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A return to when Fridays were funny

KC Kenney | Tuesday, September 2, 2003

There was a time when Friday nights were spent at home with the family. Before the parties of college, before the football games of high school and before the dances of junior high, there was TGIF.

Starting in the late 1980’s, ABC ruled the Friday night market for television. Whether a kid, parent or just someone looking for classic comedy programming on Primetime, anyone could count on the slapstick and track laughter of four great shows on Friday night. TGIF changed a lot over the years, altering time slots and featured shows, adding characters and plot crossovers, and offering fun contests to viewers. It wasn’t that long ago that one could send in a tape of their best Urkel impression in hopes of earning a brief stint as an extra on Family Matters.

In 1988, the first TGIF lineup went on the air. It featured classics such as Full House, Perfect Strangers, Mr. Belvedere and Just the Ten of Us. Mr. Belvedere didn’t make it through to the following year’s lineup, and soon Just the Ten of Us was left behind also. It made way, however, for a slew of some of the greatest and most memorable TV shows of our generation, including Family Matters, Step By Step and Boy Meets World. Perfect Strangers stuck around, with cousin Larry and Balky appealing to the older audiences later in the lineup. More and more, though, the programming became aimed at young teens and pre-teens who would have TGIF sleepovers and regale each other on the playground with their best Urkel impressions or mimicked one-liners from Full House.

What wasn’t there to love? Step By Step was a retro Brady Bunch family that tried to show that, despite differences between people, one way or another one learns to love and maybe even accept his or her family. Complement that with Full House’s great comedic timing of Uncle Joey, the party antics of Uncle Jesse and the happy family morals of Bob Saget as he shared his wisdom with his three girls, all the while accompanied by sappy background saxophone music. Steve Urkel offered hope to the classic geek, redefining the standard height of the belt buckle and becoming a pop culture icon. He spread his nerdiness by cutting a CD and plastering “Did I Do That?” on T-shirts all over the country.

As the audience began to grow up, ABC tried to adjust its programming accordingly. Shows like Boy Meets World and Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper started to develop. Fortunately for Ben Savage, he had the popularity of his older brother, Fred, to get him the attention of the network’s executives. After a few show revamps, Cory and his girlfriend Topanga headed into high school, where they spent several years trying to balance their love with the ever-cool presence of Shawn Hunter, Cory’s dimwitted older brother Eric and the watchful eye of Mr. Feeney. As the audience grew up, so did the casts, and one could almost say that they grew up together.

Almost.

All good things must come to an end. Though Sabrina the Teenage Witch, with Clarissa Explains It All’s Melissa Joan Hart, offered a brief revival of the Friday night staple, duds like Teen Angel and Two of a Kind with the grown-up Olsen twins damaged the TGIF reputation. As time went on, the programming continued to lose its appeal until finally, in 2000, ABC took TGIF off the air and ended an era of great television.

This season, however, sees the return of Thank Goodness It’s Friday television with a new lineup, new stars and jokes that have been around since TV was invented.

Two of the shows that will be moving to Friday night have been part of the ABC primetime lineup for a few years. George Lopez is the 26-minute long insight into the life of an assembly line worker named George who has been promoted to manager of a Los Angeles airplane parts factory. The sitcom follows George and his family on their week-to-week escapades. This show is actually award-winning and considered a television rarity today; it not only serves as a medium for wholesome family values but also features a minority-headed cast appreciated and enjoyed by all families.

Life with Bonnie is a behind-the-scenes glimpse of one of the women from the View, following Bonnie Hunt from the television studio, where she hosts a morning talk show, to her home, where she has to balance family and career. The comedy is a little unorthodox but usually entertaining. The gem of an idea that comes out in this show is the appearance of celebrities on the show in non-scripted, impromptu scenes with Bonnie, trying to recreate the fun and excitement of life morning television. If anything, it is worth watching to see great old residents of Hollywood really strut their stuff on a smaller stage.

Rounding out TGIF’s new lineup are two shows with “fish out of water” premises for different actors that have already been part of the ABC Family. Kelly Ripa, who usually sits next to famous Domer Regis Philbin on Live with Regis and Kelly each morning, will be trying her hand at sitcom humor. She plays a fired soap opera actress who runs away from the glamour of Tinseltown to take refuge with her suburban, soccer-mom sister. Hilarity is expected to naturally ensue. It will be interesting to see if Kelly can handle herself without the wit and charm that only Notre Dame can teach – in the form of Regis Philbin – supporting her jokes.

Breckin Meyer, more commonly known as the skate-boarding bonehead from Clueless, finds himself leaving his comfortable New York home so that his wife can be closer to her Kansas-bred family in Married to the Kellys. This will obviously cause a great deal of problematic situations; he grew up as an only child and is therefore incapable of functioning in a large-family environment. With any hope, he will take up farming and television programming will return to the glory days of Green Acres.

The return of TGIF is an attempt to revive the classic family sitcom and give it a place alongside the reality television and intense drama of today. There are few things more chock-full of nostalgia than reflecting on the memories shared with Steve Urkel, the Tanner Family and Cory Matthews. The sitcom family of today may hold its own and, hopefully, future generations will be able to enjoy TGIF. For now, I’ll be content to tune in to TNT and TBS and watch the reruns that defined my childhood and reminded me that it’s OK if your jokes aren’t funny. That’s what a laugh track is for.