The beginning of the show
about the beginning of the show in 1989 and the entering
In 1989 producers Thomas L Miller and Robert L. Boyett were proven talents. They had already created a bunch of hit shows, like Happy Days, which starred Ron Howard, and Mork and Mindy, which launched the career of super-funnyman Robin Williams. They also produced hit movies like Silver Streak, which starred Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder, and Foul Play, featuring Chevy Chase.
Then, Miller and Boyett did it again. They put their ever-creative minds together and came up with the idea for a new show. This one was about a Chicago policeman, his wife, and their three kids. That's how Family Matters was born!
According to the producers, the overriding thought behind the show was, "If only their house was as big as their hearts!" This is the story of a warm, big-hearted family. There's lots of love, but not too much room!
Living quarters get even tighter when the wife's sister and her child move in. Space is stretched to the limit when the father's mother takes up residence as well. It's a good thing the members of this family really love each other!
When Miller and Boyett went to put Family Matters together, they started with JoMarie Payton. (She plays the part of Harriette on the show.) JoMarie had grown very popular with TV audiences as the elevator operator on the hit Miller-Boyett sitcom Perfect Strangers. They decided to feature her as the mother on their new comedy Family Matters. The new show would come on right before Perfect Strangers on Friday nights.
"I really thought I was being fired from Perfect Strangers," JoMarie recalls when she was called into the producer's office. "When they told me I was getting a spinoff, I almost had a heart attack! I love the type of shows Tom and Bob create. I was thrilled to be involved with another one."
What exactly is a Tom Miller and Bob Boyett type of show? They start with the idea of a family, but not just a family of characters. They like the cast and even the crew to feel like they are one big family, all working together.
The family idea also applies to their viewers. When Miller and Boyett created Family Matters, they set out to develop a show that both kids and parents would enjoy. Family Matters is a show everyone wants to watch!
Once JoMarie Payton was selected to star in the show, Miller and Boyett carefully auditioned hundreds of actors for the remaining roles. They came up with the talented cast you see each week, including Reginald VelJohnson (Carl), Telma Hopkins (Rachel), Kellie Shanygne Williams (Laura), Darius McCrary (Eddie), and Rosetta LeNoire (Mother Winslow).
This creative group pulled together to become an ensemble acting company. That means that instead of relying on one or two big stars, the actors all play off each other beautifully. The Family Matters cast members soon got to know each other and became more of a family. Viewers came to see the characters, more and more, as a real-life family. The show began to take off.
There was, however, one more element to be added to the mix before the Family Matters "family" would he complete. Little did the cast know, but the show was about to zoom to the upper stratosphere of success!
It was supposed to be only a one-shot deal. A one-time appearance. One of the show's writers had come up with the funny idea of sending Laura Winslow on the nightmare date of all time. They had to create a character for her to go out with who was such a total nerd that the audience would feel sorry for Laura and laugh as soon as her date walked on screen.
On March 23, 1990, Jaleel White walked on screen as Steve Urkel for the first time. Audiences have been laughing ever since.
"I created this person in my mind," says Jaleel White. Jaleel auditioned for the role when he was 13 years old. He came up with most of the ideas for the Urkel character himself. "I went into the audition with the whiny voice, thinking of not so much a nerd, as a lovesick teenager. I knew that Urkel would fall for Laura the minute he set eyes on her. Once I put on the costume and the big glasses, hitched up the pants, did the walk and the voice, it was like the character just possessed me.
Rolling up the pants and wearing them way up high were Jaleel's ideas. The ridiculously huge glasses ended up on Jaleel's face almost by accident.
"They're really my dads glasses," Jaleel explains. "He's a dentist and he wears these oversized glasses to keep particles from flying into his eyes when he does dental work. On the way to the audition I was looking for the patented blackrimmed nerd glasses with a piece of tape in the middle. I couldn't find them and it was time to go. So my dad said, 'Just throw these on and come on, let's go.'"
The glasses turned out to be perfect for the character. Everyone at the audition loved them. "I thought of getting different ones later," recalls Jaleel, "but then I figured, if they work, don't mess with them!" Jaleel wore them again for the callback auditions. (Actors usually go through a series of auditions before getting a part. The second, third, and so on auditions are known as "callbacks.")
Family Matters producer Tom Miller recalls the day Jaleel auditioned for the role of Urkel. "When he started the reading, the whole room screamed. I turned to my partner, Bob Boyett, and said, 'We have to use this kid!'"
At that moment Miller and Boyett decided Urkel was worth more than a one-shot appearance. They signed him up for occasional guest spots. At the taping of Urkel's hilarious first appearance, the characters "occasional" status was changed to "regular." As the show's ratings grew, so did Urkel's airtime. In fact, every Family Matters' script now must contain at least a little Urkel.
Why is Urkel so popular? Think about the kids you go to school with. Some might be cool, others might not be. Urkel is definitely uncool, but he doesn't know it. He doesn't realize that others view him as a nerd. He thinks he's just one of the guys.
Urkel is always upbeat and positive. He's a real optimist. He's also brave, thoughfull, and kind.
If you met someone like that at school, it would be pretty hard to dislike that person, no matter how much of a nerd he seems to be.
Jaleel White's portrayal of Urkel sent Family Matters soaring to the top of the ratings chart. It is now the number-one rated show in its time slot.
The addition of Urkel's character allowed the show to use more than one type of comedy. Family Matters always used the kind of comedy that comes out of everyday family situations. When the wacky character Urkel was added, the jokes and situations could also become outrageous.
The other cast members had worked together as one big happy family for most of the first season. It was only natural that they would feel a bit jealous when the focus of the show turned to Urkel. But in the end, they all realized Jaleel's character made the whole show better.
"At first my ego was bruised a little," admits Reginald VelJohnson (Carl Winslow). "But then I realized the outrageousness of the character blended in perfectly with our family." In fact the experienced Reginald and newcomer Jaleel soon became good friends.
Telma Hopkins (Rachel) agrees with her co-star. "It doesn't matter who on the show is shining at the moment. The longer the show stays on, the more we all have a chance to shine. Each of us gets to display our talents."
It's pretty obvious that Urkel is well loved by his fellow actors, the critics, and most of all by Family Matters fans everywhere.
In fact, the only person who may not love Steve Urkel is a certain TV scriptwriter. This writer is a friend of Family Matters co-executive producer Michael Warren. His name just happens to be ... Steve Erkel.
Michael Warren named his TV nerd, Urkel after his real-life friend, Erkel. Amazingly enough, Warren and Erkel are still friends!
debuted this past fall, there was nothing to suggest that
ABC's Family Matters would become one of the most
enjoyable sitcoms on television. The show was a spin-off
from the exhausted, overheated Perfect Strangers-executive
producers Thomas L. Miller and Robert L. Boyett took
Perfect's amusingly blunt elevator operator Harriette (JoMarie
Payton-France) and gave her a family and her own show.
Appearing at 8:30 p.m. Fridays, it leads into Perfect
Strangers. Spin-offs are usually inferior to their source
material, but Family Matters soon proved it had one of
the best acting ensembles in TV comedy. The wittily dour
Payton-France has been paired with Reginald VelJohnson as
her husband, Carl. VelJohnson plays Carl like a latter-day
Jackie Gleason-he uses his own bulk and Carl's short-fused
temper to create an expansive yet edgy comic character.
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