Welcome back to another early 1990s installment of LRM’s Retro-Specs! Today we dive into the TV world, and while I understand that TGIF really coined itself in 1989, the early 90s is when the concept really took off. My favorite shows in no particular order are Full House, Family Matters, Sister Sister, Boy Meets World, Step-By-Step, Hanging With Mr. Cooper and Dinosaurs! With so many great shows to choose from, let’s take a look at what made TGIF so successful in its hayday.
Where TGIF Really Started
Maybe you know this, but TGIF did not originally stand for “Thank Goodness It’s Friday”. The acronym actually stands for “Thank Goodness It’s Funny”. Both work in my book. ABC was in dire need for a ratings boost due to the 1988 writer’s guild strike. The network rolls out a block of shows containing Perfect Strangers and Full House. With this initial success, elevator operator Harriette Winslow on Perfect Strangers, with her police officer husband, Carl, receive their spin-off, Family Matters. These decisions creates a major boost in ABC’s ratings leading to the birth of TGIF. Just the Ten of Us would join the bunch with the short-lived Free Spirit. Creating this block brings a result of the ratings ABC are desperate for and with some tweeking the network begins to flourish once 1990 hits.
September 21, 1990 marks the TGIF revamp where the concept takes off to reach the success we all know and love! As we know, some shows would constantly move aside but there would be power in the mainstays. Perfect Strangers, Full House and Family Matters are the strong holds in the earlier years with shows such as Just The Ten Of Us, Going Places and Baby Talk (off the success of Look Whose Talking) would do some moving around. Full House eventually moves to Tuesdays while Perfect Strangers and Baby Talk eventually make way for Step-By-Step, Boy Meets World, Sister Sister, Hanging With Mr. Cooper and Dinosaurs at various times. Many of these shows hold strong during the early 90s but eventually make way in the late 90s for shows such as Sabrina The Teenage Witch, Clueless and others.
The idea to focus on the family is not a new concept in the TV world. What helps make the shows on TGIF so successful at the idea is that it is not the cliche family dynamic. Each show and every family has different structures which is a much more accurate representation of the true family dynamics. This is what made the shows enjoyable because they are relatable.
Full House has the unfortunate passing of Danny Tanner’s wife which brings in Uncle Jesse and friend Joey Gladstone to help raise the family. Family Matters has all generations with Grandma Winslow playing an intricate role in raising the kids and helping Harriette and Carl. Aunt Rachel is also a single mother living with the family all helping out. Step-By-Step was Brady Bunch-esque with a blended family. Sister, Sister has two twins adopted at birth and reunited with their adopted mother and father moving in together so the two can grow up together. Hanging with Mr. Cooper has roommates moving in together and becoming an unrelated family of their own. Boy Meets World may at first seem like the “traditional” family until the elements of Shawn Hunter and his strained family relationships are prevalent. This leads to other characters such as Mr. Turner becoming a stand-in father and Mr. Feeny always being the wise sage for not only the kids, but Mr. and Mrs. Matthews as well.
The shows share a focus on the importance of family and embrace the fact that no one family looks the same, and that is alright. This is what made the block of shows so popular. There was of course something for kids, but also for adults, combined with the various family dynamics there was something that could be oh so relatable from the lovable characters.
This one is a bit of a stretch at times, but with the growth in popularity of the TGIF shows, a somewhat shared universe would be established. The original idea is mentioned earlier with Hariette and Carl Winslow appearing on Perfect Strangers. From there the key figures from each show go on to make appearances on other shows. One of the most well-known TGIF characters is the one and only Steve Urkel. The characters strong success made it logical for him to help bridge the other shows. In 1991 he appears in Full House helping Stephanie with her self-esteem by embracing her new classes.
Also in 91 he literally flies in to Step-by-Step helping Al after she was dumped and brings in his trademark dancing to help her reclaim her self-esteem. At this point, Chicago, Wisconsin, and California are represented in connection in the shows.
Going off of the Olsen twins’ popularity, Michelle makes an appearance in two episodes of Hanging with Mr. Cooper in order to help establish credibility for the new show in 1992. Both taking place in San Francisco, Mark Cooper takes a job at Michelle’s elementary school while Jesse and Vanessa share hair tips.
The last one is a bit out of the ordinary because John Stamos appears on an episode of Step by Step. The odd thing is, he is not on the show as Uncle Jesse, but as John Stamos himself. He did mention Full House, which throws all types of issues into the mix, but you have to give them credit for working to connect shows in order to help establish credibility across the board. Plus, it’s fun to see!
TGIF’s success did not stop them from thinking outside of the box. Another popular show that still focuses on the family, but doesn’t quite fit the typical mold of the programs was Dinosaurs. Brian Henson takes over the puppeteer reigns from his father Jim Henson. In 1991 he pitched a concept that his father had about the domestication and family structure of the dinosaurs. Executive producer and co-creator Michael Jacobs told EW:
“Brian was pitching Jim’s idea that dinosaurs had started families, and because of the immense popularity of dinosaurs with children and because of TGIF being a safe place for families, what if we combined the two? ABC and Disney responded to it immediately.”
The rest is history. The show was able to be more satirical than the others and still became popular until it was moved from Fridays to Wednesdays. Anyone who knows the show will always remember the baby and his key line, “Not the mama!”
Unfortunately, 2000 brought the end of TGIF was many of us know it. There is a shift from family focus to a teenage viewing audience to try and change things up. As times began to change, Step by Step and Hanging with Mr. Cooper made way for Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Clueless. In 1997, the two shows would come in between the stronghold shows of Family Matters and Boy Meets World. While Sabrina brought some success from a new show, Clueless did not bring the popularity the movie did. As Family Matters and Boy Meets World sadly made their departure, TGIF tried to bring in more teen/magic-themed shows such as You Wish and Teen Angel which did not have the lasting power leading to TGIF’s downward trend.
The concept of TGIF tried to come back in 2003-2005 and a third run in 2018-2019 with little success. An interesting idea is that with the increase in the number of televisions making their way into households came a direct decline in ratings. In the late 80s through the 90s most households average one to two TVs per household. This means that families would often share the viewing time. By 2000, TVs increased in most households leading to less family time and individual viewership per TV.
Do you miss TGIF? What are your favorite shows? As always, leave your thoughts in the usual spot! Most of the former shows can be found on Hulu and Disney+, so you can make your own TGIF! It’s time for the end of this article and I will finalize it in the same way we sadly knew that TGIF was done for the week with…
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