If you grew up in the 90s you surely remember some of the shows that ABC aired on Friday night and that seemed to contain important life lessons for your “problems” at the time or talk to you in particular. And in fact, they were. Because the shows in question were good wholesome situation comedies designed specifically to be viewed by families, hoping to instill that happy, balanced, feel-good vibe which should reign whenever a family gathers to spend some leisure time together.
But they probably wouldn’t have had the popularity and appeal they had if Jim Janicek (a writer and producer for ABC) hadn’t went to the network executives and pitched the idea of TGIF. It’s an acronym which has a double meaning, making reference to both the well-known expression in English “Thank God It’s Friday” as well “Thank Goodness It’s Funny”.
In short, Janicek, nostalgic after his childhood memories of his family watching “The Wonderful World of Disney” together, wanted to create a family-oriented programming block on Friday night. For the network, it would be a good thing because it would possibly convince viewers to watch all of ABC’s family oriented shows (of which “Perfect Strangers”, “Full House” and “Mr. Belvedere” enjoyed popularity already) one after the other.
So he sold the idea to the network, who agreed and the TGIF block which ran from 1989 to 2000 (and then had a re-run from 2003 to 2005), achieving great ratings, especially in the 1989 – 1990 period was created. Let’s remember 6 TGIF shows that left a mark.
1. Perfect Strangers (1986 – 1993)
Revolves around the mismatched life-styles and behavior of Larry Appleton (played by Mark Linn-Baker), a Chicago reporter, and his long-lost unexpected cousin Balki Bartokomous (Bronson Pinchot) as they have to live together as roommates.
The show, apart from its great fun and the endearing yet annoying character of Balki is also notable for having led to the creation of the “Family Matters” spin-off (another popular TGIF show) and for helping the TGIF concept take flight as it was moved early to Friday night and its stars hosted the first inter-segments between all the shows (doing so for the entire ’88-’89 season).
2. Sabrina The Teenage Witch (1996 – 2003)
Based on the character in the series published by Archie Comics (starting in 1962), Sabrina is a teenage-girl who finds out she’s a half-witch via her father. Then the series revolves around her attempts to control her new-found powers and use them for good while simultaneously dealing with the problems of adolescent life, all the while not revealing the fact that she is a witch.
The show was so popular that it moved to Warner Bros for its final three seasons, managing to outrun the TGIF programming block which had ended. Melissa Joan Hart stars as Sabrina and Nick Bakay as her also-noteworthy talking and sarcastic cat Salem (an ex-witch punished for attempting to rule the world).
3. Boy Meets World (1993 – 2000)
Also catering to adolescents, “Boy Meets World”‘s subject is the dangers of growing up as it follows the life of Cory Matthews (Ben Savage) all he way from junior high, through college, up to his marriage. Funny and striking true emotionally for all the young viewers who saw at least parts of themselves in Corey’s journey, the show aired in 1993 and lasted until 2000, making it probably the best known of the later half of the TGIF period.
4. Family Matters (1989-1998)
It started out as a show centered on a pretty normal African-American family of the working-class with a twist: their next door neighbor Steve Urkel who happened to be a boy-genius who invents all sorts of cooky stuff. For good or for worse (depending on which fans you ask), the Steve Urkel character played by Jaleel White gained such popularity that the show gradually turned into a platform for him to showcase his brilliance, despite still managing to focus somehow on the Wilson family. It ran for 9 seasons in total (the last of which, on CBS).
5. Step by Step (1991 – 1998)
The story of Frank Lambert (construction worker) and Carol Foster (beautician), both of them widowed and with 3 children each. As you can see from the start, it featured the extended families motif and the working-class character background of other TGIF shows, but added to that the widowed status of both protagonists. An interesting twist, extending the target audience of families and individuals some other shows catered to, by promoting the idea that, despite the hardships of integrating 2 different families, “everything will be alright, you can get your life together if you just find the right person and work at it” for people in the situation of the protagonists, which were played by veteran TV stars Suzanne Summers and Patrick Duffy.
6. Full House (1987 -1995)
Possibly the TGIF show that springs to most people’s minds first. Maybe because it was one of the earliest TGIF shows and, as a precursor, it contained “the formula” that would be varied by others. It centers on the life of Danny Tanner (Bob Seget), morning talk show host, faced with the problem of raising his three little girls (D.J., Stephanie and Michelle played by Candace Cameron Bure, Jodie Sweetin and the Olsen twins respectively) after his wife is suddenly killed by a drunk driver. He calls his brother in-law Jesse Katsopolis (a rock musician played by John Stamos) and his best friend Joey Gladstone (comedian, played by Dave Coulier) to help him with raising the girls and so their life together unfolds. Extended family? Check. Mismatched life-styles? Check. Emotional? Check. Add to that a lot of catchphrases and simplistic good-natured lessons and the formula for good wholesome fun is complete.
Image source: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.