Way back in when in a time where cheesy multi-camera sitcoms were a household staple, the ABC network reigned supreme with TGIF on Friday nights. Here you found laugh tracks 'a plenty and hilarious shenanigans going on with such shows like Perfect Strangers, Step by Step, Full House, Boy Meets World, and my personal favorite, Family Matters. One of the many clones of the uber-successful Cosby sitcom, the show focused on a middle-class Chicago based family called the Winslows, as they lived their daily lives with comedy around every corner.
A spin-off of the super popular Perfect Strangers, Family Matters lasted from 1989-1998 and was a huge hit for ABC. The show was a huge ratings mainstay, especially with the introduction of such beloved characters as Steve Urkel (Jaleel White), the irritating nerdy next-door neighbor. It actually got so crazy that you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing Urkel’s face. Action figures. T-Shirts. Posters. The show successfully pushed Urkel to pop culture status, growing the ratings of the program through the years. As a young kid, I remember Friday nights being THE NIGHT for the awesomeness that was Family Matters, and it never failed to entertain.
The program had a successful run, though with such a meteoric rise though, there was a bit of dirty laundry that came with the series. As with many sitcoms of yesteryear (and even today) for every laugh track-laden episode, Family Matters had its fair share of craziness that happened behind the scenes. Check out some of the dark details.
20 Heading Upstairs, Never To Return
So yeah, here’s a weird one. Imagine yourself at a party, and you see a friend. You say hi, and part ways. Later on, you notice your friend is gone, but hey, it’s a party. It's not like they disappeared FROM LIFE. Now, imagine this taking place in TV series, and you have the plight of Jaimee Foxworth. Foxworth was the youngest child in the Winslow household. The cute precocious daughter, she was a mainstay on the series from 1989-1995. Apparently, the producers didn’t think she was too cute not to be fired.
When the actress asked for a pay increase, the show canned her.
She literally went upstairs in her last episode on the series and disappeared from the Family Matters universe FOREVER. What’s even stranger is that she was written off of the show as having never existed at all.
19 Hard To Move On
After spending many years wearing high water pants, suspenders, and glasses Jaleel White (Steve Urkel) found himself in the same position as many actors and actresses after leaving a career-defining role. When he left the series, White found it hard to find work after being typecast as the most well-known geek known to the world at the time.
In a career that spanned close to 10 seasons on television, where his character was so popular that folks like myself began to call the series “The Steve Urkel” show, White found himself to be a household name. ABC and TGIF skyrocketed the actor to a universal status where he was being seen in homes across the world, his face plastered on lunch boxes, and even being found as an action figure at Toys’ R Us (R.I.P).
18 Harriette Winslow Was Ready To Go
Jo Marie Payton (Harriette Winslow) decided to leave the series during its final season, and she was replaced by another actress (Judyann Elder) for the last nine episodes of the final season.
Things had gotten to a point with the actress where she was ready to exit, stage left.
During an Entertainment Weekly Family Matters cast reunion from 2017 she stated, “I actually made the decision to leave the show two years before I left. I was unhappy about a lot of things; I was going through a divorce, I wasn’t happy on the show — it didn’t mean I did not want to perform as an actress or an artist,” Payton said. “The way I explain it is that, when you’re a baker, you don’t always want to bake cakes or cookies; you want to bake pies, you want to bake bread. I wanted to do something else.”
17 Judy Winslow Times Two
Get ready as Jaimee Foxworth will be a name that will pop up a few times on this list. Gonna try to spread out the Judy Winslow/Jaimee Foxworth entries for your reading pleasure, and here’s another one. On the first episode of Family Matters, Judy Winslow was actually played by a different actress by the name of Valerie Jones. I know this is a huge “clutch the pearls” type revelation. Take a moment if you need to regain your composure.
So, in a sign of things to come, another actress who played Judy Winslow was kicked off the series, except this time she was replaced by another actress, rather than being erased from all existence. Maybe the role of Judy Winslow is cursed? Spooookkky.
16 Almost Cancelled After It Started
Even in the beginning Family Matters was almost cancelled. According to Bryton James, who played Richie Crawford on the series, there were plans to cancel the series in the very early stages. “In the first season things weren’t looking too great and they had plans to cancel the show,” James said. “And towards the end they cast a nerdy next-door neighbor named Urkel, and that saved the show. The show got picked up and went for ten years.”
As mentioned before Steve Urkel went on to be a standout character on the show, causing the show to rise to the forefront of ABC’s TGIF block of programming.
So apparently being an annoying next-door neighbor can be a good thing.
Might be something to shoot for.
15 Tension Amongst The Cast
Some fellow cast members weren’t too happy about Jaleel White’s meteoric rise to the top of sitcom television as the annoying next-door neighbor Steve Urkel. This seems to often be a point of contention for some popular television series’ where one stand out role gets more screen time, and attention off-screen. Whether the feelings of unhappiness were warranted or not, we’ll never know. But according to Jaleel White, the feelings were there nonetheless.
“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,” White said in an interview.
14 Urkel Was Tired Of Playing Urkel
Going back to the issue of being typecast as America’s Favorite Nerdy Neighbor, Jaleel White was sick of playing Urkel by the time the series ended.
In 1999, he said in an interview, "If you ever see me do that character again [...] put me out of my misery."
He addressed this quote in 2011: "It's one of those things that it's very unfortunate how quotes are taken out of context. I remember that interview very vividly. I loved playing those characters. But the fact is that I was maturing. To be honest, I was retarding my own growth as a man in order to maintain the authenticity to what I thought that character should be."
13 Michelle Thomas’s Bout With Cancer
One of the standout performances on Family Matters was Michelle Thomas’s role as Myra. I’ll admit as a kid watching the series, I had a crush on Myra Monkhouse. She was the cute intelligent geeky girl who was Steve Urkel’s girlfriend. I always wondered why Urkel kept chasing after Laura Winslow when he had an awesome girlfriend like Myra who had nothing but love for the geeky guy.
She was a talented actress with credits including The Cosby Show, Thea, and Young and The Restless. In 1997 she was diagnosed with stomach cancer, and it got more and more difficult for her to do scenes in Family Matters. She left the series shortly before it was cancelled in 1998, and unfortunately passed away on December 22, 1998.
12 Shut Out Of The Entertainment Weekly Reunion
In 2017 Entertainment Weekly magazine brought the cast member of Family Matters back for a reunion. For fans of the series, it was great to see all of the actors and actresses brought together to reminisce about the former series.
Unfortunately, there was one person missing...
Jaimee Foxworth (Judy Winslow) apparently was not brought back for the Entertainment Weekly/ Family Matters reunion and wasn’t happy about it. “I was not invited at all. I wasn’t even contacted,” Foxworth said in an interview with The Root. “The people in the picture are more important than the picture itself. It was a slap in the face from Entertainment Weekly. I don’t think there’s any good explanation. If they want to use adult films as the reason, I’m not the first person to do films and won’t be the last,” Foxworth said. Speaking of grown-up entertainment…
11 Things Go Left For Judy Winslow
After Foxworth was given the unceremonious walk up the stairs to the Family Matters annals of history of characters that left the show, later on, things got a little rough. Many years later she became a grown-up entertainment star, while later battling depression and substance abuse. In 2000, under the name of “Crave,” Foxworth performed in a few entertainment films. Eight years later she appeared on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew in the hopes of tackling her past battles with substances and depression.
Fortunately, the actress has been able to turn things around within recent years with the birth of her child, and even having her life story adapted for a television movie for TV One. Glad to see things are looking up for the actress.
10 Playing Myrtle Urkel
During the run of the Family Matters series, Jaleel White played a variety of different characters. This list included Stefan Urquelle, Cornelius Eugene Urkel, Bruce Lee Urkel, Urkelbot, Steve Winslow, Elvis Urkel, and Colt Urkel.
Comedy was a bit broader during this time, and the cheesy sitcom reigned supreme.
One of the characters that White was asked to play early on during his stint on the show was a female cousin named Myrtle Urkel. The character was a Southern belle who fell head over heels in love with Eddie Winslow, the eldest Winslow child. Initially White had a problem with playing a female character. When he first played Myrtle White was concerned that he was going to be made fun of at his school, and even cried after filming the episode. He eventually played the character at several different points during the series.
9 Eddie Winslow's Run-In With The Law
Unfortunately, with a lot of child actors there seems to be a trend of sorts of them falling down a “wrong path” of sorts. Some fall into substances, or sometimes even get arrested.
Unfortunately, the same happened to a Family Matters star. In 2015 Darius McCrary (Eddie Winslow) was arrested over child support payments in Michigan three years ago. He was given the choice of either paying a fine of $5,500 or spend time in jail during a court appearance. He paid the fine choosing to do this than stay in jail. This seems like the best decision as the former child actor faced up to spending two weeks in jail for not paying child support. It seems that things have looked up for the actor since then, as he's appeared in such popular TV series as Pitch, Star, and huge films as Transformers.
8 Carrying The Weight Of A Show On His Shoulders
Imagine being a child star who enters a television series that was on the verge of being cancelled. Then imagine being a shot in the arm that this series needed, bringing a huge bump in ratings, and popularity. Your character has essentially saved the television program, and your character becomes one of the most popular characters on television, and in POP CULTURE.
And your co-workers feel some kind of way about your newfound success and with you now being the central focus of the series.
Your name is Jaleel White. According to Bryton James (Richie), Jaleel White had a “tough” time as Steve Urkel due to the pressure of being the focus of the series as a child actor. With this being White’s first stint as a major television star its understandable that things got a bit daunting.
7 Changing Networks
We’ve seen plenty of television series change networks over the years. Buffy The Vampire Slayer went from the WB to CW. American Idol recently went from FOX to ABC. Futurama went from FOX to Comedy Central. Supergirl went from CBS to the CW. And so on, and so on. Often this works out for the betterment of the program. In other cases, not so much.
Such was the case for Family Matters. During its final season, Family Matters was switched from ABC to CBS. The move apparently angered some at ABC and CBS paid an exorbitant sum of money for the show which was ultimately cancelled during its first and last season on CBS. Maybe the writing was on the wall the whole time as ratings for the series steadily declined with the move. Unfortunately, the move didn’t help the series to stick around.
6 Rachel Steps Away
Sometimes it's best to stick with what you know, rather than jumping ship. On the other hand, taking chances can sometimes be a good thing, but if you’re a cast member in one of America’s best TV sitcoms, it might just work better to chill and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Such was the case of Telma Hopkins.
Hopkins (Rachel Crawford) left the series in 1993 to join another series called Getting By.
When this television sitcom was cancelled, she came back to Family Matters in a semi-regular capacity as a recurring then guest role. The unfortunate thing about this was that she came back on a semi-regular basis, but on the positive side, at least she didn’t go upstairs and just disappear.
5 A Tale Of Another Rudy Huxtable
Remember a little show called The Cosby Show? Remember how super popular it was? You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing about this popular family sitcom, and when it was syndicated it added even more to its popularity. Before the unfortunate Bill Cosby controversy of recent years, this show was one of the most watched television shows of all time.
And Jaleel White was almost on it. He apparently was cast as Rudy Huxtable, as the role was originally intended to be a boy. “Yep, that’s why the character was named Rudy—it was intended to be a boy. That’s my tragic auditioning story. We were all packed up and ready to go to New York,” White explained in an interview. “Next thing you know, there was one more audition. And a little girl (Keshia Knight Pulliam) 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.”
4 Whatever Happened To 3J?
Towards the end of the series, the Winslows opened their door to a kid named 3J (Jerry Jamal Jameson, played by Orlando Brown).
I’m not making this name up. Remember, it was the 90s. It's what Hollywood producers/writers thought was “hip” at the time.
So 3J was a troubled kid that was adopted by the Winslow’s and he came on during the 8th season. Brown was a talented child actor that went on to appear in such series as That’s So Raven, Moesha, and the Jamie Foxx Show. Unfortunately, following the trend of some child actors, Brown had a few legal issues, including being arrested in 2011 for risky driving, and subsequent arrests for parole violations. Here's hoping things get better for 'ole 3J.
3 Sometimes, You've Gotta Loosen Up
Jaleel White played a nerd to the fullest. At the time, he was the best TV geek that this country had ever produced, high water pants and all. So as a part of this, the executives at ABC felt that his image had to reflect this youthful nerdy exuberance. This is where things get weird.
Apparently as White got older while playing this role the actor got notes from the network that he was showing too much of “you know what” in his pants. Take a moment to just let this sink in..like I said, it’s a weird one. So to keep this youthful nerdy exuberant side of things going, guess what White did? He started wearing looser pants. And the rest is moneymaking history.
2 No Growing Up Allowed
So adding to the weirdness that is a television network telling you to hide certain body parts, White had to deal with even more strange requests. Becoming a man involves growing facial hair, and growing into your physique, among other things.
I won’t make this entry a biology lesson.
In keeping with trying to make White appear as the young nerd that American loved and laughed with every Friday night, the ABC executives had another bright idea. Jaleel White was asked to shave on a daily basis, and to avoid weight lifting. The goal was to make him appear as less of a man and to keep the physique of the wimpy geek that fans had grown to love. The things we’ll do for money.
1 The House Was Demolished
Apparently all of the great parts of my childhood seem to follow a trend of being destroyed. Toys 'R Us was recently shut down. The Cosby Show was forever tarnished by Bill Cosby's crazy and predatory behavior before and during the hey day of that television series. Pop locking was officially outlawed in Beaumont, Oklahoma.
Wait, that last one was the plot of Footloose. Scratch that. So added to this list of pieces of my childhood being destroyed, the real life home from Family Matters was destroyed in 2017. The home which appeared in the opening credits was approved for demolition in September of 2017. According to the Chicago CBS News affiliate, Channel 2, plans were to turn the location into 3 condos where the entry would be ordained with framed photographs of the original house and the show’s beloved cast.
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