#TGIF Comedy Producers & Stars Discuss Reaching a New Generation on Hulu
In the '90s, to be a show in ABC's TGIF lineup meant you were at the top in the TV universe.
The Friday night block — which featured sitcoms like Boy Meets World, Family Matters, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Perfect Strangers — provided wholesome family entertainment mainly because of clever writing, great physical comedy, feel good themes, and the ability to weave serious topics into a G-rated format.
Some of the actors and creators of these favorite TGIF shows gathered the 2018 ATX Television Festival in Austin to discuss what made these shows successful, how TV has drastically changed over the past 20 years, and what they hope a new generation takes away from the sitcoms.
William Bickley, who created Family Matters and Step by Step, spoke on why he created shows about families:
"It's not that you can't do shows that are controversial and about characters that aren't so good, but my interest was a family or relationship," he said.
"Where the people made big mistakes, had flaws, but at the heart of them wanted to do the right thing even if they failed. The bottom line was ultimately they wanted to be a good father or a good mother. That was always in my mind. I was interested in doing stories about those people," Buckley added.
Sabrina the Teenage Witch creator Nell Scovell agreed. "These shows were geared toward families," she said, adding there was a "sweetness" about the comedy, compared to a lot of shows today which depend on "insults" for laughs.
Family Matters star Kellie Shanygne Williams, who played Laura Winslow, added that it didn't matter that her show was about a Black family. Everyone could relate because the story was about a multigenerational family with a crazy neighbor. "You don’t have to be Black or white to understand that," she said.
The stories were "authentic" and "tangible" she added.
Boy Meets World creator Michael Jacobs and star Ben Savage agreed that one of reasons their show succeeded was because ABC let the show develop and work out its kinks, compared to today when shows are canceled after only a few episodes if they don't perform immediately.
"A show gets one or two episodes and if the ratings aren’t strong, they get pulled early," Savage said. He added that a series needs "a season or two to get their sea legs" and find its audience.
Something which was also very different back in the '90s, was that social media didn't exist. "We didn't have social media, so we were in a bit of a cocoon and we were just creating the show and having fun and exploring," Savage explained. "I think there's a lot more pressure on kids today because everything they're doing is being scrutinized."
He added that although he did have "more flexibility" to make mistakes, he didn't have nearly as much fan interaction as child/teen actors have today.
And now a whole new generation of people can enjoy these classics on Hulu.
Bickley said of the streaming service's ability to reach an untapped, diverse audience: "I hope people watch these shows and have a feeling of hope."