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.

8 Fun Facts About Muppet Babies

The Jim Henson Company
The Jim Henson Company

Before prequels were a thing, Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies imagined a world in which the felt-covered characters of Henson’s Muppets franchise—Kermit, Miss Piggy, Animal, and Fozzie Bear among them—met up as children in a nursery. Left to their own devices, the animated cast led a rich fantasy life while in diapers. For more on this 1984-1991 show, including why it’s so hard to find anywhere except YouTube, keep reading.

1. Frank Oz didn’t really want Muppet Babies.

The idea to infantilize the Muppets came from Michael Frith, a longtime collaborator of Jim Henson’s, in the early 1980s. Frith believed that regressing the characters could allow them to impart moral or educational messages to children already familiar with them. But Frank Oz, a Muppets performer (Miss Piggy) and film director, argued that the Muppets needed to maintain their subversive edge. It was Henson who found a compromise, suggesting that younger versions of the characters appear in a dream sequence for 1984’s feature film The Muppets Take Manhattan. The response to the scene was overwhelmingly positive, and Henson soon teamed with Marvel Productions and CBS for an animated series that began airing in September 1984.

2. Skeeter was the result of a gender imbalance on Muppet Babies.

Most of the principal Muppet Babies cast was made up of recognizable characters, including Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Rowlf, Gonzo, Animal, Bunsen, and Scooter. But Frith, Henson, and producers Bob Richardson and Hank Saroyan decided that the babies were skewing a little too male. Aside from Piggy and their caretaker, Nanny, there were no female characters. To balance the scales, they introduced Skeeter, Scooter’s twin sister, a brainy problem-solver.

Skeeter has made only fleeting and sporadic appearances in the Muppet franchise since, leading to speculation she might be caught up in rights issues between CBS and the Jim Henson Company, which was purchased by Disney in 2004. Fortunately, the somewhat murky situation appears to be at least partially resolved: It was recently reported Skeeter will resurface in the new computer-animated iteration of Muppet Babies, which is currently airing its second season on Disney Junior and has been renewed for a third season.

3. One of the major creative forces behind Muppet Babies was Moe Howard’s grandson.

In 1985, Muppet Babies writer Jeffrey Scott received a Humanitas Prize from the Human Family Educational and Cultural Institute for an episode of the series which the Institute declared did the best job of any kid’s show that year to “enrich the viewing public.” The episode centered on the group fearing one of them might be sent away. The prolific Scott actually wrote all 13 episodes of the first season. His father, Norman Maurer, worked at Hanna-Barbera Productions and got Scott’s foot in the door. His grandfather was Moe Howard, founder and head Stooge of The Three Stooges fame.

4. The Muppet Babies live-action segments were a result of budgetary constraints.

A hallmark of Muppet Babies is when the cast finds themselves thrust into scenes from famous films, a Walter Mitty-esque bit of fantasy fulfillment that blends live-action sequences with animation. According to Frith, devoting a portion of each episode to clips wasn’t entirely a creative choice. By inserting clips, producers could save money on animation. It was also easy for Henson to secure the rights to popular films like Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark because he was friends with George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. While some believe those clips are the reason the show isn’t available to stream—sifting through the legal entanglement of reairing the segments might prove costly—that’s never been confirmed.

5. Muppet Babies never explained what the Muppets were doing in that nursery.

Given time to reflect, it seems odd that the Muppet cast would find themselves in a nursery without being supervised by their own parents. Speaking with the Detroit Free Press in 1987, Michael Frith said that the situation was purposely left vague. “I really appreciate the fact that they don’t [ask],” Frith said of his kid viewers. “Is this a day care center? Is this a foster child home? The more we talked about it, the more we felt it should just exist. The kids accept it.”

6. The voice recording sessions of Muppet Babies included copious farting.

Speaking with CNN in 2011, actor Dave Coulier (Full House) recalled that recording sessions for Muppet Babies sometimes involved flatulence. Coulier, who portrayed Animal and Bunsen, among others, said that “lots of fart humor” punctuated the recording studio. “In one scene, Fozzie [played by Greg Berg] and Animal had to climb a ladder,” he said. “As Animal was pushing Fozzie up the ladder, they were making [grunting] sounds. In mid-scene, Greg Berg farted. I looked at [actor] Frank Welker and we couldn’t contain ourselves. Uncontrollable laughter ensued. I was literally on the floor of the studio laughing.”

7. There was an offshoot of Muppet Babies called Muppet Monsters—and it never aired in full.

Following the success of Muppet Babies, CBS and Jim Henson decided to expand on the Muppets' potential as Saturday morning stars by creating a 90-minute block in 1985 titled Muppets, Babies, and Monsters. (Muppet Babies often aired consecutive half-hour installments for an hour total.) In addition to regular Muppet Babies episodes, the program featured another half-hour of Little Muppet Monsters, which featured puppets of new Muppet monster characters named Tug, Molly, and Boo. The three appeared in a framing device that introduced animated segments of adult Muppets. Only three episodes aired out of 15 produced, reportedly due to both Henson and CBS being unhappy with the finished product and Muppet Babies standing strongly on its own. The remaining episodes have yet to see the light of day.

8. Muppet Babies was turned into a live stage show.

To further incite their juvenile audience and monetize their popularity, the Muppet Babies franchise eventually wound up live and on stage. Muppet Babies Live! debuted in 1986 and featured performers in oversized costumes dancing and acting to a prerecorded track. In one skit, the cast appeared in a Snow White homage. In another, Rowlf became Rowlfgang Amagodus Mozart and played the piano. The arena show toured the country. Hank Saroyan, one of the animated show’s producers, wrote the stage show. The performer for Baby Piggy, Elizabeth Figols, also appeared in a live production of Dirty Dancing. The show ran through 1990.

15 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of The Great British Baking Show

Netflix
Netflix

by Sarah Dobbs

If you’re an American fan of The Great British Bake Off you probably know it better as The Great British Baking Show (though its most devoted fans simply call it GBBO, which saves a lot of time). The show's tenth season recently kicked off on England’s Channel 4, and is streaming for American audiences via Netflix (though only one episode is being rolled out per week).

A bona fide global sensation, the baking competition has the power to cause otherwise rational human beings to immediately run to their nearest supermarket in search of obscure ingredients like psyllium or Amarula cream liqueur. It’s a charming, retro, warming hug of a TV show. But how much do you know about what goes on behind the scenes? Without destroying any of your illusions, here are some secrets about how the producers whip up one of the world's most beloved cooking shows.

1. The reason why it has two different names is simple.

A scene from The Great British Bake Off
Netflix

If you’ve ever wondered why the series is called The Great British Bake Off in England and The Great British Baking Show in America, the answer is simple: Pillsbury. The Pillsbury Bake Off, which kicked off in 1949, is probably America’s most famous baking contest. And the company didn’t want there to be any confusion among viewers, hence The Great British Baking Show.

2. Each oven has to be tested every day.

It’s difficult enough to make a cake that Paul Hollywood won’t declare either under- or over-baked without having to worry about whether your oven is working properly. So for every day of filming, every oven has to be tested. And because this is a baking show, they’re tested with cakes. Yes, every day every oven has a Victoria sponge cake cooked in it, to make sure everything’s working exactly as it should be.

3. Every time someone opens an oven door, there's a camera watching them.

To make sure they catch all the drama, GBBO producers insist that every time a bake is put into or taken out of an oven, the moment must be caught on camera. So whenever a baker wants to put their goodies into an oven, or check if they’re ready to come out, they need to grab someone to make sure the moment gets captured on film. (Which must be a hassle for the first couple of weeks, when there are more than 10 bakers all trying their best to produce a perfect bake at once.)

4. The contestants have to wear the same clothes all weekend.

It’s a minor thing, but have you ever noticed that the bakers wear the same clothes for an entire episode, even though it’s shot over two days? For continuity purposes, the contestants are asked to wear the same outfits for the entire weekend. If you’re the kind of baker who ends up with flour all over your shirt whenever you bake up a loaf of bread, the second day of filming could be a bit of a nightmare.

"Luckily they change the aprons so we don't look like a Jackson Pollock painting by the end of it," 2013 champion Frances Quinn told Cosmopolitan. "I think layers [is the answer], but even then you still have to wear what you had on, on top. Difficult."

5. The contestants don't have a lot of downtime.

Having any time to spare is not something that season seven contestant Jane Beedle remembers happening regularly for the contestants. "Maybe once or twice, and when they did we would just sit and have a cup of tea and chat with the people around us,” she told the Mirror. "They don't like it if you have nothing to do, so they try and make the challenges as difficult as possible to keep you busy."

6. The temperature in the tent can make or break a bake.

Sue Perkins, Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood, and Frances Quinn in 'The Great British Bake Off'
BBC

Forget setting the oven to the correct temperature—the temperature inside the tent is just as important to a bake. "It's completely alien to your own kitchen at home,” Quinn told Cosmopolitan. “The temperature fluctuates—you'd be making a meringue and it would start raining, or we'd try and make pastry and it would be 27 degrees outside. The technical challenges and lack of time and lack of fridge and work space are the enemy on that show."

7. The illustrations are created by Tom Hovey, after the episode has filmed.

You know those fun illustrations of the confections that pop up when each baker explains what they’re going to make that day? Those are all drawn by illustrator Tom Hovey. He was working as a video editor on the first season of GBBO when the producers realized they needed an extra visual element—so he offered his illustration skills. And while we see the illustrations on screen before the bakers attempt to make them a reality, Hovey told the BBC he draws them “a pack of photos of the finished bakes from the set after each episode has been filmed … I sketch out all the bakes quickly in pencil to get the details, form and shape I am after. I then work these up by hand drawing them all in ink, then they’re scanned and colored digitally, and then I add the titles and ingredient arrows. It's a fairly well streamlined process now.”

Even if a bake goes horribly wrong, Hovey said his “illustrations are a representation of what the bakers hope to create. Even if the bakers don't produce what they’ve intended to I have a degree of artistic license to make them look good.”

8. The contestants don't interact with the judges very much.

“They very much tried to keep it unbiased,” Quinn said about how the bakers don’t spend much time interacting with the judges. “We saw a lot more of Mel and Sue. Mary and Paul would purely come in to do what we called the royal tour—where they'd come in and find out what you were making, and then they'd come back in for judging. You're not in the same hotel having sleepovers! You form more of a relationship after the show when you see them at things like BBC Good Food or whatever—but they need to keep their distance [on the show]. They're there as judges."

9. Making sure that the technical challenge is actually possible is one person's job.

Sandi Toksvig in 'The Great British Bake Off'
Netflix

Another vital behind-the-scenes role is that of the food researcher. It’s down to them to make sure that the elaborate concoction the judges have decided the bakers have to whip up is actually possible, given the ingredients, instructions, and time the bakers will be allowed.

The tent presents its own challenges, too, because it could be hot or cold, depending on the weather, and it tends to have quite a wobbly floor, which can make delicate decorating work trickier than it might otherwise seem. “The tent is just mocked up, so the floor is really bumpy and bouncy because you’d got so many camera guys running around,” Quinn told the Irish Examiner.

10. The show got into some trouble for its partnership with Smeg.

Part of GBBO’s homey charm has to do with the setup of the tent where the bakers do their cooking, and few appliances spell “retro” as well as a colorful Smeg refrigerator. A viewer fed up with what they described as “blatant product promotion” wrote to the Radio Times to complain, and an investigation was launched into the series’ agreement with Smeg. As BBC guidelines state that a series may "not accept free or reduced cost products" in return for "on-air or online credits, links or off-air marketing,” the broadcaster ended up having to write the company a check for all the times their product got some screen time.

11. There are never any leftovers.

The judges only take a mouthful of every bake, which seems to leave an awful lot of leftover pastries, cakes, and ridiculously complicated bread sculptures. But don’t worry—none of it goes to waste. “The crew eats all the leftovers," Beedle told The Mirror. "We get some brought to us in the green room so we can taste each other's bakes, but it's only slithers."

12. Hundreds of season five viewers wrote in to complain about "sabotage."

Midway through season five, contestant Iain Watters had a bit of an issue with his Baked Alaska. Realizing that his ice cream had not yet set, he threw the entire dish into the trash rather than serve the judges a subpar dessert and was sent home as a result. Footage from the episode made is seem as if fellow contestant Diana Beard had removed his ice cream from the freezer. Beard left the show at just about the same time due to health issues, but some viewers (811, to be exact) smelled sabotage—and wrote in to the show’s producers to complain. Media watchdog group Ofcom looked into the matter, but said that they had assessed viewers’ complaints and “they do not raise issues warranting further investigation under Ofcom’s rules.”

Paul Hollywood took to Twitter to clear up what became known as “bingate,” tweeting: “Ice cream being left out of fridge last night for 40 seconds did not destroy Iain’s chances in the bake off, what did was his decision BIN.”

13. Mary Berry watched Breaking Bad backstage.

Although it looks pretty nonstop on screen, there’s quite a bit of downtime during the show’s filming days. Especially for the show’s judges and hosts. Former judge Mary Berry had one unique way of passing the time: binge-watching Breaking Bad. “It’s shocking,” Berry told The Telegraph. “Then you get into it and you think: ‘Have I seen episode four or five?’ You get hooked. It’s better than motor racing, which [my husband] Paul watches—though I’d prefer Downton Abbey.” She’d apparently rope former hosts Mel and Sue into watching it with her on occasion. What better way to relax during a long day of baking than by watching Walter White, umm, baking?

14. The application form is no joke.

Fancy your chances in the Bake Off tent? If you’ve been inspired by the show and reckon you could nab a couple of Star Baker titles, brace yourself: The application form is a whopping eight pages long, and it’s full of probing questions. As well as giving details of your hobbies, lifestyle, and level of experience with various types of baked goods, it also asks applicants to describe their baking style, and answer a couple of existential-sounding questions.

"It's a long application form. I think it's designed to put some people off, essentially," fourth season contestant Beca Lyne-Pirkis said. "It asks you about everything you have done, good and bad. It's designed to get information about your character, stories, mishaps and successes."

Still fancy applying? Though submissions are not open at the moment, you can keep your eyes open for when the next batch of contestants are being accepted here.

15. The audition process is a grueling one.

If you happen to make it through the application process, the audition process is even more difficult. “Every person who makes it into the marquee has passed a rigorous series of tests,” GBBO creator and executive producer Anna Beattie told The Telegraph. In addition to the application form, The Telegraph reported that there is “a 45-minute telephone call with a researcher, bringing two bakes to an audition in London, a screen test and an interview with a producer. If they get through that, there is a second audition baking two recipes … in front of the cameras, and an interview with the show psychologist to make sure they can cope with being filmed for up to 16 hours a day.”

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