Behind-the-Scenes Photos and Surprising Facts from 13 Classic TV Series
Who can forget the best shows of the 1980s and '90s that we wish were still on the air.
Since everyone can use a trip down memory lane every now and then, we decided to look at some behind-the-scenes shots of the best shows from the ’80s and ’90s, along with little-known facts about each show.
Cheers, that Boston bar where everybody knows your name, captured viewer’s hearts from 1982 to 1993, with a total of 275 episodes. It became one of the most popular series of all time, even though it almost didn’t make it through its first seasons because it was not an immediate hit. In fact, the show had terrible ratings right after it premiered. Luckily, it was left on air and we all got to know former Red Sox pitcher Sam Malone (played by Ted Danson, who actually went to bartending school as part of his training for the role).
Diff’rent Strokes ran for eight seasons and, at times, the sitcom tackled very serious themes, including alcoholism, bulimia, epilepsy, and the dangers of hitchhiking. And in 1983, Strokes aired a two-part episode about child molestation. Episodes like this were denoted as “very special” episodes, writes Mental Floss, and the series ended on one featuring Arnold Jackson (Gary Coleman) investigating a steroid scandal for the school newspaper.
Married…with Children had a decade-long run from 1987 to 1997. It wasn’t very successful at first, but then a family activist started a letter writing campaign that complained about the show’s subject matter and anti-family values. That story put the show in the media spotlight and ultimately made it a hit. The show, which ran for 260 total episodes, was Fox’s first primetime show, and it is the longest-running, scripted live-action show in Fox’s history.
With a star like Michael J. Fox, how could this show not be a hit? Family Ties thrust the wholesome, adorable Fox into the spotlight, and audiences loved him. But originally, the executives of Family Ties did not think Fox could carry the role of Alex P. Keaton because he “didn’t have a face you could put on a lunchbox”—basically meaning they didn’t think he was good looking enough. But Fox excelled at the role, and Brandon Tartikoff, one of the executives, later wrote to Fox and apologized.
The Fresh Prince of Bel Air
The street-smart Philly teenager Will Smith moved into the opulent Bel-Air home of the Banks family in 1989. The TV show was originally cancelled after the fourth season, when Will moved back to Philadelphia, but letters from fans poured in to Will Smith and NBC, urging them to keep the show going. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was then resurrected continued for two more seasons. The show won 13 awards and received 23 nominations during its run. But Will Smith actually only agreed to the role, which shot him to stardom, because of IRS issues. When Smith started making it as a rapper, he blew through all his money and didn’t pay his taxes. And then his second album flopped. Quincy Jones offered him the part after an impromptu audition at Jones’ home.
Golden Girls, starring Estelle Getty, Bea Arthur, Betty White and Rue McClanahan, focused on four women sharing a Miami home—and was an instant hit. All four stars won Emmys. The show had multiple writer groups over its run though, so there are differences between seasons in number and names of kids, distant relatives, and character histories. The house’s layout even changes occasionally. The show hit on controversial topics, including AIDS, gay marriage, and teen pregnancy.
Friends is still a hit, with syndicated reruns playing on TV and all 10 seasons available on Netflix. It wasn’t always supposed to have such a short series name, though, the working titles included Insomnia Cafe, Friends Like Us, and Six of One. A couple fun facts about the show: David Schwimmer did not have to audition for Ross, while when Matt LeBlanc auditioned for the role of Joey, he only had $11, and he has said that the role saved his career. Meanwhile, the roles of Phoebe and Chandler were actually supposed to be supporting roles, and the group was supposed to be of four friends. It has been reported that Monica and Joey were supposed to get together, not her and Chandler, but the studio audience’s response to Monica and Chandler first getting together was so overwhelming they pursued that storyline instead.
The Jeffersons spent 11 seasons on air and is the second longest-running American television series with a predominantly African-American cast. It aired in 1975 as an All in the Family spin-off, starring the Bunkers’ next-door neighbors, the Jeffersons. But the show ultimately spent more time on air than the series that spawned it.
Tom Selleck starred in this popular detective show, which ran for eight seasons, from 1980–88. However, by taking on the role, Selleck lost the opportunity to be Indiana Jones. Selleck had been the top choice for the whip-wielding archaeologist when production of Raiders of the Lost Ark began, but since he had committed to Magnum, P.I. he couldn’t take the role. We doubt Selleck regrets it though, since the show ended with one of the most-watched finales of all time, and it currently sits as the fifth most-watched series finale of all time, with 50.7 million viewers.
Growing Pains ran for seven seasons, getting only more popular as time went on. Jeremy Miller, who played Ben Seaver, was only eight years old when Growing Pains started filming, so he’d start to cry when the seasons were over and he had to leave his TV family. The series was actually the first American sitcom to be shown in China, and it was popular in the country.
Seinfeld started out as the poorly received The Seinfeld Chronicles in 1989, but ended nine years later as a beloved sitcom, one that forever shaped pop culture and is still popular to this day. But the show ends in a similar way to how it begins: Jerry’s last conversation with George in the series mirrors his first conversation with George in the series. In both, Jerry is criticizing the button placement on George’s shirt. But in the series finale, George says, “Haven’t we had this conversation before?”
Saved by the Bell
Almost called When the Bell Rings, Saved By the Bell was originally a spin-off of the show Good Morning, Miss Bliss. The same set was later used in That’s So Raven and iCarly. The character Samuel “Screech” Powers, played by Dustin Diamond, is the only character in every single original Saved By the Bell episode, spin-off, and movie. He was cast at age 12, but the show’s creator, Peter Engel, did not know that, and said he wouldn’t have cast him if he had known his true age.
Steve Urkel and the Winslow family were the main characters in Family Matters, the third longest-running sitcom with an African-American cast in television history. The show ran for nine seasons and 215 episodes (only Tyler Perry’s House of Payne and The Jeffersons beat it). The show was originally a spin-off of Perfect Strangers, and Steve Urkel was only supposed to appear on one episode of the series. However, Jaleel White’s character stole every scene he was in and became the center of the show with the Winslows acting as supporting cast. This made things a little tense at the beginning of the show, but obviously, relationships get better when a show is a hit.