Before we had Empire and even before we were enthralled with The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, we all adored the nerdy Steve Urkel and his antics with the Winslow family on Family Matters. The series is the third longest running sitcom with an African-American cast in television history with 9 seasons and 215 episodes. The only shows to beat that run are Tyler Perry’s House of Payne and The Jeffersons. However, the things that went on behind the scenes of the show might make you take pause. Here are 12 jaw-dropping things you never knew about Family Matters.
1. Family Matters was actually spin-off.
Originally, ABC sold the show as a spin-off of the show Perfect Strangers, which was supposed to focus on elevator operator Harriette Winslow, her hubby Chicago police officer Carl Winslow and their family. But that was before Jaleel White‘s Urkel took over.
2. Steve Urkel was only supposed to appear on ONE episode of the series.
However, Jaleel White’s character stole every scene that he was in, and he quickly became the center of the show with the Winslows acting as his supporting cast. This actually made things extremely uncomfortable on set for the first few years of the show. White chatted with Vanity Fair in 2011 saying, “Things were definitely strained in the early going. 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.” We’re just happy things didn’t get as dramatic as they did with the original Aunt Viv on Fresh Prince.
3. Urkel showed up on several other ’90s family sitcoms during Family Matters runs.
Steve Urkel’s geeky appeal could not be tamed, which is why he appeared on classic ’90s sitcoms like Full House and Step by Step. We wonder how Jaleel White would feel about making an appearance in Fuller House as a grown up Urkel. Are you listening Netflix?!
4. Jaleel White wasn’t allowed to exercise.
This might seem like an easy task, but White, who was 13-years old when the show began and 22-years old when it ended, needed to look as young as possible while playing Urkel. Therefore, he was required to shave every day and not engage any exercise that would bulk him up. Luckily, the now 39-year old has been free to do some heavy lifting.
5. Steve Urkel was almost a Huxtable!
Originally, Jaleel White was up for the role of Rudy on The Cosby Show (yes, the role was originally for a boy). However, producers ultimately decided to go with a girl for the role, and cast Keshia Knight Pulliam. Think about how different The Cosby Show and Family Matters would have been if that had happened?!
6. Older brother Eddie, wasn’t actually the eldest.
Though Darius McCrary played Eddie who was the eldest Winslow child, he is actually one month younger than Kellie Shanygne Williams who played his younger sister Laura, the object of Urkel’s adoration.
7. Laura wasn’t always the youngest Winslow child.
In the first five seasons, Jaimee Foxworth played the youngest Winslow kid, Judy until she completely disappeared from the show without any explanation. The Winslows acted as though Judy never existed, acknowledging they only had two children. The last time Judy was ever seen on the show was when she went up to her room, but she never came back down. According to Foxworth she’s “still up in her room putting clothes away”. In reality, Foxworth got heavily involved in drugs and porn which was a no go for ABC’s family friendly line-up. (The other rumor is that Foxworth tried to negotiate a higher salary… we’ll let you decide which theory you believe).
8. The Winslow’s address also randomly changed with no explanation.
Though the real house is located on Wrightwood Avenue in Chicago, on the show, the Winslow’s address changed from 263 Pinehurst Street to 263 Elm Street with no explanation.
9. Actress Michelle Thomas, who played Steve Urkel’s girlfriend Myra Monkhouse, died tragically just before the show was canceled.
Fans of Family Matters will remember Myra for being the only girl besides Laura who captured Urkel’s attention. Sadly, the actress who played Myra, Michelle Thomas, was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer and had to exit the show. She passed away just before Family Matters went off the air. Her boyfriend, Malcolm-Jamal Warner (who played Theo on The Cosby Show) was by her side when she died.
10. The classic Family Matters theme song “As Days Go By” wasn’t always the show’s opener.
For the first five episodes, the theme song was actually Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” If that would have stayed in place as the theme song, it would have given the show a completely different feeling! “As Days Go By” lasted until the seventh season of the series, when the opening song was phased out entirely.
11. The actress who played Harriette changed half-way through the final season!
This wasn’t as shocking as the Aunt Viv switch on Fresh Prince because it happened so late in the game, but it still happened! Jo Marie Payton played Harriette Winslow for eight and a half seasons of Family Matters, however she bowed out halfway through the last season of the show because she was annoyed with all of the attention that Jaleel White’s Urkel was getting. Judyann Elder took over the role of Harriette in the second half of the final season…Luckily no one really remembers this happening.
12. After eight seasons, Family Matters abandoned ABC for CBS.
After eight seasons, Family Matters decided to head over to CBS to be a part of their TGIF line-up. The show was supposed to air through season 10. However, the show’s ratings plummeted so drastically, that Family Matters was axed after season 9.