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Family Matters aird from September 1989 until July 1998 on ABC and CBS.
Family Matters was a spin-off from Perfect Strangers on which Harriette Winslow appeared as the sarcastic elevator operator. This show focused on a middle-class black family living in suburban Chicago. The family included: blustery, heavyset Carl ( Reginald Vel Johnson), a Chicago cop; Harriette ( Jo Marie Peyton), his sharp-tongued wife and Eddie, Laura and Judy ( Darius McCrary, Kellie Shanygue Williams, Jaimee Foxworth), their rambunctious children. Hanging around to create laughs were Grandma Estelle Winslow ( Rosetta LeNoire), Carl's cantankerous mother and Harriette's recently widowed sister, Rachel ( Telma Hopkins), who moved in with her infant son, Richie ( Joseph and Julius Wright and later Bryton McClure). Rachel operated a local diner and hangout called "Rachel's Place."
The real star of the show emerged halfway through the first season. Steve Urkel ( played by Jaleel White), the ultimate nerd, was a neighborhood kid with a serious crush on an uninterested Laura. With his oversized glasses, hiked-up pants and high-pitched, sqeeky voice, he was an instant sensation.
In later years, Family Matters began to focus almost exclusively on skinny Steve and the ever-frustrated "big guy," Carl. Slapstick comedy and Urkel's bizarre inventions made this show a hilarious family treat. One invention that stood out more than others was the machine that could transform him into the cool, suave Steven. Steven and Laura fell for each other but it didn't last. The effects of the machine were only temporary and Steven soon transformed back into nerdy Steve.
In 1993, Judy disappeared from the series without an explanation, and Eddie - who was off to college - and Rachel were seldom seen after that. Eddie's buddy, Waldo ( Shawn Harrison), and Laura's friend Maxine ( Cherie Johnson), were seen from time-to-time, but the most surprising addition to the cast was Myra ( Michelle Thomas), a bright, beautiful teenager in pursuit of Urkel, who still had eyes for Laura.
Urkel moved in with the Winslows in 1995 when his parents left the country without him. Yet another kid joined the household the following year as the Winslow's became foster parents to frisky " 3J"( Orlando Brown), whom Urkel had met as a Big Brother. By now the older kids were growing up and Urkel, Laura and Myra joined Eddie as students at a local community college. However episodes were frequently based on Urkel's fantastic inventions as when he transported the entire family to Paris on the Urk-Pad, or time-traveled with Carl back to an 18th century pirate ship. He also learned the secret of cloning and Urkel's began to multiply. There was Myrtle, his outrageous cousin from Bioxi ( she had eyes for Eddie), he also dreamed up the debonair Stefan Urequelle, as a way to get to Laura. Jaleel White played both Myrtle and Stefan.
In the last season, now on CBS, Urkel helped get Carl promoted to captain, while Eddie quit college to enter the police academy. Two new characters were Commissioner Geiss ( Dick O'Neill), and Eddie's new girlfriend Greta ( Tammy Townsend), a rival to Myrtle. Also during the last season Jo Marie Peyton quit the series ( upset that her role had been getting reduced over the years. She was replaced by Judyann Elder). In the final episode, Urkel and Laura were engaged, when he learned he had won a contest to become the 1st student astronaut, and blasted off on a shuttle mission that went awry. After a series of disasters ( some caused by himself), he did a space walk to remove an errant satellite that had crashed into the hull and saved the day. He was reunited on Earth with his fiance Laura, and everybody hugged.
A Review from Entertainment Weekly
Published on May 4, 1990
B+ By Ken Tucker Ken Tucker
Ken Tucker is critic-at-large for EW
When it 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.
There's a big family in Family Matters: three kids (including the marvelously un-cute, subtle actress Kellie Shanygne Williams as middle child Laura), a feisty grandmother (Rosetta Le Noire), plus Harriette's sister Rachel (genially sarcastic Telma Hopkins) and her infant, Richie.
And let's not forget the show's break-out star, Steve Urkel (Jaleel White), who combines prepubescent nerdiness with lover-boy amorousness (he has a wicked crush on Laura) in a strikingly original way
All of these characters interact with speed and snappiness Family Matters is directed with the slamming-door precision of a good Broadway farce and the writing is sharp. When Laura recently made a foolish remark, Harriette fixed her with a look of disbelief and muttered to no one in particular, ''I must have braided her hair too tight this morning.''
Family Matters offers a picture of black family life that takes its middle-class ordinariness for granted, which is unusual for TV. Even more unusual, it's a show you can watch with your whole family, and chances are, everyone will get a few good laughs out of it.
An Article from USA TODAY
Published on February 15, 1991
VelJohnsom adjusts to 'Family' Fame
By Tom Green
Hollywood-Regenald VelJohnson finds it slightly surprising, but kind of nice, that he's turned out to be a TV sitcom dad.
The series he fathers is Family Matters, the ABC Friday night comedy that the past two weeks has landed in the top 10, as viewers have fallen wildly in love with neighborhood nerd Steve Urkel.
" I'm thrilled," says VelJohnson , 38, who has seen the family show jump from quiet Friday night entry into a formidable hit. Not bad for a single guy with no children.
" I came from a family of five kids. But I don't have an immediate family of my own, so it's a blast to say what kind of a father I would be."
VelJohnson took the role of Carl Winslow on Family Matters when his work in the hit film Die Hard-he was the understanding police sergeant who helps Bruce Willis -failed to produce a lot of jobs.
" To be honest, I didn't think the show was going to last that long...We...really weren't that original."
Initially, the series was ignored. VelJohnson includes ABC among the disinterested. " We had to sell ourselves. To this day, we haven't had any TV Guide covers or Ebony."
Then Jaleel White did one appearance as Steve Urkel. Producers Tom Miller and Bob Boyett started negotiating with him that night realizing what they had.
" I think he's the first black nerd on television. Just as Bart Simpson is the most unique cartoon character on TV, Steve Urkel is the most unique live character."
Because of his committment to Family Matters , VelJohnson was only able to do a cameo reprise of his character in Die Hard 2. That was a disappointment to him.
TV stardom has changed his life. He does his shopping late at night because he can't walk down an aisle in daylight without being inundated. He's happy on the show, but doesn't want to get too content.
" If you think you have a very nice position in a show that's going to run for years, you'll get lazy."
An Article from Time Magazine
Revenge of The Nerd
Monday, Apr. 01, 1991 By RICHARD ZOGLIN. Article
For unprepared viewers, the first exposure to Steve Urkel is apt to come as a shock. With oversize glasses, pants hiked up to his armpits, piercing nasal voice and snorting laugh, he's the nerd who came to dinner. When he isn't rattling off irrelevant factoids ("Did you know there are 99.3 million cows in the U.S.?") or speaking Japanese with the high school principal, he is making a general pest of himself with the family down the block. He is especially smitten with their 15-year-old daughter Laura, whom he showers with pet names ("Hi, my little Jell-O mold") to no avail. One night he even shows up outside her bedroom window to woo her with an accordion serenade of Feelings.
Only in the world of TV sitcoms could Urkel become a sensation. Make that only in the world of Tom Miller and Bob Boyett. As executive producers of Family Matters, the ABC series Urkel calls home, and a string of other sitcom hits, they have mastered the art of low-IQ, high-Nielsen TV comedy. At ABC, they are the kings of Friday night: for much of the season, they have monopolized the evening with four shows running back to back.
Now in its second season, Family Matters, which centers on a black policeman and his Chicago family, has been moving steadily up the Nielsen chart, often cracking the Top 10. There it usually joins Miller-Boyett's reigning champ, the four-year-old Full House, in which three unattached males cope with a houseful of little girls. Not far behind is Perfect Strangers, a buddy comedy with Bronson Pinchot as an immigrant weirdo who comes to live with his cousin (Mark Linn-Baker) in the U.S.
The team's newest Friday-night offering, Going Places (four perky twenty- somethings working on a TV show and sharing a house), ended its season's run earlier this month. But their CBS sitcom Family Man, about a fire fighter raising four kids, will return from hiatus later in the spring. And the duo is gearing up yet another family comedy for ABC in the fall, this one about two single-parent clans that move in together.
Clearly, we are not in Twin Peaks territory. Miller-Boyett's shows are what used to be described as lowest-common-denominator programming: cuddly, heartwarming, undemanding. They usually focus on wholesome families with incurably cute tots and problems that are solved in a few swift strokes just before the closing credits. Their interchangeable theme songs reinforce the upbeat message. "Standin' tall on the wings of my dream," goes the ditty for Perfect Strangers, while Going Places celebrates the "wide open spaces for my dreams," and Family Matters opens jauntily: "All I see is a tower of dreams/ Real love bursting out of every seam."
In the Miller-Boyett comedy stylebook, no joke is too broad, no character too outlandish, no plot twist too cloying. When a four-year-old in Full House is told she can be a batboy on the Little League team, you can bet she'll come downstairs wearing a Batman costume (and get a big laugh for it). On the morning of his wedding day, one of the three dads sneaks off to go skydiving (why not?). He gets stuck in a tree, falls into a truckload of tomatoes and arrives hours late for the awww-inspiring ceremony. A better response is arrrgghh!
The masterminds behind these syrupy confections bristle at the critical drubbing their shows usually get. Miller, 46, a Milwaukee native, started out as an assistant to director Billy Wilder, then wrote episodes for The Odd Couple and The Brady Bunch. Boyett, also 46, grew up in Atlanta, moved to New York City to become a playwright and wound up as a program executive at ABC. They met when Miller was co-producing one of ABC's big hits of the '70s, Happy Days. Boyett later joined Miller (and his then partner Edward Milkis) to produce such shows as Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy and Bosom Buddies. "What we really care about is pleasing people," says Miller. "If that's what we're charged with, the verdict is guilty."
Their shows don't always please enough people: the pair have had flops (Goodtime Girls, Joanie Loves Chachi) as well as hits. But they have gained a reputation in TV circles as expert fix-it men, skilled at tinkering with shows and playing up the elements that work. Their legendary success was boosting the role of Fonzie, the greaser with a heart of gold, in Happy Days. "Basically, the concept of a show is merely a vehicle to get it launched," says Boyett. "What keeps it going is the ability to present characters people want to follow."
Improbably, Urkel has become one. The goony neighbor kid, played by 14-year- old Jaleel White, did not make his first appearance on Family Matters until its 12th episode. The producers saw his appeal instantly, and now Urkel is the centerpiece of virtually every show. "I think people like him because he's unique," says White, who gets so much fan mail that his family had to hire a firm to open it.
With his deft timing and vaudeville hamminess, White brings such extravagant high spirits to the role that he is hard not to like. Moreover, his presence has helped turn Family Matters into Miller-Boyett's most watchable comedy. His constant grating presence -- the eager beaver who sets everybody's teeth on edge -- has added a dash of vinegar to the cotton-candy formula. Maybe every TV family needs a nerd in the neighborhood.
With reporting by Sally B. Donnelly/Los Angeles
An Article from The New York Times
Snookums! Steve Urkel Is a Hit
By JOY HOROWITZ,
Published: April 17, 1991
He's so unhip that now he's cool, Steve Urkel, a regular in-your-face kind of guy. When he laughs, he snorts. When he talks, he whines in a nasal, grating voice. When he arrives, he intrudes, with his pants riding up his skinny waist and his mouth working overtime, popping out sassy, if not annoying, rejoinders.
Who, you may wonder, is Steve Urkel and why should anyone care? Played by the 14-year-old actor Jhaleel White, Steve Urkel is the geek-next-door who has grabbed the public fancy and catapulted "Family Matters," the ABC Friday night sitcom about a black police officer and his extended family, into a hit that ranks frequently among the top five shows in prime time.
"Snookums!" Urkel cries out, casting his bespectacled eyes upon Laura Winslow, the girl he has a crush on but who thinks he's a complete dweeb. He tries to woo her by confiding that he's thinking of changing his style of underwear, from boxers to bikini briefs. Getting nowhere, he laughs a little too hard at a not very funny joke, warning, "Another one like that and I'll wet my boxers."
Urkel is the quintessential nerd: brainy and scrawny and in love with bugs, cheese and his computer. From his oversized glasses and dimples to his suspenders and sardonic grin, he brings to mind a cross between Pee-wee Herman and Spike Lee. His very name, which sounds like a combination of irksome and heckle, has become part of the lexicon. Even David Letterman's one-liners in recent weeks have become peppered with Urkelisms.
When he is not the centerpiece of "Family Matters," Urkel pops up on other shows. On "Full House" (produced by Tom Miller and Bob Boyette, who also created "Family Matters"), Urkel jetted into town to explain to Stephanie that wearing glasses is not such a bad thing. He showed up on Johnny Carson as a guest, in the form of Mr. White (sans glasses and irritating voice). On the American Comedy Awards, Mr. White taught Bea Arthur how to do the Urkel, a very nerdy dance.
By now, the story of how Mr. White nabbed the role of Urkel borders on Hollywood legend. He walked into the audition wearing a pair of oversized protective goggles that he had borrowed from his father, a dentist. He was initially hired to make occasional appearances on the show. But as the ratings increased, so did Urkel's screen time.
Now Mr. White is feeling the pinch of celebrityhood. It's not just press requests, which his mother is shunting aside until June, when he's finished with school. But the tabloids have taken to camping out on the street in front of his house. And the influx of mail he has received has required Mr. White's family to get a second post office box. More Than a Joke
But the Urkel phenomenon is also more than a joke or the latest trend of the network ratings game. The fact is that Urkel has become one of America's most popular black television characters. That he is a nerd lends that popularity a curious distinction, one that some say could be more significant than the show's producers ever intended.
"Urkel is a very refreshing character," said Sandra Evers-Manly, the president of the Beverly Hills-Hollywood chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. "He shows the diversity within the African-American community rarely seen on TV."
"It's unusual they are portraying a black kid as a nerd," said Dr. Alvin Poussaint, associate professor of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School, who is also a script consultant on "The Cosby Show" and "A Different World."
Usually, he continued, black males are not portrayed as intellectual. "He's the kind of kid black kids would not want to be and would also accuse of trying to be white -- not being hip," Dr. Pouissant said. "He's not up on street talk, not a dancing, bopping kind of kid." But, he said: "The fact that he's a nerd and very bright may be a step forward -- accepting that a black kid can be bright and precocious and might end up in an Ivy League school."
On the other hand, Urkel can also be a buffoon. With stooped posture, pursed lips and raised eyebrows, he often takes on the hammy persona of a fool who is completely impervious to insult.
"On 'The Cosby Show,' we would struggle with whether this character was believable or a caricature," said Dr. Poussaint. "That's the part I don't know how to assess. If we did a survey, would people say he was bright? Or a fool? He's a new dimension." 'Trying to Have Fun'
For "Family Matters's" co-executive producer, Bill Bickley, the question of how his show fits in with the evolution of black images on television is of less consequence than whether it is entertaining.
"I never thought the situation comedy was of any historic importance," he said. 'We're just trying to have fun."
Originally the Urkel character was conceived of as a minor one on a single episode in which Laura gets stuck with "the last person on earth she'd want to go out with on a blind date," explained Mr. Bickley, who likens Urkel's breakout status to that of Fonzie, played by Henry Winkler, on "Happy Days," another show he wrote with his partner, Michael Warren.
"That he be a social outcast among his peers was very important to us," Mr. Bickley says. "His being a social outcast was not based on race. He's a kid who's small and intelligent and scientific -- an outcast in high school society. He was rumored to have eaten a live mouse. It was just a rumor."
Mr. Bickley, who said that half the show's writers are white, as are all of the producers, added: "I don't personally have a black perspective. We approach the show from a more universal point of view." Not a Realistic Character
"We don't see him as being a realistic character in the same way the other characters are realistic," Mr. Bickley continued. "What do try to make realistic are his concerns and principles. The fact that he's in love with this girl and will never give up is a caricature of human qualities. We don't look to make them accurate. We write about the good, realistic side of human nature."
Is being unharmed by insult a good thing? "What is good is he doesn't let it get him down," Mr. Bickley said. "He's an optimist. This is the kid who's hard to knock down. It's hard to dash his hopes and dreams. But he is human, not armor-protected."
Meanwhile, the real Steve Urkel -- a television producer and friend of Mr. Warren's after whom the character was named -- is not so happy about the Urkelization of prime time.
How is he dealing with it? "Not well," replied Mr. Bickley. "But he should be grown up enough to take it."
An Article from The New York Times
Did He Do That?
By BILL CARTER
Published: February 5, 1997
Steve Urkel on CBS?
The notion was apparently incongruous enough to ABC, the longtime home of the hit comedy ''Family Matters,'' which features the geeky Urkel character, that its executives expressed everything from astonishment to disdain when CBS announced last week that it had bought the series and would broadcast it starting next fall.
Though ABC's official stance is that CBS simply paid too much for a nine-year-old show, the move is being widely interpreted as a good one for CBS, which has almost no shows that appeal to the teen-age audience devoted to ''Family Matters,'' and painful for ABC, which already faces the task of finding a batch of new shows to fill holes in the 8 P.M. time period next fall.
With ''Roseanne' (Tuesday) leaving the air, ''Lois and Clark'' (Sunday) in steep decline, ''Dangerous Minds'' (Monday) and ''High Incident'' (Thursday) struggling and nothing working on Saturday, ABC has only one 8 o'clock show that is doing reasonably well, ''Grace Under Fire,'' on Wednesdays.
CBS hasn't made it official, but it will almost surely leave ''Family Matters'' where it was on ABC, on Friday at 8.
CBS paid about $1.7 million apiece for 25 episodes to get the show away from ABC. That is steep, especially if the separate deal worth $21 million for additional shows from the same production company is included in the price. But Leslie Moonves, the president of CBS Entertainment, insists that ''Family Matters'' will be profitable for his network. CBS's audience profile is so much older than the other networks' that few of its shows have any teen-agers watching. For that reason, Mr. Moonves said, ''our ad sales department is ecstatic over this move.'' BILL CARTER
An Article from The New York Times
Epitome of Needy Nerdiness
By RICHARD SANDOMIR
Published: August 31, 1997
TO SITCOM WONKS STEEPED IN the lofty pedagogy of Archie Bunker, Mary Richards, Heathcliff Huxtable, Ralph Kramden and Lucy Ricardo, the name Steve Urkel arouses serious heebie-jeebies. Highbrows easily dismiss Urkel (played by Ja leel White) as the high-I.Q. geek in ABC's ''Family Matters'' who speaks in a falsetto that has grown falser as Mr. White has aged from 12 to 20 during the series' run and wears oversize red-framed glasses, plaid shirts, saddle shoes and denims hiked to his nipples to reveal long expanses of white socks. Elitists are appalled that his name evokes the oral historian Studs Terkel, whose oeuvre rarely crosses into Urkel's demographic.
Yet Urkel is something more than an irksome character whom a vaunted comedic pantheon can sneer at as unworthy of them, a creation as low as the mother reincarnated as Jerry Van Dyke's 1928 Porter or one as alien as ''Alf.''
More likely, he is the lineal comedic descendant of Dennis the Menace, the Three Wise Vermont Bumpkins (Larry, Darryl and Darryl of ''Newhart'') and the Orkian Mork. All are quirky oddballs who crave inclusion in worlds not made for them. And following a crash 21-episode couse in Urkel-watching, I can say -- and may Ed Norton drown me in a Bensonhurst sewer if I am wrong -- that Urkel merits our serious attention, if only because CBS has snared his vehicle from ABC after an incredible eight-year run, which is longer than ''Family Ties,'' ''Taxi'' or ''Sanford and Son.''
What makes Urkel run (or at least walk peculiarly in a bent-kneed crouch)? He wasn't even supposed to last beyond a guest shot in 1989, but they kept bringing him back, as the eccentric foil to the loving nuclear Winslow family. Very quickly -- almost from the day young Urkel said, ''Did I mention my Dad knows Wayne Newton?'' -- his entrances have made audiences yowl for joy. Without the comic imbalance created by Mr. White's idiosyncratic portrayal, the show would have died long ago as inconsequential family piffle.
To comprehend Urkel, you must watch him embrace nerdhood. He revels in his intelligence, his bugs, his cheese, his lab coat, his pocket protector, his arcane vocabulary and his inventive gadgetry. He is no dweeb plotting the overthrow of loutish jocks, but a sage seeker of acceptance for his odd ilk.
''You a serious little nerd,'' cracks an insolent cousin visiting the Winslows.
''No, I am a serious little nerd,'' Urkel replies. ''I use verbs. Verbs are our friends. They move along our sentences.''
Yes, he may be a tiresome pest and moral scold whose attention-getting antics -- and use of the word ''yowser'' -- would compel a real-life family to seek counseling. But his sitcom accomplishments peg him as a dream child for sitcom parents with underachieving progeny. Ward and June Cleaver seriously downplayed their profound anguish over their younger son, Beaver's, very soul, but Ma and Pa Urkel have nothing to fret about but their boy's penchant for cross-dressing as Myrtle, his cousin from Biloxi, Miss.
He is a gentle man-child who tutors the football team in fractions; cheats on a test to help Eddie, the Winslows' dim son; helps Carl (Reginald VelJohnson), the Winslow patriarch, overcome acrophobia by confiding how he overcame his fear of nudity, and swaps a mint Mickey Mantle rookie card for the singing services of a teen idol adored by Laura, the Winslow daughter. He asks for merely a kiss in return. Urkel may not be the kind of son Steve Douglas would have adopted (he adopted Ernie, who joined his biological sons Chip and Robbie after the oldest son, Mike, married and moved away), but he is as fine and loyal as the sainted Edith Bunker.
Urkel's unrequited, over-the-top passion for the sassy Laura (Kellie Shanygne Williams) wrests the impractical side from him. She is his blind spot, his constant rejection slip, despite his best efforts: serenading her with his accordion while warbling ''Feelings,'' penning an 84-stanza poem or bestowing on her the gift of a necklace made of his dental retainer. On one of the 572 Web sites that mention Urkel, a devotee wrote, ''So, fellow Urkels out there, keep caring, keep trying, don't stalk and become a stupid psychopath.'' Opie Taylor never fanned such flames, even after he became Richie Cunningham. Another fan designed elaborate Laura-and-Urkel wedding invitations for a wedding that never occurred.
Yet if Laura is his hormones' desire, her family represents Urkel's deepest need. Each Friday, Urkel walks into the Winslows' unlocked home unannounced and insinuates himself into their lives, especially Carl's, Eddie's and Laura's. His needs are as profound as those expressed by Cosmo Kramer, who similarly walks weekly into the unlocked Seinfeld apartment without warning.
Urkel craves the Winslows' stable nuclear family. We never see his own parents, and his references to them are disturbing, like Norm Peterson's insults about his never-seen wife, Vera, a disquieting reminder of a life ruined by booze.
The Urkels once emptied their house of furniture hoping Steve would think they had moved. He is a disappointment to his brain surgeon father, who wants him to follow in what Urkel feels would be an unchallenging career. His parents get cranky if he does not have dinner prepared each night on time. He said his mother said he came from the stork, ''but I've seen the contract from the in-vitro fertilization clinic.'' The unseen Urkels have secrets in their unseen house, somewhere in Chicago.
In Carl, a good-humored cop who once punished Eddie by making him volunteer for Meals on Wheels, the tragic, maybe emotionally scarred Urkel sees the father he wants. ''Sometimes I wish you were my father,'' he said, finding someone who would encourage his vocational options, not push him into brain surgery.
No wonder that when Carl struggled for his life, after falling into a freezing sitcom fishing hole as fake as William Shatner's hair, Urkel, not Eddie, was first to the rescue. Boys -- even the singular Urkel -- need their dads.
An Article from Time Magazine
Another Teary Farewell
Monday, May. 18, 1998 By RICHARD ZOGLIN
Television can be a cruel business. While Seinfeld, the show about nothing, is enjoying the most extravagant farewell celebration in the medium's history, Family Matters, the show about Urkel, has found that its goodbye is stirring up, well, nothing.
Worse than nothing, actually. After nine years on the air--eight seasons on ABC, where the show earned solid ratings and anchored the kid-friendly "TGIF" lineup; and a final season on CBS, where viewership dropped sharply--Family Matters hasn't just been canceled. CBS pulled the show off the air in January, and is holding the final seven episodes until June and July, when most of its fans will be at summer camp. Don't expect much hoopla for the two-part finale, in which the newly engaged Steve Urkel, once TV's favorite nerd, is chosen to fly on the space shuttle, does a gravitational experiment that fouls up the mission and gets stranded in space--a crisis dubbed by TV news "Nerd Watch '98."
The nerd watch on Family Matters began a few weeks after its debut in September 1989, when the show's ostensible stars, the Winslow family, were visited by the kid next door, a nasal-voiced geek with huge glasses, pants hiked to his armpits and unflagging enthusiasm. Played with Jerry Lewis abandon by Jaleel White, the character caught on with audiences and quickly pulled a Fonzie, taking over the series. As years went on, the show grew increasingly outlandish. White--now well into adolescence and towering over actors he once looked up to, his high-pitched whine making him sound less like a nerd than a demented castrato--played a host of other characters: in drag, as Urkel's Mississippi cousin Myrtle; as rap-singing cousin Original Gangsta Dawg; and as a suave, Buddy Love-style alter ego named Stefan Urquelle.
Though it got little respect from the critics, Family Matters was in fact the most delightfully outre comedy on TV, an anything-goes farce with good lowbrow gag writing and snatches of smart parody. But just try to say goodbye. The show's producers, reportedly miffed at CBS, aren't talking to the press. White, 21, who is finishing classes at UCLA and said to be writing screenplays, is incommunicado as well. All are getting ready, no doubt, for the last episode of Seinfeld.
--By Richard Zoglin
An Article from The LA Times
Jaleel White fondly recalls playing Urkel on 'Family Matters'
'It's one of the greatest things that ever happened to me,' he says.
June 18, 2010|By Greg Braxton, Los Angeles Times
It's hard to tell at first what's going through Jaleel White's mind as he picks up the new "Family Matters" DVD box set. Front and center is a picture of a young Jaleel, decked out in oversized glasses, suspenders and braces, flashing a geeky smile.
As White gazes at the image of himself as Steve Urkel, the ultra-nerd with the high-pitched voice and snorty laugh who became the most popular character of the ABC comedy about a middle-class African American family, his mouth tightens.
Does he feel the same resentment as Gary Coleman, who died earlier this month, and other child stars who felt trapped as they tried to transition to more grown-up roles? Does this month's release of the comedy's first season bring back bad memories? Does he feel cursed by Urkel?
After a few moments, White's expression brightens: "This is the great accident. It's one of the greatest things that ever happened to me."
Unlike the bitterness expressed by Coleman, who experienced personal, financial and professional turmoil following his stint on "Diff'rent Strokes," White, who is 33, has nothing but positive feelings about "Family Matters," which premiered in 1989 and lasted nine seasons. He said he was supported through those years by "my amazing mother, family and friends."
Though his face is the main selling point for the DVD set, White was not part of the original cast and appears in only a handful of episodes that first season. When it first came on the air, "Family Matters" revolved mostly around heavyset Chicago cop Carl Winslow ( Reginald VelJohnson), his wife Harriette (Jo Marie Payton) and their teenage children Eddie and Laura ( Darius McCrary and Kellie Shanygne Williams).
The series, which was part of ABC's "TGIF" comedy block, was also a rarity a comedy centered around an African American family that never referenced race or politics.
Urkel initially was supposed to be an occasional character who relentlessly pined after the uninterested Laura. But White injected the character with a strange voice and mannerisms that caught the eye of producers, executives said. They accentuated his role, which pushed the original stars of the series into the background.
The transition was not exactly smooth.
"How do you think they reacted?" White said of his former cast members. "There was some jealousy. Not with the kids on the show, though. We worked through all our issues and we were all cool."
Bill Bickley, an executive producer on "Family Matters," said there was never any doubt about reworking the show to highlight White's Urkel.
"Jaleel is the reason that show became a big hit," said Bickley. "He really was one of those happy accidents. Some of the adults in the cast were upset when he became so prominent. We told them that this was one of the best things that could happen to them, that they would have a steady job for longer than they would have otherwise."
Though his post-"Family Matters" career was not as high-profile, the success of the series sparked several opportunities for White after the show ended, including acting, voiceovers and his first love, writing. He appeared in the film version of "Dreamgirls," and starred in a short-lived UPN series, "Grown Ups."
Sitting in a conference room at Warner Bros. Home Video, he is obviously excited and upbeat about his latest project, "Fake It Till You Make It," a Web series available on Hulu that makes fun of Hollywood wheelers and dealers. He wrote and directed the series, and also stars as Reggie Culkin, a former child star weaving in and out of the fast lane.
White joins other personalities such as David Faustino, Justine Bateman and Kevin Pollak who have developed projects for the Web.
"This is a great time for me, to be doing something that is totally me, where everything comes from me," said White. "I love the freedom this kind of series brings me. I know how to do this."
Here is Michelle Thomas's Obituary from The New York Times
Michelle Thomas, 30, Actress On TV Soap Opera and Sitcoms
By ERIC PACE
Published: December 28, 1998
Michelle Thomas, an actress in the television programs ''The Cosby Show,'' ''Family Matters'' and ''The Young and the Restless'' died on Wednesday at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. She was 30 and lived in Los Angeles, though she had been staying with her family in Weehawken, N.J., since November.
The cause was cancer, said Kahdijah Bell, her publicist and cousin.
Miss Thomas had been playing Callie, an aspiring vocalist, in the CBS soap opera ''The Young and the Restless'' since August and began a medical leave late in October.
She was nominated recently for an N.A.A.C.P. Image Award for outstanding actress in a daytime drama series for her acting in that program.
Earlier, she played Justine, Theo's sweet, sensitive girlfriend, on the NBC sitcom ''The Cosby Show.''
Later she was Myra, Steve Urkel's lovesick girlfriend, on ''Family Matters,'' also a sitcom, for five seasons, on ABC and then on CBS.
Miss Thomas also appeared on other television shows, onstage, in commercials, on videos and in movies, including ''Hangin' With the Homeboys'' (1991).
She was born in Boston, Mass., grew up in Montclair, N.J., and graduated from West Essex High School in North Caldwell, N.J.
She received her basic training in acting from her mother, Phynjuar Thomas, a stage actress who remained her personal coach for the rest of her career.
Miss Thomas also studied acting with Flo Greenberg and with Tony Abeson.
Besides her mother and her father, Dennis Thomas, a saxophonist who is the musical director of the band Kool and the Gang, she is survived by her grandfather, Cecil Saunders, and a brother, David, all of Weehawken.
Here is Roseetta LeNoire's Obituary from The New York Times
Rosetta LeNoire, 90, Producer Who Broke Color Bar, Dies
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
Published: March 20, 2002
Rosetta LeNoire, a theatrical producer and a pioneer of nontraditional casting who also played the sweet, all-knowing Mother Winslow on the television show ''Family Matters,'' died on Sunday in Teaneck, N.J. She was 90.
She lived at the Actors' Fund Nursing and Retirement Home in Englewood, N.J., after spending most of her life in the Bronx, said Donna Trinkoff, producing director of the Amas Musical Theater. Miss LeNoire founded Amas, a nonprofit theater group, in 1968, partly to promote interracial casting. The company produced hits including ''Bubbling Brown Sugar.''
Miss LeNoire's life coincided with glittering moments in show business. Her godfather was Bill Robinson, the tap dancer known as Bojangles, and her music teacher was the jazz pianist and composer Eubie Blake. She was directed by Orson Welles in his all-black version of ''Macbeth'' in the 1930's.
She acted in some of the earliest television shows, and once joked that she seemed to play every maid's role on Broadway.
Perhaps as a result, she was an early and effective advocate of expanding opportunities for minority performers to act in plays and musicals. In 1989, her friend Colleen Dewhurst, who was then president of Actors' Equity, chose Miss LeNoire as the first recipient of what became the union's annual award for broadening participation in theater. The award was named for her.
''Rosetta created nontraditional casting before the phrase itself was created,'' The New York Beacon, a newspaper with a largely black readership, said in 1997.
In 1999, President Clinton lauded her long fight against discrimination as he presented her with the National Medal of the Arts, one of her many honors.
''Rosetta did more than dream of a theater with no color bar -- she actually built one,'' he said.
Miss LeNoire, whose name was originally Rosetta Burton, was born in 1911 in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood in Manhattan. Her paternal grandfather played the organ for five churches in the West Indies, and her father was one of the first black plumbers and electricians licensed by New York State.
When she was a child, her mother died of pneumonia at the age of 27 after giving birth to her brother in a Harlem hospital corridor because segregated policies barred her from a room. Rosetta was crippled with rickets, a result of vitamin deprivation, and when she was 7 doctors broke her legs so the bones could grow properly.
Mr. Robinson, a member of the Elks Club with her father, volunteered to become godfather of the girl he called Brown Sugar. At 13, when her leg braces came off, she began music lessons with Mr. Blake, who told her to ''look up and be proud of yourself.'' When she was 15, she became a chorus girl with the Time Steppers, Mr. Robinson's troupe.
A marriage to an elevator operator ended in divorce. She then married Egbert Brown, who owned a fleet of cabs; he died after 26 years of marriage.
She is survived by her son, William, of Manahawkin, N.J.; her sister, Mary A. Francis of Palm Coast, Fla.; her brothers, Wilmote Burton of the Bronx, and Warren Burton of Palm Coast; two grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Study at a government-sponsored Works Progress Administration program at a theater on the Lower East Side led to a role in the all-black version of ''Macbeth,'' which Orson Welles was producing in Harlem. She toured with the production.
''Good lord! He was a delegate from heaven,'' she said of Mr. Welles. ''He was the only one who had faith that blacks could bring the right dignity and sophistication to Shakespeare.''
Later she joined the Robert Earl Jones Theater Group. In addition to acting, she cared for Mr. Jones's infant son, James Earl Jones.
She made her Broadway debut in 1939 in ''The Hot Mikado,'' an all-black version of the operetta.
''It was something,'' she said. ''There were 125 of us, all black Japanese.''
Her other theater credits include ''A Streetcar Named Desire,'' ''The Sunshine Boys,'' ''Lost in the Stars,'' ''Cabin in the Sky'' and ''Sophie.'' She played the role of Stella in ''Anna Lucasta'' in 1944, toured with the show and starred in the 1958 film version, with Sammy Davis Jr. and Eartha Kitt. Her other movie credits include ''Moscow on the Hudson,'' Playing for Keeps'' and ''Brewster's Millions.''
She worked in television during its experimental days, and later appeared in ''Search for Tomorrow,'' ''The Guiding Light,'' ''Amen'' and ''A World Apart. She played Nell Carter's mother, Mama, on NBC's ''Gimme a Break'' and was Mother Winslow on ABC's ''Family Matters'' for eight years.
Eight years after founding Amas, she added a children's theatrical course to its program. (Amas is a form of the verb ''to love'' in Latin.) The company's hits included ''Bojangles'' and ''Bubbling Brown Sugar,'' a Tony nominee in 1976.
''I produce musicals,'' she said. ''Music is one avenue where no one seems to have any discriminatory attitudes.''
To watch clips of Family Matters go to http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=family+matters&aq=f
For Tim's TV Showcase go to https://web.archive.org/web/20020210205533/http://www.timstvshowcase.com/fmatters.html
For a great website dedicated to Family Matters go to https://web.archive.org/web/20020209121501/http://www.andremeadows.com:80/urkelnet/main.html
For a Website dedicated to Kellie Williams go to https://web.archive.org/web/20010413224057/http://www.andremeadows.com:80/kellienet/main.html
For a Website dedicated to Michelle Thomas go to https://web.archive.org/web/20010624053528/http://www.andremeadows.com:80/michellenet/main.html
For an article on Family Matters go to https://tv.avclub.com/family-matters-made-a-glass-half-full-sitcom-out-of-bla-1798283210
For an interview with Jo Marie Payton go to https://tvseriesfinale.com/tv-show/family-matters-jo-marie-payton-16891/
For some Family Matters-related interview videos at the Archive of American Television go to https://interviews.televisionacademy.com/shows/family-matters
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Keywords: Family Matters: Cast Photo (Links Updated 7/26/18)