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Created by: William Bickley, Michael Warren
Developed by: Thomas L. Miller, Robert L. Boyett
Starring: Reginald VelJohnson, Jo Marie Payton, Rosetta LeNoire Darius McCrary, Kellie Shanygne Williams, Michelle Thomas Jaimee Foxworth, Jaleel White, Telma Hopkins
Country of origin: United States
No. of seasons: 9
No. of episodes: 215
Executive producer(s) Thomas L. Miller, Robert L. Boyett William Bickley, Michael Warren (seasons 2–7), David W. Duclon (seasons 3–8)
Running time: 23 Minutes
Original channel: ABC, CBS
Original run: September 22, 1989 – July 17, 1998
Family Matters is an Image Award & Emmy Award-winning American sitcom about a middle-class family living in Chicago. The series aired from September 22, 1989 to May 9, 1997 on ABC and, with a network change, moved to CBS on September 19, 1997 to July 17, 1998.
The show, a spin-off of Perfect Strangers, originally focused on the character of Carl Winslow and his family: wife Harriette Winslow, rebellious son Eddie Winslow, smart daughter Laura Winslow, and youngest child Judy Winslow. They had opened their home to Carl's street-wise mother Estelle Winslow as well as Harriette's sister Rachel Crawford and her son Richie Crawford after the death of Rachel's husband. The Winslows' nerdy next-door neighbor Steve Urkel was introduced midway through the first season, and quickly became the focus of the show. It was part of ABC's TGIF from 1989 until 1997 before it became part of the CBS Block Party lineup from 1997 to 1998.
Having aired for 215 episodes, Family Matters is the second-longest running U.S. comedy with a predominantly African-American cast, surpassed only by The Jeffersons.
In the United States, reruns currently air nightly on Nick at Nite.
Removing the recurring character of Harriette Winslow from Perfect Strangers in the fourth season, Harriette was given her own series in Family Matters, which expanded on her home life. Her husband Carl had originally appeared on Perfect Strangers in the fourth season episode entitled "Crimebusters." However, in giving the Winslow family their own series, some continuity problems arose. On Perfect Strangers, Harriette and Carl (and at least Eddie as well) lived in the same apartment building as Balki Bartokomous and Larry Appleton; however, this detail was completely ignored on Family Matters to the point that it is revealed in later episodes that the Winslows had lived in their regular house since before Eddie was born.
The kids, along with their policeman father Carl (Reginald VelJohnson), elevator operator mother Harriette (Jo Marie Payton), aspiring writer Aunt Rachel Crawford (Telma Hopkins), and her young son Richie (infant twins Joseph and Julius Wright during the first season, Bryton McClure thereafter), and Carl's feisty mother Estelle Winslow (Rosetta LeNoire), found themselves in typical sitcom-family situations.
Steve Urkel (Jaleel White) was the most famous character on the show. Introduced midway through the first season, the bespectacled Urkel, complete with high-pitched voice and suspenders, was the ultimate nerd; he was highly intelligent, but was very clumsy. His trademark line, "Did I do that?" (whenever he caused an accident) became a pop-culture catchphrase. When Urkel caused someone else to have an accident, he would say, "Look what you did!" If Urkel was frustrating Carl, Carl would tell Steve, "Go home, go home, go home!" Steve would reply, "I don't have to take this, I'm going home." Another aspect of the Steve Urkel character that made him famous was his snorting laugh. ABC hosted contests in which viewers were asked to send in their best impression of Urkel to win a grand prize. Originally intended to be a one-time-only character, White's portrayal of Urkel caused the entire studio audience to erupt into chants of "Urkel! Urkel!" during the filming of the original episode. With the series struggling in ratings in the first season, the Steve Urkel character was hastily re-written into several already-completed episodes. By the second season, Jaleel White had joined the show as a regular cast member.
The show's original theme was the Louis Armstrong classic "What a Wonderful World," but was scrapped after the first season in favor of "As Days Go By", written by Jesse Frederick, Bennett Salvay, and Scott Roeme, and performed by Jesse Frederick until 1995, when the theme was cut in favor of showing the opening credits over the episode's first scene. A longer version of "As Days Go By" can be heard in the first three seasons. The first-through-third-season version of the opening credits features a scene showing the family riding their bicycles across a bridge over the Chicago River; an allusion to Perfect Strangers, which featured a scene of Larry and Balki riding a tour boat underneath the same bridge in its own opening credits.
It did not take long for the show to develop an idiosyncratic set of ongoing plot elements, which certainly added both tension and comedy, even if they did so at the expense of credibility. Not surprisingly, the sheer absurdity of the episodes only increased as the series went on.
A curiously large number of episodes threw the major characters into life-or-death situations, such as Carl falling into a frozen pond, Steve nearly falling out of a hot-air balloon, Eddie and his friends hanging precariously from a fire escape, Carl and Steve hanging from a tall building by their fingers, Carl discovering a bomb in a treadmill and having to get off the treadmill without causing the bomb to detonate, or Steve becoming a human lightning rod. These key events were always resolved within a few minutes.
Another recurring theme was the humor derived from gratuitous property damage. Whether Urkel was knocking over a lamp, burning down a building (the building previously known as Leroys), breaking the Winslows' windows (on several occasions), taking the blame for crashing the Winslow family station wagon into the living room (even though Eddie was the driver), completely destroying Carl's garage shelves, or having inventions go wrong, and ending up destroying various parts of the house -- breaking something was a tried and true way to get a laugh, after which he would usuallly inquire, "Did I do that?" Alternate reactions would include turning to a present character and saying, "Look what you did." Other times he would state, "Well, the important thing is that no one was hurt." Another character, (usually a fuming Carl) would say, "Not yet!"
Critics claim the show jumped the shark in the later seasons that introduced Steve Urkel's many outrageous inventions, turning it from a down-to-earth family show into a science-fiction-based show. These plotlines served to bend the reality of the show, as it seemed hard to believe that the lives of the characters would continue so normally with the discovery of such groundbreaking inventions. These inventions included Steve's UrkelBot, an intelligent robot that fell in love with Laura, and briefly became a police officer; Steve's "transformation chamber" that turned him into Stefan Urquelle as well as other odd characters; a cloning machine, which allowed Stefan to become a permanent character; Steve's weight-shrinking machine; and his teleportation pad.
These stories strained credulity more and more in the show's final seasons, and the series gradually developed a self-aware sense of humor on the subject. In the Season 8 episode "Father Time," Carl casually shrugs off Urkel's invention of a time-travel device, citing all of Steve's previous impossible creations, and insisting a time machine is "no big deal" in comparison.
Comical show, serious issues
See also: Very special episode While most of the episodes were wildly comical (some likened the show to a "black" version of Laurel and Hardy), there were episodes on serious topics such as teen alcoholism, dysfunctional families, racism, sexism, nudity, cancer and leukemia, death, dyslexia, school bullying, and gun violence. The cast gave a public service announcement after the school shooting episode as well.
Several episodes focused on Carl's job as a policeman and the dangers inherent in such a career. An early episode centered on Harriette and Rachel's father (portrayed by Paul C. Winfield), who tried to reunite with his daughters after abandoning the family when they were very young (to protect her daughters, their mother had told them that their father was killed as his fighter plane was shot down over Korea).
Original characters leave the show
As the focus of the show began to center more and more around Urkel (and occasionally his alter-ego, Stefan), other original characters were shunted to the periphery of the show. By 1993, the actresses who portrayed two members of the Winslow household, Judy (Jaimee Foxworth) and Rachel (Telma Hopkins), left the show. Hopkins (as Rachel) left the series after the fourth season to focus on her own series (Getting By) and made guest appearances until 1997.
No explanation was ever given for Carl and Harriette's youngest child Judy's mysterious disappearance. Many fans have noted that this plot anomaly was similar to a situation on Happy Days wherein Richie Cunningham's older brother Chuck inexplicably disappeared. Judy was never popular with fans, having rarely had any plotlines centering on her character. In the third and fourth seasons, she was little more than a background character, appearing in episodes merely to fulfill contractual obligations, and often not getting a single line. Jaimee Foxworth explained to audiences on The Oprah Winfrey Show and The Tyra Banks Show that her mother demanded that her character be developed in order to receive more money, and the demands were denied. Foxworth was let go, and the producers felt no need to hire another actress to replace her. The producers admitted that they did not think audiences would notice Judy's disappearance, which is why her absence was never explained. Later episodes even have the Winslows acknowledging they only have two children. The last time Judy was ever seen on the show was going up the stairs to her room. In the last episode, Harriette told Laura to "go get her sister" when they were watching TV while Steve was in space. Laura then went upstairs, a gag of Judy going upstairs and then never coming down (as she was written out of the show).
In later seasons, other characters also disappeared. Shawn Harrison's character, Waldo, was said to have gone off to culinary school. Waldo had been mentioned a season later by Maxine, who received a poorly addressed Dear Jane letter from Waldo. Bryton McClure, who played Richie, started to appear less once 3J was introduced, and disappeared by the last season. Rosetta LeNoire, who played Carl's mother Estelle Winslow, was gone by the last season as well. JoMarie Payton-Noble, the original actress who played Harriette (originating the character on Perfect Strangers), left in December 1997 (prior to the final season) because she was unhappy with the emphasis placed on Steve Urkel and his subcharacters (Stefan, Myrtle, O.G.D., etc.). Many believe this is a case of a series jumping the shark. When a Parade viewer asked why she was replaced, Payton-Noble stated that she also wanted to write or direct an episode, but never could. She was replaced by Judyann Elder.
In the Season 9 Christmas episode "Deck the Malls", Estelle, Richie, and Rachel appear for the last time. It is also JoMarie Payton's last appearance as Harriette.
Year Result Award Category Recipient(s)
BMI Film & TV Awards
1992 Won BMI TV Music Award Bennett Salvay
1991 Won BMI TV Music Award Bennett Salvay Emmy Awards
1996 Nominated Emmy Outstanding Individual Achievement in Special Visual Effects Kelly Sandefur (special visual effects) For episode "Send In The Clone". Image Awards
1997 Won Image Award Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series Jaleel White
1996 Nominated Image Award Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series Jaleel White
1995 Won Image Award Outstanding Youth Actor/Actress Jaleel White
1994 Won Image Award Outstanding Youth Actor/Actress Jaleel White
Kids' Choice Awards, USA
1996 Nominated Blimp Award Favorite Television Actor Jaleel White
TV Land Awards
2008 Nominated TV Land Award Favorite Character(s) Who "Went Missing" Jaimee Foxworth Young Artist Awards
1993 Won Young Artist Award Best Young Actor Recurring in a Television Series Bumper Robinson Tied with Aeryk Egan for "Brooklyn Bridge" (1991).
Nominated Young Artist Award Best Young Actor Co-starring in a Television Series Shawn Harrison
Best Young Actor Recurring in a Television Series Patrick J. Dancy
Best Young Actress Recurring in a Television Series Cherie Johnson
Outstanding Young Comedian in a Television Series Darius McCrary
Outstanding Young Comedienne in a Television Series Kellie Shanygne Williams
1992 Nominated Young Artist Award Outstanding Young Comedienne in a Television Series Kellie Shanygne Williams
1991 Won Young Artist Award Outstanding Young Comedian in a Television Series Jaleel White
Nominated Young Artist Award Best Young Actor Starring in a Television Series Darius McCrary
Best Young Actress Starring in a Television Series Kellie Shanygne Williams
Best Young Actress Supporting or Re-Occurring Role for a TV Series Jaimee Foxworth
1990 Won Young Artist Award Best Young Actor Guest Starring in a Television Series Randy Josselyn
Nominated Young Artist Award Best New Television Series Best Young Actor Starring in a Television Series Darius McCrary
Reginald VelJohnson as Carl Winslow
Jo Marie Payton as Harriette Winslow (originating on Perfect Strangers in 1987, 1989–1997 seasons 1–8 and the first half of season 9)
Judyann Elder as Harriette Winslow (Remainder of season 9)
Darius McCrary as Eddie Winslow
Kellie Shanygne Williams as Laura Winslow
Jaimee Foxworth as Judy Winslow (seasons 1–4)
Rosetta LeNoire as Estelle Winslow (seasons 1–6, sporadic appearances in 7, 8 and 9)
Jaleel White as Steve Urkel (season 1–9)/Stefan Urquelle (season 5–9)/Myrtle Urkel (sporadic appearances in season 2,7,8, and 9)/Original Gangster Dawg (O.G.D.) (season 9)
Telma Hopkins as Rachel Crawford (season 1–4, sporadic appearances in 6, 7, and 9)
Bryton McClure as Richie Crawford (second actor, seasons 2–7, sporadic appearances in 8 and 9)
Orlando Brown as 3J (seasons 7–9)
Michelle Thomas as Myra Monkhouse (seasons 4–9)
Shawn Harrison as Waldo Geraldo Faldo (seasons 2–8)
Cherie Johnson as Maxine (seasons 2–9)
The show went into off-network syndication in the fall of 1993. It currently airs on Nick at Nite. It has previously aired on cable's ABC Family, WGN and TBS.
The house depicted in the opening and closing credits is located at 1516 W. Wrightwood Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. Mapquest The closing shot in the end credits with the family at the piano comes from the pilot episode "The Mama Who Came to Dinner". The only cast member to appear in every single episode was Reginald VelJohnson.
Family Matters was produced by Miller-Boyett Productions in association with Lorimar Television in the first two seasons. In seasons 3–9, it was produced by Bickley-Warren Productions & Miller-Boyett Productions in association with Warner Bros. Television, which absorbed Lorimar (a sister company under the Time Warner banner) in 1993.
The exterior shot of Myra's house was Larry and Balki's house from Season 7 and 8 of Perfect Strangers.
Family Matters is set in the same "TV universe" as several other TV series related to ABC's TGIF:
Perfect Strangers — Before Family Matters, Harriette Winslow was originally the elevator operator at the Chicago Chronicle newspaper office in the third and fourth seasons of Perfect Strangers. Family Matters was a spin-off series given to this character in 1989. In the second episode of Family Matters, Harriette was fired as elevator operator at the Chronicle, but was soon re-hired as "chief of security", which explained her absence from dealings with the Perfect Strangers cast.
Full House — In the 1991 episode, "Stephanie Gets Framed", Steve Urkel helps Stephanie Tanner (Jodie Sweetin) deal with her anxiety after she has to get glasses.
Boy Meets World — Urkel once sent a chain letter to his friend Cory Matthews, (Ben Savage) who lived in Philadelphia. The two never actually appeared together on either show. This makes things complicated because in one episode Cory says he doesn't understand the complexity of Full House which according to the above link Urkel was at.
Step by Step — In the original ABC broadcast, the ending gag of Family Matters' third season episode "Brains Over Brawn" is crossed over with the opening of Step By Step's second episode, "The Dance". Urkel's jet-propelled flight pack causes him to fly through the Winslows' roof as one show ends, and crash-land in Port Washington, Wisconsin, where the Lambert-Foster family is enjoying a barbecue as the other show opens. Urkel goes on to help his science-fair pen pal, Mark Foster (Christopher Castile), and lifts Al Lambert's (Christine Lakin) spirits after her potential date dumps her just before a school dance. He reprises his "Do the Urkel" dance in the scene where Al gives the guy who dumped her his comeuppance. Urkel also makes a brief cameo in the 1997 episode "A Star Is Born", snapping a clapperboard on the set of the movie Al was cast in over her two sisters.
TGIF Universe continued
Hangin' with Mr. Cooper — Also a cross-over with Full House.
Meego — Jaleel White makes an uncredited cameo as Urkel in the first two episodes of this short-lived CBS sitcom (which starred Bronson Pinchot of Perfect Strangers).
Sabrina the Teenage Witch - Appears in the Boy Meets World episode Witches of Penbrook
You Wish - Crossover with Sabrina the Teenage Witch
Teen Angel - Crossover with Sabrina the Teenage Witch
Clueless - Crossover with Sabrina the Teenage Witch
Moesha - Crossover with Clueless
Girlfriends - Crossover with Moesha
The Parkers - Crossover with Moesha
The Hughleys - Crossover with The Parkers and Moesha
Gilligan's Island - Crossover with an unaired episode of Meego
In popular culture
In the episode of The Simpsons, "Bart Gets Famous", Bart is worried about becoming an obnoxious fad with his catchphrase on the Krusty the Clown show. Homer tries to reassure him by saying that the same thing was said about Urkel. Then he says that he finds Urkel to be a snot-nosed little punk that he'd like to smack.
In "The Springfield Files" episode of The Simpsons, Homer encounters an alien he compares to Steve Urkel.
In another episode of The Simpsons, "Helter Shelter", Marge is seen trying to purchase a box of Urkel O's cereal (a Ralston-Purina product that was actually available in supermarkets in the early 1990s).
In the South Park episode "Chickenpox", Cartman has a Steve Urkel sleeping bag.
In the American Dad! episode "Stan of Arabia", a man showing Hayley around in a Saudi Arabian restaurant wears a shirt that has a picture of Steve Urkel, and under the picture is the word "Urkel".
In a Married...with Children episode, Al Bundy states: "Hey, Family Matters is on! I love this Urkel guy. Everything you need to know about life, you can learn from him."
In Big Fat Liar, Jaleel White stars as himself starring as a cop named "Fowl". Many references are made to his "Urkel" days from Family Matters, with Marty Wolf repeatedly referring to him as "Urkel".
In the 30 Rock Pilot, Judah Friedlander's character Frank Rossitano asks Keith Powell's character James "Toofer" Spurlock if there are other Black nerds or just him and Urkel.
In an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the Bankses see their old neighbor, who asks Philip if he's the guy from Family Matters. In another episode Philip asked Carlton about his Urkel impression. And in another episode Jaleel White played Ashley's boyfriend Derek who wanted to sleep with her before he goes back to college.
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