back. I had just done my jazz album and all. And we agreed that I would come back just to kick off the move to CBS and that’s how that whole deal went. I was to do half of a season, eight of the episodes. And I had an option out and I exercised my option. I did.” As for all that talk that she was just tired of Urkel? “There were some things being said, and like I said, just ignore it because you know it’s not true,” said Payton. “But it did hurt, because it made me look like this scandalous person, that was jealous of this kid [Jaleel].”

11. JALEEL WHITE COULD’VE BEEN A HUXTABLE.

Yes, you read that right. Jaleel White was actually cast as one of the Huxtable kids: Rudy. At least he thought he had been. “Yep, that’s why the character was named Rudy—it was intended to be a boy,” White told Vanity Fair. “That’s my tragic auditioning story. We were all packed up and ready to go to New York and my agent had told my parents that they needed to start looking for places to live out there. Next thing you know, there was one more audition and that was supposed to be a formality at the network. And a little girl comes walking in, and I’m like—even at eight years old—‘Who’s she?’ And they’re like, ‘She’s auditioning for Rudy, too.’ So I’m like, ‘Oh, it’s not as much of a formality as I thought.’ That was my first time walking into a room of 30 people staring at you going, ‘OK, make me laugh.’ They were in such a hurry to get to New York and start filming that they came out and picked the kids one by one right in front of all of us. Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Tempest Bledsoe … The rest of us all went home crying. It was amazing. Obviously I’m grateful that things worked out the way they did; I think it put a little more money in my pocket.”

12. IT’S ONE OF THE LONGEST-RUNNING AFRICAN AMERICAN-FOCUSED SITCOMS.

Upon completing its ninth and final season, Family Matters became the second longest-running American sitcom featuring a predominantly African American cast. The only show that ran longer? The Jeffersons, which ran for 11 seasons.

13. ORIGINALLY, IT WAS LOUIS ARMSTRONG WHO INTRODUCED THE SHOW.

Though it’s hard to think of Family Matters without hearing its theme song “As Days Go By” in your head, its original theme music was Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” The song was switched out after the fifth episode of the first season, though Armstrong was still heard in the pilot episode when it ran in syndication. 

14. THE THEME SONG WAS LOST ENTIRELY DURING SEASON SEVEN.

By the seventh season, the show’s producers decided to go opening theme-less entirely—and credit-less. The names of the cast and creators ran during each episode’s teaser scene. 

15. TGIF SUCCESS IS A FLEETING THING.

Though Family Matters was a staple program in ABC’s family-friendly “TGIF” lineup of Friday night programming, the show changed networks in its final season. As did Step by Step. In 1997, CBS acquired the rights to broadcast Family Matters’ ninth and tenth seasons as part of its CBS Block Party (TGIF’s stiffest programming competitor). The ratings didn’t prove strong enough to make a tenth season happen.

16. SEASON 10 WOULD HAVE SEEN STEVE AND LAURA GET MARRIED.

Though it was never produced, the show’s tenth season storyline was already set: Steve Urkel and Laura Winslow get married. Instead, we merely see them get engaged in the series finale.

17. THE PRODUCERS DIDN'T WANT YOU TO KNOW THAT BABY RICHIE WAS PLAYED BY TWINS.

By now, even the most casual of television viewers understands that any time you see a baby in a major role in a sitcom, there are bound to be two of them. (It’s because of California state regulations regarding the number of hours child actors are allowed to work.) But just as they had done on Full House—where Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen were originally credited as a single individual, “Mary Kate Ashley Olsen,” for the first seven seasons—the twins who played Richie as a baby were credited as one person, Joseph Julius Wright, instead of Joseph & Julius Wright.

18. JALEEL WHITE PLAYED EIGHT DIFFERENT CHARACTERS.

As if Urkel’s grating “Did I do that?” catchphrase weren’t enough, the producers decided to cram as much Urkel into any given episode as was humanly possible. Which led to Jaleel White doing the Eddie Murphy thing and playing a variety of other characters, including Stefan Urquelle (Steve’s studly alter-ego), cousins Cornelius Eugene and Myrtle Urkel (a.k.a. Urkel in drag), Albert Einstein, Bruce Lee, and Elvis Presley. On a couple of occasions, he even provided the voice of his Urkel-Bot, the robot he invented. 

19. TURBO FROM BREAKIN’  IS THE MAN BENEATH THE URKEL-BOT COSTUME.

If Urkel-Bot’s moves look familiar, that’s because they belong to every ‘80s kid’s favorite break-dancer, Michael “Boogaloo Shrimp” Chambers, a.k.a. Turbo from Breakin’ and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. (Sorry, Ozone.)

20. URKEL DROVE A BIMMER.

Steve Urkel’s three-wheeled jalopy may have had “nerd” written all over it, but it was actually a pretty sweet (and rare) ride: a BMW Isetta. 

21. REGINALD VELJOHNSON WON THE FAMILY MATTERS GAME.

Though the series’ focus may have shifted from Reginald VelJohnson to Jaleel White, VelJohnson is the only member of the cast to have appeared in every one of the show’s 215 episodes. 

22. VELJOHNSON IS A VETERAN COP.

Not in real life, of course. But onscreen, where he’s played a police officer in Ghostbusters, Turner and Hooch, and—most famously—Die Hard and Die Hard 2. Yippee-ki-yay indeed.

Celebrate the Holidays With the 2020 Harry Potter Funko Pop Advent Calendar

Funko
Funko

Though the main book series and movie franchise are long over, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter remains in the spotlight as one of the most popular properties in pop-culture. The folks at Funko definitely know this, and every year the company releases a new Advent calendar based on the popular series so fans can count down to the holidays with their favorite characters.

Right now, you can pre-order the 2020 edition of Funko's popular Harry Potter Advent calendar, and if you do it through Amazon, you'll even get it on sale for 33 percent off, bringing the price down from $60 to just $40.

Funko Pop!/Amazon

Over the course of the holiday season, the Advent calendar allows you to count down the days until Christmas, starting on December 1, by opening one of the tiny, numbered doors on the appropriate day. Each door is filled with a surprise Pocket Pop! figurine—but outside of the trio of Harry, Hermione, and Ron, the company isn't revealing who you'll be getting just yet.

Calendars will start shipping on October 15, but if you want a head start, go to Amazon to pre-order yours at a discount.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

13 Facts About Miller's Crossing On Its 30th Anniversary

Gabriel Byrne and John Turturro in Joel and Ethan Coen's Miller's Crossing (1990).
Gabriel Byrne and John Turturro in Joel and Ethan Coen's Miller's Crossing (1990).
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

In 1990 Joel and Ethan Coen were not yet the Oscar-winning, cinephile-worshipped filmmaking legends they are today. They had only written and directed two films: 1984’s inventive neo-noir Blood Simple and 1987’s screwball kidnapping comedy Raising Arizona. Though the brothers had drawn critical acclaim for both, they hadn’t yet proven themselves as the true cinematic chameleons we know them as now.

With Miller’s Crossing, an intricate gangster drama that contrasts fedoras and overcoats with the serenity of the forest, the Coens proved they were capable of even more than their brilliant first two efforts suggested. Though it was critically acclaimed, Miller’s Crossing was lost to most audiences in the mire of that year’s other gangster pictures (most notably Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, which was released just two weeks ahead of Miller’s Crossing) and as such is one of the lesser-known entries in the Coens’s filmography. In honor of its 30th anniversary, we dug up some fascinating facts in the hope of changing that.

1. Miller's Crossing was inspired by a single contrasting image.

One of the most memorable shots in Miller’s Crossing features a hat belonging to Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne's character) floating through the forest on a breeze. It’s more than a pretty shot; it’s an indicator of the deliberate contrast that inspired the film. The Coen brothers noted that the film was conceived based on the idea of “the incongruity of urban gangsters in a forest setting.”

2. The Coen brothers turned down Batman to make Miller's Crossing.

After Raising Arizona’s success established the Coens as more than one-hit indie film wonders, the brothers had some options with regard to what project they could tackle next. Reportedly, their success meant that they were among the filmmakers being considered to make Batman for Warner Bros. Of course, the Coens ultimately decided to go the less commercial route, and Tim Burton ended up telling the story of The Dark Knight on the big screen.

3. Miller's Crossing was the final film the Coens made with Barry Sonnenfeld.

Barry Sonnenfeld became a very sought-after cinematographer throughout the 1980s, in part because of his collaborations with the Coens. Their directorial debut, Blood Simple, was his first feature film as a director of photography, and he went on to shoot both Raising Arizona and Miller’s Crossing for them. The year after Miller’s Crossing was released, Sonnenfeld made his directorial debut with The Addams Family, and went on to direct further hits like Men In Black and Get Shorty.

4. Miller's Crossing was the Coens's first collaboration with Steve Buscemi.

Steve Buscemi in Miller's Crossing (1990).20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Throughout their careers, the Coens have developed a very prestigious company of actors who frequently appear in their films, and Steve Buscemi is among the most prolific. He has appeared in six Coen films, most famously Fargo (1996) and The Big Lebowski (1998). The collaboration started here, when Buscemi was cast as Mink, apparently because he was able to speak faster than anyone else, and fast-talking was crucial to the role.

5. Miller's Crossing was also the Coens's first movie with John Turturro.

When John Turturro was cast as Bernie Bernbaum, the bookie who ignites the mob war at the center of Miller's Crossing, it marked the beginning of a fruitful four-film collaboration with the Coens. They wrote the title role of their next film, 1991’s Barton Fink, specifically for Turturro (who won the Cannes Film Festival’s Best Actor Award for his performance). Of the brothers’s working relationship with Turturro, Ethan Coen once said: “It’s beyond shorthand. We don’t even talk to him!”

6. Miller's Crossing is one of the few Coen brothers movies (so far) not edited by Roderick Jaynes.

To date, the Coen brothers have written and directed 18 feature films, and 15 of them have been either edited or co-edited by Roderick Jaynes. That level of deep collaboration would make Jaynes the Coens’s most frequent collaborator ever … if he were a real person. Jaynes is actually a pseudonym used when the Coens edit their own movies.

7. A sudden death led to Albert Finney being cast as Leo O'Bannon in Miller's Crossing.

As Irish mob boss Leo O’Bannon, Albert Finney is at the center of some of the film’s best scenes—and he’s fantastic in them. Sadly, though, he’s only in the film because another actor died tragically before filming began. The Coens originally cast American actor Trey Wilson, whom they had worked with on Raising Arizona, as Leo. But when Wilson died suddenly from a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 40, the part went to Finney instead.

8. Peter Stormare was supposed to play a mob enforcer in Miller's Crossing.

The Coens’ original plan for Miller’s Crossing involved Peter Stormare playing a character called “The Swede,” who would be the trusted enforcer of Italian mob boss Johnny Caspar (Jon Polito). A commitment to a theatrical production in Sweden meant that Stormare had to turn down the role, though, so the part was rewritten as “The Dane” and played by J.E. Freeman. Stormare ultimately got to work with the Coens six years later on Fargo, and again two years after that on The Big Lebowski.

9. Gabriel Byrne had to convince the Coens to let him keep his Irish accent in Miller's Crossing.

Gabriel Byrne in Miller's Crossing (1990).20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Though he was an Irish native playing a lieutenant to an Irish mobster, the Coens did not originally want Gabriel Byrne to use his own accent in the film. Byrne argued that his dialogue was structured in such a way that it was a good fit for his accent, and after he tried it, the Coens agreed. Ultimately, both Byrne and Finney used Irish accents in the film.

10. Marcia Gay Harden faced some stiff competition for her role in Miller's Crossing.

As Verna Bernbaum, whose relationships with both Leo and Tom ignite some of the film’s key tensions, Marcia Gay Harden delivered one of the best performances of her career, but it wasn’t an easy role to get. She reportedly competed for the role against the likes of Julia Roberts, Demi Moore, and Jennifer Jason Leigh.

11. Jon Polito had to convince the Coens to cast him in a different role in Miller's Crossing.

Jon Polito in Miller's Crossing (1990).20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

When Polito read the Miller’s Crossing script, he loved it and immediately wanted to audition for the role of Johnny Caspar. The Coens had different ideas, and were considering the 39-year-old actor for the role of Caspar’s enforcer, Eddie Dane, instead. The role of Caspar was originally supposed to go to an actor in his mid-50s, but Polito was adamant.

“Anyway, I said I won’t read for anything but Johnny Caspar,” Polito, who passed away in 206, told The A.V. Club. “’And tell them that they’re gonna have to come back to me cause I’m gonna play Johnny.’”

The Coens ultimately gave in, and Polito was cast. They must have liked what they saw, too, because they ended up casting him in four more films after that.

12. A snag in the Miller's Crossing script ultimately led to Barton Fink.

Miller’s Crossing is a complicated beast, full of characters double-crossing each other and scheming for mob supremacy. In fact, it’s so complicated that at one point during the writing process the Coens had to take a break. It turned out to be a productive one: While Miller’s Crossing was on pause, the brothers wrote the screenplay for Barton Fink, the story of a writer who can’t finish a script.

13. Miller's Crossing features several cameos from regular Coen collaborators.

The Coens frequently include cameos from actors and friends in their films, and Miller’s Crossing is particularly full of them. Frances McDormand, who is married to Joel Coen and has appeared in several of their films to date (including Fargo, for which she won an Oscar), plays the mayor’s secretary in one scene. In another, Sam Raimi—a Coen friend and collaborator (the Coens wrote 1985’s Crimewave with Raimi, which Raimi directed, and Raimi later co-wrote The Hudsucker Proxy with the brothers—appears as a crooked cop in a shootout scene. Albert Finney already had a prominent role as Leo, but he enjoyed making the movie so much that he stuck around after his scenes were completed and showed up in drag in a ladies’ room scene. (He’s the “woman” in black on the right side of the screen.)

This story has been updated for 2020.