Key players from some of the most iconic series of ABC’s TGIF programming block, which ran from 1989 to 2000, reflected on that time and its most successful series (Family Matters, Boy Meets World, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Step by Step) in a Q&A panel at the ATX Television Festival.
William Bickley, who created both Family Matters and Step by Step, said the key to a successful TGIF show was one very simple thing: heart.
“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… where the people made big mistakes, had flaws, but at the heart of them wanted to do the right thing even if they failed,” he said. “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.”
Sabrina creator Nell Scovell said the shows on TGIF were not cruel like some comedies today. “All of these shows, there was a sweetness to them,” she observed.
Stars Ben Savage (Boy Meets World) and Kellie Shanygne Williams (Family Matters) remembered their time as the faces of TGIF — and said they had it very differently than child actors today.
“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. I think there’s a lot more pressure on kids today because everything they’re doing is being scrutinized,” said Savage. “We got to have a little more fun, a little more flexibility. We didn’t get as much interaction with fans but we got more freedom.”
Fans frequently ask Williams and Bickley about a potential Family Matters reunion and where the characters are now. “I would only have interest in that if you could really have them go through what life really is,” said Bickley. “It’s not all negative, by the way, but life is a crooked path. When you stay on the planet as long as I have, you begin to figure that out.”
As for her teen character Laura Winslow, Williams believes she is thriving. “Laura Winslow is the woman who has it all. I’m not that, but she is,” she said. “I just think she’d be slaying and killing the world. She’s just that kind of woman and has been since a young age.”
Sabrina was one of the only TGIF shows created by a woman. But the fact that women are still fighting for the ability to create in Hollywood years later is a bit disheartening to creator Scovell. “Sometime after I did Sabrina there was a sense like we solved it, it’s done, we don’t have to make an effort any longer, and we really slid back,” she said. “The same stories I read back in the ’80s of women taking over TV, I’m reading them again now and I’m not as heartened as some because it feels like a rerun.”