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Warner Bros. Television

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.

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15 Things You Might Not Know About Chewbacca
ANTONIN THUILLIER, AFP/Getty Images
ANTONIN THUILLIER, AFP/Getty Images

Even if you don't know the name Peter Mayhew, you surely know about Chewbacca—the seven-foot tall Wookiee he has played onscreen for over three decades. In honor of Mayhew’s birthday, here are 15 things you might not know about Han Solo's BFF.

1. HE WAS INSPIRED BY GEORGE LUCAS'S DOG.

The character of Chewbacca was inspired by George Lucas’s big, hairy Alaskan malamute, Indiana. According to Lucas, the dog would always sit in the passenger seat of his car like a copilot, and people would confuse the dog for an actual person. And in case you're wondering: yes, that same dog was also the inspiration behind the name of one of Lucas’s other creations, Indiana Jones.

2. HIS NAME IS OF RUSSIAN ORIGIN.

The name “Chewbacca” was derived from the Russian word Sobaka (собака), meaning “dog.” The term “Wookiee” came from voice actor Terry McGovern; when he was doing voiceover tracks for Lucas's directorial debut, THX 1138, McGovern randomly improvised the line, “I think I just ran over a Wookiee” during one of the sessions.

3. HE'S REALLY, REALLY OLD.

In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Chewbacca is 200 years old.

4. PETER MAYHEW'S HEIGHT HELPED HIM LAND THE ROLE.

Peter Mayhew
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Mayhew was chosen to play everyone’s favorite Wookiee primarily because of his tremendous height: He's 7 feet 3 inches tall.

5. HIS SUIT IS MADE FROM A MIX OF ANIMAL HAIRS, AND EVENTUALLY INCLUDED A COOLING SYSTEM.

For the original trilogy (and the infamous holiday special), the Chewbacca costume was made with a combination of real yak and rabbit hair knitted into a base of mohair. A slightly altered original Chewie costume was used in 1999's The Phantom Menace for the Wookiee senator character Yarua, and a new costume used during Episode III included a specially made water-cooling system so that Mayhew could wear the suit for long periods of time and not be overheated.

6. ONE OF STANLEY KUBRICK'S CLOSEST CREATORS DESIGNED THE COSTUME.

Chewbacca's costume
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To create the original costume for Chewbacca, Lucas hired legendary makeup supervisor Stuart Freeborn, who was recruited because of his work on the apes in the “Dawn of Man” sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Freeborn had also previously worked with Kubrick on Dr. Strangelove to effectively disguise Peter Sellers in each of his three roles in that film.) Freeborn would go on to supervise the creation of Yoda in The Empire Strike Back and Jabba the Hutt and the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi.

Lucas originally wanted Freeborn’s costume for Chewie to be a combination of a monkey, a dog, and a cat. According to Freeborn, the biggest problem during production with the costume was with Mayhew’s eyes. The actor’s body heat in the mask caused his face to detach from the costume's eyes and made them look separate from the mask.

7. FINDING CHEWBACCA'S VOICE WAS BEN BURTT'S FIRST ASSIGNMENT.

The first sound effect that director George Lucas hired now-legendary sound designer Ben Burtt for on Star Wars was Chewbacca’s voice (this was all the way back during the script stage). During the year of preliminary sound recording, Burtt principally used the vocalization of a black bear named Tarik from Happy Hollow Zoo in San Jose, California for Chewbacca. He would eventually synchronize those sounds with further walrus, lion, and badger vocalizations for the complete voice. The name of the language Chewbacca speaks came to be known in the Star Wars universe as “Shyriiwook.”

8. ROGER EBERT WAS NOT A FAN.

Roger Ebert was not a fan of the big guy. In his 1997 review of the Special Edition of The Empire Strikes Back, Ebert basically called Chewbacca the worst character in the series. “This character was thrown into the first film as window dressing, was never thought through, and as a result has been saddled with one facial expression and one mournful yelp," the famed critic wrote. "Much more could have been done. How can you be a space pilot and not be able to communicate in any meaningful way? Does Han Solo really understand Chewie's monotonous noises? Do they have long chats sometimes? Never mind.”

9. HE WAS ORIGINALLY MUCH MORE SCANTILY CLAD.

In the summary for Lucas’s second draft (dated January 28, 1975, when the film was called “Adventures of the Starkiller, Episode I: The Star Wars”), Chewbacca is described as “an eight-foot tall, savage-looking creature resembling a huge gray bushbaby-monkey with fierce ‘baboon’-like fangs. His large yellow eyes dominate a fur-covered face … [and] over his matted, furry body he wears two chrome bandoliers, a flak jacket painted in a bizarre camouflage pattern, brown cloth shorts, and little else.”

10. HIS DESIGN WAS BASED ON RALPH MCQUARRIE'S CONCEPT ART.

Chewbacca’s character design was based on concept art drawn by Ralph McQuarrie. Lucas had originally given McQuarrie a photo of a lemur for inspiration, and McQuarrie proceeded to draw the character as a female—but Chewbacca was soon changed to a male. McQuarrie based his furry design on an illustration by artist John Schoenherr, which was commissioned for Game of Thrones scribe George R.R. Martin’s short story “And Seven Times Never Kill a Man.” Sharp-eyed Chewbacca fans will recognize that Schoenherr’s drawing even includes what resembles the Wookiee’s signature weapon, the Bowcaster.

11. HE WON A LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD.

Fans were angry for decades that Chewie didn’t receive a medal of valor like Luke and Han did at the end of A New Hope, so MTV gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 MTV Movie Awards. The medal was given to Mayhew—decked out in full costume—by Princess Leia herself, actress Carrie Fisher. His acceptance speech, made entirely in Wookiee grunts, lasted 16 seconds. When asked why Chewbacca didn’t receive a medal at the end of the first film, Lucas explained, “Medals really don’t mean much to Wookiees. They don’t really put too much credence in them. They have different kinds of ceremonies.”

12. HE HAS A FAMILY BACK HOME.

According to the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, Chewbacca had a wife named Mallatobuck, a son named Lumpawaroo (a.k.a. “Lumpy”), and a father named Attichitcuk (aka “Itchy”). In the special, Chewie and Han visit the Wookiee home planet of Kashyyyk to celebrate “Life Day,” a celebration of the Wookiee home planet’s diverse ecosystem. The special featured appearances and musical numbers by Jefferson Starship, Diahann Carroll, Art Carney, Harvey Korman, and Bea Arthur, and marked the first appearance of Boba Fett. Lucas hated the special so much that he limited its availability following its original airdate on November 17, 1978.

13. MAYHEW'S BIG FEET ARE WHAT KICKSTARTED HIS CAREER.

Mayhew’s path to playing Chewbacca began with a string of lucky breaks—and his big feet. A local London reporter was doing a story on people with big feet and happened to profile Mayhew. A movie producer saw the article and cast him—in an uncredited role—as Minoton the minotaur in the film Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. One of the makeup men on Sinbad was also working on the Wookiee costume with Stuart Freeborn for Star Wars and suggested to the producers that they screen test Mayhew. The rest is Wookiee history.

14. MAYHEW KEPT HIS DAY JOB WHILE SHOOTING STAR WARS.

Peter Mayhew
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During the shooting of Star Wars, Mayhew kept working his day job as a deputy head porter in a London hospital. Though he was let go because of his sudden varying shooting schedule at Elstree Studios, he was eventually hired back after production wrapped.

15. DARTH VADER COULD HAVE BEEN CHEWBACCA.

Darth Vader
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David Prowse, the 6’5” actor who ended up portraying Darth Vader—in costume only—originally turned down the role of Chewbacca.  When given the choice between portraying the two characters, Prowse said, “I turned down the role of Chewbacca at once. I know that people remember villains longer than heroes. At the time I didn’t know I’d be wearing a mask, and throughout production I thought Vader’s voice would be mine.”

Additional Sources: Star Wars DVD special features
The Making of Star Wars: The definitive Story Behind the Original Film, J.W. Rinzler

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The Unsolved Mysteries Soundtrack Is Coming to Vinyl
Terror Vision
Terror Vision

If you never missed an episodes of Unsolved Mysteries, just listening to the opening theme of the series may be enough to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. Now, you don't need to wait to catch reruns of the show to experience the haunting music: The original soundtrack is now available to preorder on vinyl—the first time it's been available in any format.

Terror Vision, a company that releases obscure horror scores on vinyl, has produced two versions of the soundtrack: A single LP for $27 and a triple LP for $48. Both records were compiled from the original digital audio tapes used to score the show. Terror Vision owner and soundtrack curator Ryan Graveface writes in the product description: "The single LP version features my personal favorite songs from the ghost related segments of Unsolved Mysteries whereas the triple LP set contains EVERYTHING written for the ghost segments. This version is very very limited as it’s really just meant for diehard fans.”

Both LPs include various iterations of the Unsolved Mysteries opening theme—three versions on the single and five on the triple. Customers who spring for the triple LP will also receive liner notes from the show's creator John Cosgrove, composer Gary Malkin, and Graveface.

Over 30 years since the show first premiered, the theme music remains one of the most memorable parts of the spooky, documentary-style series. As Producer Raymond Bridgers once said, "The music was so distinctive that you didn’t even have to be in the room to know that Unsolved Mysteries was on.”

You can preorder the records today with shipping estimated for late June.

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