In the extremely remote case that anyone reading this was born in this century and doesn’t know, TGIF (Thank God It’s Friday) was a block of family friendly programming on Friday evenings on the ABC television network.
Having grown up in a family of 4 kids born in the 80’s and early 90’s, this was pretty much mandatory viewing. All the shows depicted families of various types dealing with the situations that all families do. I think the block ran until the early 2000s. But I stopped watching around 1995 for very specific reasons I will get to in a moment.
The late 80’s and early 90’s were my formative years. The time period that I made sense of what the world is like, how it works, where I fit into it and what was of value. TGIF provided a particular vision of wholesome family that kind of white washed or at least flattened economic and social realities, or at least I as a 10 year old didn’t know the context of all that to apply to the shows as I watched them. TGIF probably piggybacked off of another family oriented show on another network that tended to dominate Thursday nights at the time, that has lost some popularity recently, but was a ratings bonanza in the late 80’s. ABC was clearly seizing on that family ideal, and my family was powerless to resist its influence. Disney famously bought ABC in 1995, and all of the main TGIF families had been to Disney World in promotional production placement by then. My family had already drank the cool-aid and went to Disneyland in 1994.
I kind of deride the TV family trope, but the truth is to this day I crave the comfort and nostalgic emotional swaddling that comes from binging these shows on Hulu or Disney plus. I haven’t watched any network television (willingly) since 2003. So these are still my concept and standard of what quality television programming should be. Even as 10 year old watching these shows with my younger brother and sisters I knew things were never that easy, or lucky. The struggle of getting us to go to bed once the block was over proved that. I mean really, we begged to stay up to watch 2020, because we cared to see Barbra Walters and Hugh Downs do their thing? (I did oddly enough always appreciate John Stossel). But to me this was a depiction of what life could look like if you and the people around you all followed good family values. That did have a profound impact on how I see the world, even to this day.
Off the the top of my head I can recall several shows that were a part of the TGIF lineup at one point. The following is not even close to a comprehensive list, but they are the ones I recall and therefore the ones that had the greatest influence on me. I will try to be brief on these....
So this is the quintessential TGIF family sitcom. I, like most people, loved it because I had a big family and I always found it fun to have relatives and company in town all together. The thing about this show is that it totally encouraged kids to seek out creative professional dreams and never settle. This was built into the fabric of the show intentionally. Danny Tanner is a Talk Show host, Joey is a comedian. Uncle Jessie is a Musician and even when the rock star dreams don’t pan out he still works in advertising and as a producer. Lame families work as exterminators and mid level managers to pay the bills because that’s life, but cool families support each other (by letting you move in) until everyone achieves their own artistic dreams.
So I wrote a fairly concise thing on the Stephen Q. Urkle phenomenon for the aborted 30 for 30. I think it holds up over the last decade. I did go back and try to binge watch the entire series recently. It got weird and repetitive about season 7. I remember the last season the show was sold to CBS and I think everyone was just kind of exhausted. The mom quit mid season and had to be replaced. Urkle lost the ability to snort because Jaleel White's voice had changed too much and frankly it was too annoying after 8 years. The loss of Michelle Thomas was a travesty. But to this day I still quote things like "You sleep in the bathtube!" and "Three, two , one. One , two, three. What the heck is bothering me?"
Step by Step
Step by step was a blended family. I have been fortunate enough to come from a family with both my birth parents were married and together for my childhood. So the subtly of blended family was lost on me. I just thought of this as a modern Brady Bunch way to cram lots of kids under one room and then naturally Hilarity ensues! The thing I rember most about this show was "the Code-man." Uncle Cody who was basically Spicoli from Fast Times and Ridgemont High meets Uncle Buck. "The Code-man" was short lived becasue he managed to get sentenced to 10 years in prison for Domestic Violence. I think about him everyday as I work at a jail with a lot of inmates in on DV charges. But before he had to go upstate he got to save Christy Rose on the show. And Christy Rose was improbably played by the one and Only Debra Gibson who has a very replendant place in my heart.
I never really liked this show, but it was on TGIF so I watched. What I remember most is that the guy who played Balchi, Bronson Pinchot, was so over the top cracker jack happy-go-lucky naive innocent on Perfect Strangers, that when I grew up and watched grown up movies he is in like Beverly Hills Cop or Risky Business, his normal presentation seems like a psychopathic serial killer in comparison. I can;t shake that! (Oh and on a side tangent here, since I mentioned Risky Business: The entire premise of that movie seems flawed. You are telling me that Tom Cruise couldn't get laid in high school? That's the premise? Tom Cruise couldn't get a girl to give him the time of day in the 80's? I mean sure now they scream and run the other way, but this was 1983! But the actual premise of this movie is that Tom Cruise as a little rich kid in the suburbs DRIVING AROUND IN A PORSCHE in the 1980's could not get a single girl to hop in for a ride and he is forced to seek out an escort service to get some while his parents are out of town??? The plot of Cowboys & Aliens was more believable. But I digress.....)
Hanging with Mr. Cooper
I wish this show never was on TGIF. Marc Curry was more of a sex and relationships type comedian, not a family man, and so the original premise of a dude with 2 hot female roommates would have been a good show. Obviously I loved the angle of him being a basketball coach/former player and having a 10 day contract with the Warriors, but that also made him a school teacher and thus was the shows downfall. Apparently the ratings didn't agree with me that show was good. The show was getting killed on Tuesdays so they revamped it as a family show by adding in that ('s SO) Raven girl from that previously mentioned NBC Thursday night show and slid it over to Fridays.
Sabrina the Teenage Witch
So remember that this was the late 80's early 90s and still during the era where some families, like mine, didn't have a TV in every single room. So you had to watch a single show together if you wanted to watch TV at all. I never liked this show, but I had 2 baby sisters, so obviously I had to watch it. I guess I appreciated the sarcasm of the cat, Salem, but then if the best feature is a cat, it's not going to be high on my list of anything. I guess it had Punky Brewster on it (Soli Moonfry) too. But what can I say, never underestimate the power of a Melissa Joan Hart vehicle. Caroline Rhea certainly managed to wring a career out of it.
So this was new show that was tacked on at the 9:30 slot that ran only ran for like 4 episodes max. It has a teenager boy who dies in the opening sequence and then comes back as his best friend's guardian angel. Instead of the angel boy talking to God he would talk to a giant head in the sky named "Rod" who was God's brother. The original Marsha Brady played the living kid's mom. That is all it had going for it. They say Alf was dreamed up one night while smoking marijuana. I wonder what they were smoking when they came up with this?
Boy Meets World
So the whole reason I stopped watching TGIF is I got to high school and that meant there was always football or basketball games to be at on Friday nights. This occurred in 1996 and my TGIF knowledge just fell off a bridge at that point. Which is too bad because it meant I didn’t watch any of the high school and College seasons of Boy Meets World. Having gone back and binge watched the series last year, I so could have been more prepared for life if I had just tuned in to Cory and Topanga Friday’s at 9pm. It’s funny how I now watch the show and relate to the parents because that is who I am and I don’t have the emotional experience memory of having watched it identifying more with the kids. A lot of growing up I could have done vicariously, but I was moping at the end of the bench with my knee or ankle in ice watching my team lose another basketball game. Boy Meets World totally could have expanded my concept of what my world could have been, but for the time of its run on network TV my world spinning round was a basketball. I find that highly ironic.
One final thought. I think it was a requirement for the opening theme songs for any show in the TGIF lineup to be horrible. All the Miller Boyette Productions were sung by the same guy, and might actually all be the same song. If you didn’t realize that before just think of the opening for Full house Family Matters and Step by Step together and try not to get the lyrics confused. They all start to become the same song: “Everywhere you look it’s the greater Love of the Family the second time around”
The Boy Meets World theme started as this weird key changing symphony of electronic, classical and vaudevillian genres. Then they have a weird cheesy we are riding the open road in a mustang for the high school years, and finally the world’s lamest 90’s alternative lite Emo impersonation for the college years.
But that is nothing compared to the tragedy of Hanging with Mr. Cooper where they went through the effort and expense to get EnVogue to do the opening credits when the show was on Tuesday nights, and then they defaulted to a “Soul Man” rendition, that is bad in and of it’s self, but is really a cultural travesty when you think that Mark Curry is a black entertainer in 1990’s with his own headliner Sitcom, and the theme song done by the epitome of Black R&B Hip Hop soul, and to make his show more family friendly they sanitize it by stealing the theme song of “Akroyd and Belusi’s Blues Brothers?