Children of the ’90s were raised by ABC’s iconic comedy block of TGIF sitcoms which included the multicam comedies like Boy Meets World, Family Matters, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Perfect Strangers which provided wholesome family-friendly stories that have remained timeless with G-rated delight. The fandom surrounding the shows continues to thrive with nostalgic audiences and the Hulu’s resurgence of these shows affectionately called TGIHulu feeds that to a whole new generation. Boy Meets World creator Michael Jacobs and show star Ben Savage were joined on the ATX dais by Family Matters creator William Bickley and show star Kellie Shanygne Williams as well as Sabrina the Teenage Witch creator Nell Scovell to walk down memory lane and why the classic sitcoms continue to resonate with their surprisingly relevant moral tales.
Let’s not kid ourselves — there is a certain cheesiness that comes with the shows that were part of the TGIF lineup. The jokes were corny and the solving a problem within a half-hour seemed a bit far-fetched, but sometimes we need that kind of good cheese to balance out the horribleness in the world — and there is certainly lots of it in the world today. This would explain why people are embracing them more now than ever. Shows like Boys Meet World, Family Matters and Sabrina the Teenage Witch provided a certain sense of hope and positivity with straightforward storytelling that taught a universal lesson via an average American family.
“There’s a sweetness to these shows,” says Scovell, pointing out that comedies on TV today are different and that TGIF shows are different but not “filled with insults.”
TGIF ran on ABC from 1989 to 2000, with a lineup that changed often. From 1996 to 1997, the slate included Family Matters, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Boy Meets World and Step By Step. Friday used to be the “it” place to be for TV, but now many consider it a dead space for sitcoms. The panel attributes that to the changing TV landscape and networks not giving shows enough time to grow.
Jacobs says if you compare TGIF numbers to Friday lineups to today, they were “monumental hits” which is why the sitcoms thrived. Bickley adds that their shows had time to build an audience compared to today’s fast pick-up/cancellation pace.
Savage, who played Cory Matthews on Boy Meets World and the revival Girl Meets World said, “A show gets one or two episodes and if the ratings aren’t strong, they get pulled early.” He continues, “they take a season or two to get their sea legs” and adds that on Boy Meets World that the more time the cast had together, the more they built a stronger chemistry and therefore a stronger show. “Shows take a minute to work itself out,” he says.
“Are you saying that you were on a show that was pulled early?” Jacobs chimed in, joking about the cancellation of Girl Meets World.
The TGIF lineup was always moral as it featured many PSA-oriented episodes which, by today’s standards, would be corny but in acutality, they are low key woke. Williams starred as Laura Winslow on Family Matters which featured a Black family. She points out that the characters may have been Black but it was ultimately a universal story about a multigenerational family show. “You don’t have to be Black or white to understand that,” she said.
Bickley said that when the show first aired he, as a white guy, got a lot of backlash for creating a show about a Black family. Echoing Williams’ sentiment, saying that although he isn’t Black he knows how to do a show about a family. While he was making the show he said that he hoped the cast would share their experiences and tell them where the show is going wrong and where they were going in terms of story.
Williams quipped, “One thing I don’t need is a white guy telling me how to be Black.”
During the ’90s, Scovell was one of the few female TV show creators and even though she sees an increase of women taking charge in the industry, it doesn’t mean that everything is solved.
“The first Emmys I attended there were five nominees for best comedy: Murphy Brown, Golden Girls, Designing Women, Cheers, and The Wonder Years,’” she said. “Three and a half were created by women.” She points out that that hasn’t happened since so all of what is happening now feels like a “rerun,” but has hope that history will repeat itself.
As TGIF is introduced to a new generation via TGIHulu, Savage says that he hopes they have a good time and that they “appreciate these shows as much as we did making them.”
“If it can make them laugh or teach them something, we have done our job,” he adds.
Williams says that these shows told stories about ordinary families and that the messages that came out of them were real and tangible. “People could connect in that way,” he said.
Bickley joked, “If Hulu had feet I would kneel down and kiss them.”
With TGIF, he said that they wanted to create shows that audiences would enjoy and that would make them laugh. He said he never had a “normal” family and with his shows he tried to create “a family he never had.”
Bickley punctuated the panel saying: “I hope people watch these shows and have a feeling of hope.”