The Best and Worst of TGIF

In fall 1993, a coming-of-age comedy called “Boy Meets World” premiered on ABC’s “TGIF” Friday night lineup; 21 years later, its sequel series, “Girl Meets World,” is debuting on the Disney Channel with many of the original cast members reprising their roles for a new generation.

Few could have anticipated the enduring popularity of the family sitcom — which starred Ben Savage as Cornelius “Cory” Matthews and Danielle Fishel as his first love and eventual wife, Topanga Lawrence — but ABC’s TGIF block was responsible for a number of iconic comedies during its initial run between 1989 and 2000, many of which still live on in syndication today. And, as with all networks, the roster was also responsible for some spectacular trainwrecks, with concepts so surreal, you’d think a kid pitched them while on a sugar high.

Before we meet Cory and Topanga’s precocious daughter, Riley (Rowan Blanchard), take a trip down memory lane with us and remember the hits and misses of ABC’s TGIF programming, which spawned competition from CBS’ short-lived Friday night “Block Party” and pre-dated NBC’s “Must See TV” Thursday comedy lineup by four years.

The Worst

“Going Places” (1990)
Between “Dynasty” and “Melrose Place,” Heather Locklear’s career took a pit-stop with “Going Places,” a self-referential series about four television comedy writers who worked on a hidden camera show. Locklear’s co-stars were fellow breakout stars of the era Alan Ruck (“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”), Jerry Levine (“Teen Wolf”) and Hallie Todd (Showtime’s “Brothers”). Like many inhabitants of Los Angeles, the show had something of an identity crisis and reinvented itself at midseason, canceling the show-within-a-show that the foursome worked on and sending their careers in wildly different directions. The makeover wasn’t enough to lift the laffer’s ratings and it was canceled in May 1991.

“Hi Honey, I’m Home!” (1991)
Even more metatextual than “Going Places,” the series centered around the Nielsens (named after the Nielsen ratings system), a family of fictional characters from a canceled 1950s sitcom who moved to a New Jersey suburb to try and live in the real world. The show often featured guest appearances by actors from classic TV comedies reprising their iconic roles, such as Ann B. Davis visiting the Nielsens in character as Alice Nelson from “The Brady Bunch,” and Barbara Billingsley stopping by as June Cleaver from “Leave It to Beaver.” Whether the show was bad — or just ahead of its time in terms of breaking the fourth wall — is debatable, but it aired only six episodes before disappearing from the TGIF lineup, with seven more installments airing solely on Nick at Nite until its cancellation in July 1992.

“Baby Talk” (1991)
Loosely based on Amy Heckerling’s “Look Who’s Talking” movie, this adaptation focused on single mother Maggie and her baby, Mickey (voiced by Tony Danza). The project was plagued with behind-the-scenes drama, with showrunner Ed. Weinberger replaced by Saul Turteltaub and Bernie Orenstein after a critically derided (but highly rated) first season, and the role of Maggie recast three times during the show’s two-season run. Original star Connie Sellecca left a few episodes into production, then her replacement, Julia Duffy, grew tired of the criticism the show was receiving and exited when “Baby Talk” was renewed for a second season, with Mary Page Keller assuming the role until the series’ cancellation in spring 1992. The series also featured a young George Clooney as Maggie’s love interest in season one, but he and the rest of the supporting cast were jettisoned with Weinberger’s ouster, leading to the hiring of Scott Baio in season two.

“Billy” (1992)
Billy Connolly may be a British national treasure, but this “Head of the Class” spinoff was shipped off to Saturday nights after seven episodes, and was permanently deported from ABC’s lineup after its initial 13-episode order. The show centered around teacher Billy MacGregor’s Green Card marriage to single mom Mary Springer (Marie Marshall) and his attempts to outwit the immigration officials trying to prove his relationship was a sham. The series also featured future “Big Bang Theory” star Johnny Galecki as Billy’s stepson, David.

“Aliens in the Family” (1996)
Aside from giving us a glimpse of pre-“Dawson’s Creek” James Van Der Beek being eaten by a puppet alien dog, this surreal sitcom’s main contribution to pop culture was its use of puppets created by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop and its distinction as the shortest-lived show on the TGIF lineup, being pulled from the air after only two episodes. Check out a guest appearance from a 5-year-old Hayden Panettiere in the clip below.

“You Wish” (1997)
While ABC struck gold with “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch,” it couldn’t recapture the magic with this fantasy comedy, which was seen as a spiritual successor to “I Dream of Jeannie” — just without the ratings success. John Ales played a genie (named Genie, naturally) who was released from a magic rug by single mother and her two kids. The show lasted seven episodes before being yanked from the TGIF lineup.

“Teen Angel” (1997)
Perhaps the most depressing premise for a comedy series ever, “Teen Angel” followed Marty DePolo (Mike Damus), a high schooler who died from eating a 6-month-old hamburger and was sent back to Earth to serve as his best friend’s guardian angel. While it lasted slightly longer than “You Wish,” the sitcom (which also featured Ron Glass in the role of Rod, God’s cousin, who appeared as a giant floating head) was axed after 17 episodes.

The Best

“Perfect Strangers” (1986)
The show introduced us to iconic comedy odd couple Larry Appleton (Mark Linn-Baker) and his distant cousin Balki Bartokomous (Bronson Pinchot), who enjoyed eight seasons of adventures together. While the long-running series technically predates the TGIF lineup — originally airing on Tuesdays and then shifting to Wednesdays before it became the anchor for ABC’s new Friday-night block in 1989 — it is still one of the most memorable shows from the roster, maintaining a top 40 ranking in Nielsen ratings for much of its run before a calculated move to Saturdays sheared its viewership. The show was also responsible for spinning off fellow TGIF mainstay “Family Matters” (though interestingly, neither show featured a direct crossover with the other — although Steve Urkel did visit “Full House”) and both live on in syndication to this day. All together now — “Standing tall, on the wings of my dream…”

“Full House” (1987)
Anyone who lived through the ‘80s and ‘90s can probably easily finish the lyric “Whatever happened to predictability?” “Full House,” which aired until 1995, brought us the Olsen twins (who went on to star in their own TGIF comedy, “Two of a Kind,” 11 years later), endless catchphrases and the first crush for many young girls in John Stamos’ Uncle Jesse. The show followed Danny Tanner’s (Bob Saget) efforts to raise his three daughters with the help of his friend and brother-in-law, and became one of the most enduring staples of ABC’s TGIF lineup. While the cast went in various directions after the show ended and many of the jokes seem a little cheesy a couple of decades later, there’s no denying the show’s pop culture impact — who didn’t steal a joke from Uncle Joey?

“Family Matters” (1989)
Centered around the middle-class Winslow family, the series didn’t set the ratings alight until the introduction of the Winslows’ nerdy neighbor Steve Urkel (Jaleel White) midway through season 1. Since Urkel immediately became a pop culture sensation, the show was tweaked to focus more heavily on his exploits as it went on, and subsequently ran for nine seasons. The series was a centerpiece of the TGIF lineup until 1997, when it was sold to CBS along with “Step by Step.” The Eye network slotted the two TGIF shows in direct competition with their former ABC timeslot companions on Fridays as part of CBS’ rival “Block Party” schedule — but the two were canceled after one season, along with the rest of the “Block Party” roster.

“Step by Step” (1991)
ABC was banking on the winning combination of “Dallas” star Patrick Duffy and Suzanne Somers of “Three’s Company,” two of the most popular TV stars of the period, to help them hit ratings gold — a formula that paid off fairly well, at least in the show’s first four seasons. The series — which featured two single parents who spontaneously got married and combined their families after meeting on vacation — was a TGIF mainstay until it was sold to CBS with “Family Matters,” where it was canceled after season seven. “Step by Step” is perhaps best known for its repeated, barely concealed implications that Duffy and Somers’ characters were heading to the bedroom at every opportunity — and while it may not hold up too well to repeated viewings, many fans still hold a nostalgic affection for the sly family comedy.

“Dinosaurs” (1991)
Originally the brainchild of Jim Henson — who died before the show made it to air — the innovative sitcom focused on a family of anthropomorphic dinosaurs, the Sinclairs, who were fairly typical for a television sitcom family — aside from their difference in species. Stuart Pankin provided the voice for patriarch Earl, while Jessica Walter lent her dulcet tones to his wife, Fran, and all the characters’ physical performances came courtesy of puppeteers. The show was known for tackling a number of topical issues over its four-season run, including environmentalism and deforestation, racism, drug abuse, religion and women’s rights. The series is also notable for its surprisingly bleak ending, which saw the characters facing extinction after their society’s irresponsible business practices killed all plant life on the planet and brought about the Ice Age.

“Boy Meets World” (1993)
The 1993-2000 show that spawned “Girl Meets World” followed Cory Matthews from a pre-pubescent sixth-grader to a married man in college. Along with its sometimes bizarre, often fourth-wall-breaking comedy, the coming-of-age sitcom included its fair share of heart-warming moments. We laughed at Eric Matthews’ (Will Friedle) moments of stupidity, cried at the struggles of the troubled but good-hearted Shawn Hunter (Rider Strong) and learned from the endless wisdom of Mr. Feeny (William Daniels). It’s no wonder the expectations are high for “Girl Meets World” — only time will tell if it can measure up to the legacy of the original.

“Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” (1996)
The show that made a star out of Melissa Joan Hart also managed to outlive the end of TGIF. The sitcom aired from 1996-2000 on ABC, and after TGIF ended, it spent its last three seasons on the WB. Hart was the titular spellcaster who had to juggle typical high school problems with the secret of her magical powers after discovering she was a witch on her 16th birthday. She got by with the help of her 600-year-old aunts and their delightfully snarky black cat, Salem, who was most often portrayed by a hilariously stiff animatronic puppet. Hart now stars with another ’90s icon, Joey Lawrence, on ABC Family’s “Melissa & Joey.” Check out Britney Spears’ cameo on the comedy below.

While there were many more gems on the groundbreaking programming block, including fan favorites like “Clueless,” “Sister, Sister,” “Just the 10 of Us” and “Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper,” we attempted to narrow things down to the very best and the very worst for the sake of expediency — but feel free to dispute our selection and stump for your favorites in the comments. Which TGIF comedies do you miss the most?

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