Family Matters Became One of the Longest Running Black Shows
Family Matters was a staple of the ’90s sitcom era. Running for nine seasons, it helped make stars out of Jaleel White and the rest of its cast. For years it was the longest-running American show with a predominately black cast until Tyler Perry’s House of Payne passed them in 2021. While on the air, they were a rating darling with fans and helped solidify TGIF as must-see TV for everyone.
Waldo Lost His Mother Around The Time The Show Started
Actor Shawn Harrison played the show loveable Waldo. Prior to getting the role, he spent years in commercials as an emerging child star. He was doing so well that his mother was able to leave her job and manage him full-time as he broke into primetime television. Unfortunately, she would pass shortly after his first season of the show. In an archived discussion with The Los Angeles Times from 1995, Harrison recalls how happy she was about him getting the role and how her heart just suddenly stopped. He revealed that he still lived in the home he shared with her since he was six months old and that he grew closer to his cast members as a result.
Tension On The Set Behind The Scenes
While Shawn Harrison found comfort in his cast members, everyone else was not so lucky. For lead actress Jo Marie Payton, the series was supposed to serve as her vehicle seeing as it was written around her after she starred on a different show called Perfect Strangers. Jaleel White was supposed to only be in a few episodes, but his character Urkle filled a comic relief void that the show desperately needed. He quickly eclipsed the entire cast and became the show’s break-out star. This was not well received by Jo Marie, who felt her role became mundane and stagnant, following all the attention going to White.
Things got bad between the two of them and according to a recent episode of Entertainment Tonight, they almost came to blows. Jo Marie says that White started to feel himself on set and lacked the etiquette of his other co-stars. In one instance, she turned down a scene where Jaleel wanted on Season 9 episode 10 called ‘Original Gangster.’ , sighting how it went against standards and practices. Jaleel was upset and began kicking and screaming and demanding to do the scene.
After the confrontation, Payton claims she walked away when she heard white say, ‘She must want a melee.” Confused by the term, she asked Jaleel, ‘what’s a melee?” The actor replied, ‘a fight.’ Jo Marie Payton immediately turned around, but was pulled away by Darius McCrary. “I was going to whoop his behind,” the actress stated. However, looking back, she realizes that Jaleel had a lot of enablers in his camp and that he was not solely to blame for his attitude and lack of awareness.
White has talked in length about how the cast gave him a hard time after it was revealed he’d be the star of the show. They completely shifted the dynamic of the series and for Urkle to be front and center, something that Jo Marie admits caused some resentment towards him.
Jamie Foxworth Was Removed from The Show
Jo Marie Payton wasn’t the only cast member who had issues with Jaleel White. Jamie Foxworth, mostly known as the daughter who went upstairs and never came down was fired from the show. While she was supposed to be a bit of comic relief, once Urkle took over, she was no longer needed. Years later, Foxworth decided to discuss the tension on set between she and White after ‘years of consistently being attacked’ by White. According to Foxworth, she was not present when they decided to fire her, but she believes Jaleel White influenced the producers decision. Jamie also stated, White was obsessed with her.
Jo Left Prior To Show’s Ending
When Family Matters made the leap from ABC to CBS, it did so without Joe Marie Payton. The actress was growing increasingly frustrated with the show and its direction. The younger cast meant really long shooting hours to accommodate their schooling and lack of experience. She also felt the role of Harriet had become one-note and was eager to get to do different things. As a result, she did not return for the show’s final season and was replaced by Judyann Elder.
Cast Members Reunited Last Year
Despite all the stories that have emerged over the years, the cast has maintained their relationships outside the show. Jo Marie and Darius McCrary are incredibly close, and everyone has gotten together for a handful of reunion interviews. In one of them, they all discussed being open to a reboot or reunion series and have made peace with how things went down in the ’90s. Jaleel White now hosts a podcast where he interviews several cast members and other ’90s child stars.