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The end of the show

- CBS closes show with little matter 1998
- Adieu Urkel: The End of the Era of the Ultimate Nerd 1998
Bittersweet Exit for 'Family Matters' 1998
Off Camera - Dissing `Family' Goodbye 1998
FAMILY MATTERS CBS (Fri., July 10 and 17, 9 p.m. ET) 1998 People

CBS closes show with little matter
Times Union, 07/24/1998

HOLLYWOOD -- The long-running comedies "Seinfeld" and "Murphy Brown" received huge, highly hyped send-offs last May. That isn't the case for CBS' "Family Matters," which has quietly left the network airwaves Friday nights after nine seasons. The sitcom that gave the world -- for better or worse -- the ultimate nerd Urkel didn't even get a chance toshoot a series finale. In fact, star Reginald VelJohnson was told the show was canceled when he received a call to clean out his dressing room.

"I hold no bitterness against anybody," says VelJohnson, who plays Urkel's exasperated foil, Carl Winslow. "I sincerely want to take away the good memories. I don't have a bad word to say about anybody."

Still, VelJohnson says, he wishes the cast had gotten the opportunity to say goodbye.

"More so for the fans," he says. "When they come up to me in the street and say, `Oh God, we heard your show is over. How come they didn't have a big final episode?' I thought we should have had one, the fans thought we should have had one, but the powers that be didn't. That's the sad thing about it. But you dwell on it for a second or two and then you press on."

Created by William Bickley and Michael Warren, "Family Matters" was actually a spinoff of the then-popular ABC comedy "Perfect Strangers," in which Carl's wife, Harriet (JoMarie Payton-Noble) was an elevator operator.

"Family Matters," which premiered in September 1989, revolved around the loving, middle-class Winslow family, which included Harriet, Carl and their children (Darius McCrary and Kellie Shanygne Williams). Though the series came out of the starting gate slowly, it was a winner by the end of the first season after the addition of Jaleel White as the Winslows' nasally voiced neighbor, Urkel.

A top ratings performer as part of ABC's "TGIF" Friday family night, the series moved to CBS in its last season as part of the network's plan to build its own Friday night family lineup. The ratings, though, plummeted. During the 1996-97 season, "Family Matters" was No. 50 with an average of 13.73 million viewers. On CBS, the comedy only attracted 8.82 million viewers, placing a dismal 108th.

"We had a show that we felt at best at ABC was only in it for another year," explains Tony Jonas, president of Warner Bros. Television.

"Looking at what we could do to protect what we knew was a great show, CBS rolled the dice with us and gave us a great shot at trying to keep the show alive. We had no intention of producing the show for one year. We wanted to keep that thing going for as long as we could."

Jonas says it was a combination of elements that caused the series' demise.

"The on-air promo at CBS was terrific, but there were no kids watching CBS to begin with to even know that the promos were there to talk about the show," he says.

He agrees it would have been nice if "Family Matters" had gotten a big send-off. "I can certainly tell you it's a show that deserves it, but the show didn't find the audience we all hoped it would. So it really wasn't a platform for giving a great, big send-off. It was sort of vanishing into the sunset with numbers that were, unfortunately, quite low."

Though "Family Matters" never won Emmys nor was a critics' darling, audiences loved it, says VelJohnson, because "we weren't a black family or a white family, we were a family. Families are universal. Everyone compared us to `The Cosby Show' (saying) we were the blue-collar version and wouldn't last very long."

But what people found in "Family Matters" that they didn't find in "Cosby," VelJohnson says, "was a special warmth that was rare. There were a lot of secondary plots as opposed to Urkel (stories) which were special to a lot of people. A lot of people came up to me and said, `We love the way you handle your son.' It actually taught things -- every week."

VelJohnson has kept busy since the series stopped shooting. He's currently appearing in the musical "Purlie" at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and has written a two-hour movie, "Alive in Las Vegas," for producer Fred Silverman, which may become a series.

Adieu Urkel: The End of the Era of the Ultimate Nerd
By N.F. Mendoza, zap2it.com 98-07-06

'Tis a far, far better place you go, 'O misunderstood genius. And I'm not talking about the ubiquitous, brilliant Steve Urkel -- I'm talking about his equally brilliant creator: the modest, soft-spoken Jaleel White.

I interviewed the "Family Matters'" star during a lunch, three or four years ago, when he was preparing to enter his freshman year at the University of California Los Angeles. At the time, I was writing a weekly column for the Los Angeles Times which was also syndicated. I often found myself opposite many a TV star -- but none generated as much fan interest (and interruptions) as White.

Australians, Japanese, several tourists, and even jaded L.A. locals interrupted our meal to ask White whatever came to their minds (which, frankly, wasn't much). But the fact is, White was -- and is -- an international star. That's saying a lot for White, who has done very little in Hollywood, save for his unique creation of a very different kind of boy-next-door. (For the record, White comes across as a very polite, sweet, if not slightly sheltered boy-next-door himself -- but a completely different breed from his TV alter ego.)

Suspendered Steve Urkel began as a one-shot spot on the Warner Bros. television series, a fairly standard-issue sitcom that centered on an upper-middle class African-American family. But White's bespectacled, besotted, high-water pants-ed, whiny, nasal neighbor caught the fancy of the public and soon the entire shift of the series transferred to the teen. White, like many an actor before him (Ron Howard being the most notably successful), literally grew up on screen.

Like Christopher Reeve, whose marvelous transformation from superhero "Superman" to bumbling Clark Kent is largly ignored, White has always gotten the bum rap.

First, that bad rap generated from envious castmates (White became recurring the first season then a regular in the second season in 1990) -- and understandably so -- their show was turned around for his Urkel. But mostly, White's clever characterization of a lonely, misunderstood, annoying, persistent neighbor, and kooky genius has been verily under-estimated.

If you've seen "Family Matters" -- and for that matter only if you've seen it (and we're not talking just promos, but the real show) -- you've seen White's brilliance at work. No matter how annoying you find his Urkel, no matter how corny you find the sitcom's humor -- you will also find this -- great comic timing.

White, was, no doubt, bolstered by a strong supporting cast which featured such unique little gems as Shawn Harrison, who played the utterly sweet and utterly clueless Waldo Faldo from the second to the seventh seasons. (Where is Harrison by the way??)

Laura, the object of Urkel's avid affections, is played by the competent and charming Kellie Shanygne Williams, who's had the role since the show's inception and premiere Sept. 22, 1989. Big brother, the earnest Eddie, played by Darius McCrary, was himself almost written out of the series (his part was considerably shrunk) until Eddie resurfaced or re-emerged as Urkel's best friend -- and one-time roommate. TV's long-standing parental role models, the Winslows, are played by the venerable Reginald VelJohnson and Jo Marie Payton-Noble.

At the forefront of the series was the developing and evolving relationship between Urkel -- whose parents were never seen on screen -- and Carl (Veljohnson). Carl's relationship with Urkel surpassed his relationships with his "real" children.

However cartoonish the series was, and most certainly eventually became, it had a positive portrayal of a sharp-witted elderly person, Grandma Winslow, played by Rosetta LeNoire. Changes are inevitable when a series has been on as long as "Family Matters" has been, and cast members not only came, but went, too. Telma Hopkins, who played Harriet's sister Rachel, left in 1993 to star opposite Cindy Williams in the short-lived "Getting By." After many threats (begun the first season when Urkel took over), Payton-Noble, who played Harriette Winslow, left "Family Matters" this year and was replaced by Judyann Elder. One mostly ignored daughter, Judy, played by Jamie Foxworthy, was written out without an explanation in 1993 (although official word is the separation between actress and series was the proverbial "mutual").

And now, an era comes -- very -- quietly to a close. Despite a long, successful run at ABC, anchoring its "TGIF" lineup, the series moved (along with ABC's "Step By Step") to CBS last fall, with the high hopes of beginning and initiating a new era. It wasn't meant to be. Whether youthful and family audiences were too accustomed to tuning into ABC on Friday nights, or whether "Family Matters" just finally -- after nine years -- got "old," we might not ever know. But we know this: CBS canceled the series.

And fans of "Family Matters" have chosen to express their grief somewhat quietly. Unlike fans of UPN's "The Sentinel," and CBS' "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman," or "Magnificent Seven," there were no sign-carrying protests outside CBS studios, no letter-writing campaigns (at least not high-profile ones) and no full-page ads were taken out and paid for by fans furious at their show's cancelation. Rather, fans, like maybe even White himself, seem content to understand that Urkel and his "Family Matters" have had their time.

Now, the alphabet net airs a two-part episode where Urkel, now engaged to his beloved Laura (goodbye gal pal Myra, a hilarious, geek gal -- albeit a pretty one -- who since 1993, adored Urkel and was played by pretty Michelle Thomas), Urkel goes off to space.

White, 21, still at UCLA and anxious to himself say goodbye to Urkel, aspires to direct and produce (and maybe even bid adieu to acting altogether). White, the most underrated comic actor of his time, created a unique hero for TV. Sure the series was often way over the top. Sure, it was silly. Sure it was, especially in the last couple of years, pure, undadulterated fantasy (think of Urkel and his alter ego, suave and debonair Urquelle -- courtesy of a switchy changy machine Urkel invents).

But still, if the French can adore Jerry Lewis, we can adore Urkel...pardon us, Jaleel White.

Good luck, "Family Matters" cast. Good luck, Urkel. But mostly, good luck, White. May you be as ambitious and successful in your next venture as you have been in this one.

"Family Matters'" two-parter, "Lost in Space, Part One and Part Two" airs Friday, July 10 and Friday, July 17 at 9 p.m. on CBS. Rebroadcasts air widely in syndication through the U.S. and also on TBS.

Bittersweet Exit for 'Family Matters' 1998
M.S. Mason Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
It's a season of sitcom endings. "Seinfeld" signed off amid unprecedented national fanfare, while "Murphy Brown" made a poignant, sedate exit. On July 10 and 17 on CBS, the long-running "Family Matters" will also air its last two episodes as TV's goofiest nerd, Steve Urkel (Jaleel White), saves a space shuttle and seals his relationship with the ever-perfect girl next door, Laura (Kellie Williams).
Even Urkel's arch foil, Carl, Laura's dad, welcomes him home from space and into the family with a warm hug. While this episode may not have been meant as a farewell, it works as one. After nine seasons, "Family Matters" leaves quietly.
And though he loved doing the show, Reginald VelJohnson, for one, is just as glad as he is sad to see it go. Playing the lovable Carl has had its rewards, but no actor wants to be trapped in a type, and Mr. VelJohnson has played enough policemen for now. Remember, he co-starred with Bruce Willis as a genial, Twinkie-eating cop in "Die Hard."

"Nothing lasts forever," he says, "but there must be endings before you have beginnings, so I think I'm at a beginning. I'm ready for a new challenge. What do I do next? It's like starting your career over.
"I am remembering now how the show began," he continues. "The first time we all met [the cast], we were all wearing the same colors - black and white. We all knew it would be something special. And it has been good. I think of these people as family. But in a way, I'm glad, too, that it's over. Now it is time to show what I can do as an actor."
When the show began in 1989, the approach was much more ensemble than it has since become. A middle-class African-American family living in suburban Chicago included Carl as a good dad and an exemplary cop, his head-strong wife, Harriette, their children, Laura, Eddie, and Judy, Harriette's widowed sister, Rachel, with baby Richie, and Carl's sharp-witted mother. It was one complex household. But it soon became clear that the real star of the show was Urkel.
Assertive, brilliant, and annoying as a gnat, Urkel had a crush on Laura that led to all kinds of misadventures. And they all drove Carl crazy.
"I would have preferred for some of the episodes to concentrate on some of the other characters," says VelJohnson. "It was mostly about Steve and my reaction to Steve. But other characters were just as interesting - like Harriette and her sister Rachel. They had a special relationship. And Jo Marie [Payton-Noble, who played Harriette] is brilliant. It's like a fruit bowl: If every time you go to the fruit bowl you choose a banana, you can get tired of bananas. You have to try the oranges and apples."

Still, the nine years he has been on the show have left happy memories. One of the best rewards, says VelJohnson, is the respect he has received from policemen. "They thank me for giving the police force a good image," he says. "Especially black police officers thank me. You know, they have a heavy load to take home every night. I don't think the general public realizes what they go through every day."
"Family Matters" always projected a positive message, says VelJohnson. The show even said it was OK to be a nerd. Urkel represented everyone who was unsure of himself. "You can laugh, but Urkel was always the winner, and audiences learned from Urkel's mistakes and triumphs."
He points out that Carl, too, is an excellent role model - a warm, caring father. And children respond affectionately to that character. He has no kids of his own, but VelJohnson volunteers for Big Brothers of America, visiting group homes and hospitals. "Little kids come up to me and say, 'I wish you were my daddy.' These little kids have no one....
"I wish I had the kind of father I play on 'Family Matters,' and I meet kids now who are looking for that as well."

Off Camera - Dissing `Family' Goodbye / CBS buries finale of show
it grabbed and dropped Verne Gay, 1998, Newsday Inc.

THE FINALE for most shows with lousy ratings usually can be found at the end of a dusty trail that leads directly to the edge of a bottomless canyon - into which the unfortunate show is pushed.
But the finale for a long-running hit is another matter altogether.
It can be ridiculously overhyped ("Seinfeld") or controversial ("Ellen") or muted ("Murphy Brown.") But the end of the road for "Family Matters?" This one goes under the heading of bizarre.
Tomorrow night at 9, when it's guaranteed that absolutely no one will be watching, CBS will air part one of a two-part finale, titled "Lost in Space." Part two airs next Friday - when, again, it's guaranteed that no one will be watching.
What's going on here? Isn't the idea of commercial television to get the most people in front of the set, and not the least? Is, perhaps, CBS so embarrassed that it is obliged to bury it in the middle of July? That seems a stretch. Let us assure you, this "Matters'" finale will not be the greatest waste of 21 minutes on TV this season; plenty of other shows are competing for that honor. It is an intermittently amusing, if cartoonish, end - nothing much different from the 214 prior episodes.
The show, a "Perfect Strangers" spin-off that bowed in 1989, originally focused on the Winslows, a middle-class black family. But a few years into its run, neighbor and nerd extraordinaire Steve Urkel (Jaleel White) became the center of attention.
In the finale, Urkel gets a trip into outer space because NASA likes his latest invention (the "Urkel Artificial Anti-Gravity Feed 5000"). He is marooned. He is saved. He nearly gets hitched to paramour Laura Winslow (Kellie Shanygne Williams), but ends the nine-season run with a lingering kiss instead.
So what's going on? The demise of "Family Matters" - whether you love it, loathe it or have no idea what we're talking about - is a notable event in TV for several reasons. It's believed to be the longest-running show in prime-time television that featured an all-black cast. "The Cosby Show" lasted eight seasons; "Matters," nine. It was, for most of its life - no surprise - a very popular show with black viewers. It also was a very popular show with young kids. The show remains a staple in syndication (reruns air on WPIX/11, TBS and WGN).
The show was never a mega-hit, but it did finish in 15th place among all prime-time shows during the 1990-'91 season. "Durable" may be the best description: never a favorite among critics, most of whom likely never watched it, but a lynchpin of ABC's "TGIF" lineup, nonetheless.
And then CBS stepped in. Early last year, Leslie Moonves, chairman of CBS Entertainment, pulled off what seemed to be - on paper - a heist. By prying "Matters" (and "Step by Step," another Miller-Boyett sitcom) off the ABC schedule, he hoped to torpedo "TGIF" by dragging a proven ratings-grabber among young viewers from one flagging network to another. Thus, he could lower his own network's median age (the oldest among the major networks) and attract more advertising dollars. Moonves paid an estimated $40 million for this series, a record for a show to jump from one network to another.
On paper, brilliant. In practice, disaster.
Moonves is a smart guy. What happened here? In a phone interview, he says simply, "It didn't work. It failed. It is probably my biggest disappointment from last year." But, he adds, "the biggest problem facing CBS from the day I walked in here until the day after I walk out is getting ourselves demographically younger. We have no kids watching our network. None.
"My Friday night was my biggest disappointment [because of] the fact that I could take a 16-share show and put it on exactly the same night in exactly the same time period and it goes to an 11 share right off the bat. Yes, I had to pay a little bit higher than I would have liked, but it was our only play in the game. I don't think I should be penalized for taking a risk."
Yet, it didn't seem like such a big one at the time. There is a saying among programers that people don't watch networks, they watch shows. Hogwash. People do watch networks, and older viewers have long gravitated toward CBS. But there also has been a long history of CBS Entertainment executives who have tried to tart up the schedule in efforts to bring youngsters aboard - to no avail.
"Matters" now becomes the latest victim. A few key stats are telling. The median age of "Matters'" viewers on ABC in late '97 was 32.3. The median age of "Matters'" CBS viewers was 44.2. The show averaged 14.3 million viewers during its last year at ABC. That fell by 5.4 million at CBS ("Step by Step" had a similar plunge).
The "Family Matters" blunder may turn out to be Moonves' single biggest mistake. But why bury this pricey failure in the dog days? Says Moonves, "We didn't know what else, frankly, to do with it."
A final irony: The show that has replaced it, "Kids Say the Darndest Things," is doing quite well with kid viewers. It is partly owned by CBS and costs a tiny fraction of $40 million.

FAMILY MATTERS CBS (Fri., July 10 and 17, 9 p.m. ET) 1998 People

Why it's enough to make you picket your CBS affiliate with an "Unfair to Urkel" sign. After his network lured Family Matters. away from ABC last year, CBS Television president Leslie Moonves called it "one of the great television shows in history." But its ratings suffered on CBS, and the canceled series ends ist nine-season run with a two-part episode dumped in the summer dog days. Doesn't Jaleel White's supernerd character Steve Urkel deserve as much farewell fanfare as that smug Seinfeld guy and his friends? Before you get carried away, know that the finale is not very funny. Urkel is chosen to be the first student in space--which makes sense, since his geekiness is out of this world. But the spacecraft collides with a satellite, and our oddball hero--who says he's so upset he's "about to blow chunks"--must save the day. Urkel's fiancee, Laura (Kellie Shanygne Williams), prays hard for his safe return, while her family busies itself with a boring subplot. "I can't watch this," Laura moans as TV covers the space crisis. Fear not; the end is near. Bottom Line: Goodbye already.

- Where Are They Now? About the former cast of Family Matters today, June 2000

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