Darius McCrary recently sat down with Vlad TV to discuss the legacy of his breakout show Family Matters. One of the staples of the ’90s sitcom era, Family Matters helped make character Steve Urkel a household name and stars out of the cast over its nine-season run. McCrary feels that this had a lot to do with the show’s unique appeal and approach to the black family dynamic. McCrary also argues that it was a better program than Bill Cosby’s Cosby Show and It’s a Different World.
Darius McCray mentioned that Tyler Perry’s House of Payne recently became one of the longest-running sitcom with a predominately African-American cast in the history of American Television. This is based strictly on number of episodes. When discussing this fact, McCrary pointed out that while they beat Family Matters in quantity, Tyler Perry’s show is nowhere near Family Matters in quality. The actor feels like there was a certain synergy that his show had that few others possessed.
Family Matters was initially a spin-off of the show Perfect Strangers which featured an earlier version of the Winslow matriarch, Harriett. The show would follow the Chicago-based unit on their daily adventures. Nerdy neighbor Steve Urkel would eventually become a breakout star and main character, helping catapult the show to new heights. It was the second-longest-running African-American sitcom behind The Jefferson‘s until Tyler’s show became number one. According to Wikipedia, “Family Matters was the last live-action scripted prime time show that debuted in the 1980s to leave the air, and outlasted all other prime time network debuts of the 1980s with the exception of The Simpsons.”
Darius McCrary also discussed the show’s ending and how painful it was. He discussed feeling that the replacement of mother Harriette Winslow in the final season was a devastating blow since the program was initially based around her. “When a show has success like Family Matters had, you get accustomed to a certain taste,” he said of the original cast. “Watching Family Matters end, especially the way it ended, was one of the most difficult things I ever experienced,” he told Vlad.
While comparing the longest-running African-American lead shows in TV history, Darius says there is really no competition, especially not Tyler Perry’s shows. While he has the utmost respect for Tyler and the empire he’s built, Darius McCrary says that Family Matters exist in a whole different “category and stratosphere.” When Vlad suggested that Cosby’s shows had a similar impact, Darius still maintained that they did not have the same impact or formula as Family Matters. “Which one had that type of crossover success to where you could plug in white cast members, and it would still be like Growing Pains.”
Tyler Perry’s House of Payne was recently rebooted following Perry’s new partnership with BET. Under the new network, they were able to relaunch the show with an impressive $=6.6 million viewers making it the most-watched show on the Wednesday that it premiered its 7th season. The new incarnation of the show, which picks up five years after the original ended, is also paired with a spin-off series titled Tyler Perry’s Assisted Living which got $4 million viewers that same night, making them the #1 and #2 viewed shows on television that day.
As far as other impactful series of the era, McCray failed to mention The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air that was so beloved it scored an HBOMax reunion special and was recently reimagined as a gritty teen drama on NBC’s Peacock streaming platform simply titled Bel-Air. Shows like Moesha, The Parkers, and Sister Sister also dominated in the same time frame and have been considered for reboots in recent years. While shows like Everybody Hates Chris and Black-ish have become cult classics in the modern era. Abbott Elementary is currently dominating in the sitcom space and has quickly become one of the most successful shows in recent history, with other programs like Grand Crew trailing close behind it.
So what made Family Matters so special, and why does McCrary feel like it was THE standout show? Of course, him starring on it could have a lot to do with that fact. Family Matters also benefited from the massive following Steve Urkle’s character had both on and off the show. He was so massive that when SNL recently did a sketch revisiting Family Matters in the same way NBC is revisiting The Fresh Prince, they focused solely on the Urkle character.
Back in 2020 Darius got some people excited while speculating that Family Matters could get a reboot in a discussion with Essence, but nothing was ever confirmed. What show do you feel is the most impactful black sitcom?