Thomas L. Miller, Legendary Producer of 'Family Matters' and 'Full House,' Dies at 79

Thomas L. Miller - Publicity - H 2020
Frank Carroll/©2020 Courtesy of NBCUniversal

In a career that spanned seven decades, the production companies he co-founded developed other iconic sitcoms like 'Happy Days,' 'Perfect Strangers,' 'Mork & Mindy,' 'Laverne & Shirley' and 'Step by Step.'

Thomas L. Miller, the legendary television producer behind such iconic sitcoms as Happy DaysFamily Matters, Full House, Mork & Mindy, Laverne & ShirleyPerfect Strangers and Step by Step, has died. He was 79. 

Miller died Sunday in Salisbury, Connecticut, of complications from heart disease, his family and Robert L. Boyett, his partner of 40 years, announced. A private burial will take place in his hometown of Milwaukee.

In a career that spanned seven decades, Miller co-founded the TV production companies Miller/Boyett Productions, Miller/Boyett/Warren Productions and Miller-Milkis Productions, which were respectively behind some of the most loved and highest-rated shows of the 1970s, '80s and '90s. 

His series typically did not win Emmys, but that didn't bother Miller, he said in a 1990 interview with the Los Angeles Times.

"Our award is that 30 million people are watching," he said. "To me, the goal is to entertain. And if you're doing an 8 o'clock show, that means you also try to make them intelligent, you have them tell a story that has not a preachy moral necessarily, but something there so that it's not a bad thing if you watch it. The fact that those [shows] don’t win awards means nothing to me if we continue to please that many people."

On Twitter, Happy Days stars Ron Howard and Henry Winkler paid tribute to Miller. Howard called him "kind, smart and witty" and a believer in his ability to one day make movies, while Winkler wrote that the executive "gave me, along with his partners, my Hollywood life."

Born on Aug. 31, 1940, Miller attended Nicolet High School in Glendale, Wisconsin, before graduating from the University of Wisconsin at Madison with a liberal arts degree in 1962.

A lifelong fan of film and television, he moved to Los Angeles to work in the entertainment industry and got his start in Hollywood working for his idol, Billy Wilder. The filmmaker hired Miller as a dialogue coach, and their four years together included work on the classic films Irma la Douce (1963) and The Fortune Cookie (1966).

Miller said he learned a great deal from Wilder, and the Oscar-winning director continued to be a huge creative influence on him for the rest of his career. The two remained friends up to Wilder's death in 2002. 

Miller's career in television began as assistant to William Self at 20th Century Fox, where they co-created the ABC comedy Nanny and the Professor. He then moved to Paramount Studios to become vp development, where he oversaw comedy and drama series programming and original television movies. In his time at Paramount, Miller developed shows such as The Odd Couple and Love, American Style, as well as nearly 20 telefilms. 

He left a promising career as a TV executive to establish himself as a producer. Miller co-founded his first production company with partner Edward K. Milkis in 1969 with a deal set up at Paramount. For ABC, Miller-Milkis Productions developed, along with Garry Marshall, the comedies Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Mork and Mindy and Joanie Loves Chachi, among several others. The company also produced the legal drama series Petrocelli for NBC. Miller-Milkis also produced the hit comedy features Silver Streak (1976) and Foul Play (1978).

In 1979, Miller and Boyett formed Miller/Boyett Productions and began a 40-year partnership. The pair co-created the comedy series Bosom Buddies and Angie. In the mid-'80s, the company secured a deal with Lorimar Television and produced a slew of family-friendly sitcoms including The Hogan Family, Full House and Perfect Strangers. They also produced the Burt Reynolds-Dolly Parton musical film The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982) for Universal.

Miller/Boyett partnered with producers William Bickley and Michael Warren to develop many of the shows that underpinned ABC's hugely successful "TGIF" Friday comedy lineup in the '80s. The four were behind such ratings hits as Full House (with Jeff Franklin), Perfect Strangers and its spinoff series Family Matters, Step by Step and many more.   

In 1996, Miller and Boyett formally joined forces with Warren to create Miller/Boyett/Warren Productions, which produced the final seasons of Family Matters and Step by Step and developed the comedy Meego for CBS. In 1998, Miller and his partners developed their final original series, ABC's Two of a Kind, which starred Full House breakout stars Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen.   

Taking a break from television, Miller moved to New York in 2000 and began working in theater production with Boyett. He won a Tony Award in 2011 for best play for War Horse and was nominated in the same category in 2019 for Tootsie. His other Broadway credits included Hillary and Clinton, 13, the upcoming Mrs. Doubtfire and the revival of Company

After nearly two decades, Miller/Boyett returned to television to serve as the production company of Netflix's Fuller House. The Full House sequel ran for five seasons through this year.  

In a statement, Warner Bros. Television Group said Miller "was born to entertain, infused with irrepressible passion and love for bringing joy to others through his life's work. And what a skill set he possessed. He was at once a thoughtful and tasteful executive, an extremely talented writer and a highly successful producer whose many hit series will live long in the collective memory of fans around the world. Everyone at Warner Bros. Television Group and the Fuller House family will miss him deeply."