Step by Step aired from September 1991 until July 1998 on ABC and CBS.
Two appealing stars, some winsome kids and a can't-miss time slot right in the middle of ABC's hit TGIF Friday night lineup were but a few contributing factors in the success of this very funny family situation comedy.
Frank Lambert ( Patrick Duffy of Dallas) was a freewheeling, divorced contractor who had impetuously married widowed beautician Carol Foster ( Suzanne Somers of Three's Company) when they met during separate vacations in Jamaica. They flew home to Port Washington, Wisconsin, where they both lived and told their kids - he had three and she had three - and all the problems of a merged family began.
While Carol was orderly, Frank was chaotic. The kids eyed each other suspiciously. Her kids were: Dana ( Staci Keanan), her teenaged daughter who was as unbelievably neat and clean as her Mother; Karen ( Angela Watson), the middle sister who was a budding fashion statement and Mark ( Christopher Castile), the youngest of the three and who was a worry wart. Frank's were: teenage J.T. ( Brandon Call), a cool customer; Al ( Christine Lakin), his pre-teen daughter who was into bugs and animals and Brendan ( Josh Byrne), the youngest of the bunch who had a carefree spirit.
Carol worked with her Mother Ivy ( Peggy Rea) and sister Penny ( Patrika Darbo) in her beauty salon next-door. Living in his van parked in the Lambert's driveway was Cody ( Sasha Mitchell), Frank's spaced-out 19-year-old nephew whose schemes and obsessions kept everyone in an uproar but who was really smarter than he let on.
By the fourth season, the oldest kids were approaching adulthood. Dana entered college and J.T. was working as a car salesman. In May 1995, Carol gave birth to the couple's first child together, Lilly ( played by Lauren and Kristina Meyering). Emily Mae Young took over the role in 1997 as Lilly grew rapidly, turning five and she entered preschool that year!
Stories included the kids' growing pains, their antics and numerous girl and boy friends. At the center of many of them was Rich ( Jason Marsden), J.T.'s best friend and Dana's sometime boyfriend. A major vacation for the family - and a BIG advertisement for ABC owner, The Walt Disney Corporation - was a two-part trip to Disney World in May 1996, paid for by Frank's mother (June Lockhart). Cody left the series at the end of that season deciding to travel the world ( Sasha Mitchell was being accused of domestic violence at the time and was fired from the show. He was later aquitted). Taking his place as a scene stealer when Step by Step returned for it's sixth season in early 1997 ( as a mid-season replacement) , was Jean-Luc ( Bronson Pinchot) , a quirky hairdresser from France who opened a salon with Carol.
In the fall of 1997, the show moved to CBS and Brenden vanashed without any explanation and Carol decided to go to college, finding herself in many of the same classes as her freshman daughter Karen.
Perhaps after all that grief on Dallas, Bobby Ewing ( Duffy) deserved some mindless laughs.
A Review from Entertainment Weekly
THE SOMERS OF '91
AS THE ACTRESS RETURNS TO SITCOMS IN ABC'S STEP BY STEP, A MOVIE BASED ON HER AUTOBIOGRAPHY, KEEPING SECRETS, LOOKS BACK AT HER DIFFICULT JOURNEY TO TELEVISION STARDOM
--By Ken Tucker
Suzanne Somers achieved success by being a blond bombshell defused in advance; as a television-manufactured sex symbol and comedic actress, she has always been ready for prime time. Flashy and giggly, wiggly and nonthreatening, Somers remains best known for the five seasons she spent as Chrissy Snow on Three's Company, the quintessential TV sex farce: all provocation, no payoff. When Somers walked away from Three's Company after the 1979-80 season in a contract dispute, it was a gesture that mingled bravery with foolhardiness. Hollywood has never taken kindly to sex symbols who want more money and power than the men who run the industry deign to grant them. Over the course of the '80s, Somers' career turned into the stuff of an SCTV parody: campy, schlocky TV movies like Hollywood Wives, a singing-and-dancing nightclub career that probably made Joey Heath-erton green with envy, an ongoing sideline as a poet whose verse crossed Sylvia Plath with Erma Bombeck. These days, however, the 44-year-old Somers is enjoying a sudden comeback. She's costarring with Dallas' Patrick Duffy in step by step (ABC, Fridays, 8:30-9 p.m.), a sitcom from the folks who brought you Family Matters and Perfect Strangers. Nestled between those two big hits on Friday nights, Step has the potential to become a huge success itself. And this week there's also a TV-movie version of Somers' 1988 autobiography, Keeping Secrets. A vanity production with a core of undeniable truth, keeping secrets (ABC, Sept. 29, 9-11 p.m.) is as melodramatic and self- aggrandizing as you'd imagine, but its emotions are honest and surprisingly raw. Ostensibly the story of Somers' early years, stopping just short of her Three's Company breakthrough, Keeping Secrets is really the tale of a family in crisis, of the star's alcoholic father and the suffering he caused his wife and chil-dren. Suzanne Mahoney-Somers' maiden name-lived in fear of her father, Frank (played by Dallas' Ken Kercheval), whose drunken binges and tyrannical rages made her middle-class youth in San Bruno, Calif., so awful that she used to crawl into a closet to hide for hours at a time. In scriptwriter Edmond Stevens' ad-aptation of Somers' book, we see that everyone in the Mahoney household had an addictive personality: Somers' father, two brothers, and sister (The Guiding Light's Kim Zimmer) all became hooked on booze. Her mother, played by Michael Learned (The Waltons, Nurse), seems to have been dependent on the abuse of her husband, whom she feared and yet loved. Only Suzanne remained untempted by the bottle; she was addicted to ambition, to becoming a star. Keeping Secrets, directed by John Korty (The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman), doles out its details with the latest psychoanalytic jargon about dependency and the dysfunctional family. While perhaps psychologically sound, this material seems wooden and phony as drama. By far the best thing about the TV movie is Kercheval's scary, head-long performance. Fearless about playing someone unattractive and hateful, Kercheval makes sure you understand the mental as well as physical pain that an alcoholic can inflict upon those around him. With Kercheval in it, Keeping Secrets is the best recruitment film both Alcoholics Anonymous and Adult Children of Alcoholics will ever have. The weakest sections of the movie are the ones that depict Somers' romance with and eventual marriage to Alan Hamel, the Canadian game-show host and actor, who is also Somers' manager and co-executive producer of this film. Ham-el is played by David Birney here, and although the script wants us to believe that Hamel, who is still married to Som-ers, was crucial in helping her emotionally and professionally, he comes off unappealingly-as a grinning smoothy who played Svengali to a curvaceous babe. Somers does a pretty good job; she's utterly unbelievable in the early scenes as a chipper high school graduate, but in reliving her years as a struggling actress, Somers isn't nearly as self-conscious as she might have been. With its earnest tone and Kercheval's performance giving it weight, Keeping Secrets is better than you might expect. As for Step by Step, it's exactly what you might expect: a sitcom as well- executed and weightless as everything else produced by what ABC calls ''the hit comedy workshop'' of creators Thomas L. Miller and Robert L. Boyett (Full House, etc.). An updating of The Brady Bunch, Step features Somers and Duffy as newlyweds who each have three children from previous marriages. The kids squabble, but fairly amiably, and Duffy shows an unexpectedly goofy side of his personality that is charming. Somers is Somers, beaming out a smile so wide it threatens to split her face in half. Two elements separate Step by Step from other sitcoms. One is a plot device: Somers runs a hair salon that adjoins the family's house, and the Steel Magnolias-like assortment of oddballs that constitute her hairdressers and their customers is, so far, an amusing lot. The other interesting thing is a running joke: Somers and Duffy are perpetually in heat for each other- panting, kissing, pawing. Sex rears its unruly head so rarely in sitcom marriages that this amounts to a novelty, one that will remain intriguing until the show overdoes it with too many but-the-kids-will-hear-us jokes. I give that three more weeks. Note: You'll see my Step by Step grade below, but you should also know that the youngsters in my house, who have made ABC's Friday-night slate of Miller- Boyett sitcoms a devout ritual, give the series a strong B+. It pains me to write that, but fair is fair. Keeping Secrets: C+ Step by Step: C
A Review from Variety
Published on May 27, 1994
Step by Step
((Fri. (20), 9-9:30 p.m., ABC))
By TONY SCOTT
Filmed at Warner Bros. Studio, Burbank, by Bickley/Warren Prods., Miller-Boyett Prods. and Warner Bros. TV. Executive producers, Ross Brown, William Bickley, Michael Warren; co-executive producers, Bob Rosenfarb, Robert Griffard, Howard Adler; producers, Ronny Marshall Hallin, Julia Newton; co-producer, Karen Kirchner; director, Patrick Duffy; writer, Newton; creators, Bickley, Warren; developers, Thomas L. Miller, Robert L. Boyett.
Cast: Patrick Duffy, Suzanne Somers, Staci Keanan, Sasha Mitchell, Brandon Call, Angela Watson, Christine Lakin, Christopher Castile, Josh Byrne, Troy Evans, Nancy Lenehan, Jason Allen, Elizabeth Sroka, John Buchanan, Jennifer Wade , Jordan Benedict, Matthew Warren.
Patrick Duffy and Suzanne Somers continue their sitcom as Frank Lambert and Carol Foster Lambert, who bring their respective offspring into their marriage with high hopes. "The Brady Bunch" look-alike still holds up in ABC's Friday comedy slate.
Sophistication isn't the show's long suit, and the off-camera audience is too enthusiastic to be 100% genuine, but the characters' antics are acceptable.
In this one, Frank's exuberant teen son J.T. (Brandon Call) thinks he has a date with a pal's sister, a model; however, the date turns out to be the friend's 13-year-old, pushy sister Eleanor (Elizabeth Sroka).
Carol's daughter Dana (Staci Keanan), has a date with wonderful Jeff (John Buchanan), but both J.T. and Dana have a letdown in store. And poor Eleanor probably has the biggest letdown of all.
At home, Carol's invited the Tubmans (Troy Evans, Nancy Lenehan) over for a visit because young Brendan Lambert (Josh Byrne) and Lester Tubman (Jordan Benedict) had a fight; the parents turn out to be strong comic material for the seg.
Show strains to create situations, but they pay off OK. Somers and Duffy are able, and the youngsters all perform well. Writer Julia Newton earns some laughs , but transitions are often flat despite Duffy's straightforward direction.
Program belongs in the dependable, sometimes-silly niche where school proms are sitcom fodder and minor misunderstandings mount up as ripples of assured laughter feed them.
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