From 1989-2000, Friday nights on ABC were home to the block of family-friendly sitcoms known as TGIF, which in addition to the traditional “thank God it’s Friday” stood for “thank goodness it’s funny.” Usually hosted by cast members of one of the night’s four shows, the block featured a number of the most popular sitcoms of the ’90s, as well as quite a few short-lived series that never really captured the TGIF magic. For people who remember growing up with the hokey life lessons and corny jokes of TGIF shows, or parents who had to endure their kids’ love for these super-wholesome sitcoms, here’s a look at the top 10 TGIF shows.
1. 'Full House' (1987-1995)
Although it only aired as part of the programming block for its first four seasons, Full House is generally the first show people think of when they think of TGIF. For people who grew up in the ’90s, Full House was an essential part of their childhood, with its simplistic lessons, copious catch phrases and relentlessly wholesome tone (all hallmarks of the TGIF block overall). The sitcom about a widowed dad who recruits his brother-in-law and best friend to help raise his three daughters launched the careers of stars Bob Saget, John Stamos, Dave Coulier, Candace Cameron, Jodie Sweetin and the Olsen twins (Mary-Kate and Ashley), and still inspires fierce nostalgia from an entire generation.
2. 'Family Matters' (1989-1998)
If Full House represents the original idea of TGIF (a showcase for innocuous, family-friendly sitcoms), Family Matters represents what it eventually turned into, the prime-time sitcom version of hyperactive, saccharine Saturday morning cartoons. Thanks to the breakout popularity of nerd character Steve Urkel (Jaleel White), Family Matters went from being a sitcom about a working-class African-American family to a show about a grating super-genius who could travel through time, clone himself and build fully functioning robots and jet packs. The Winslow family remained the focus of Family Matters throughout its nine seasons (including one on CBS), but Urkel effectively derailed most of the show’s realism and heart.
3. 'Perfect Strangers' (1986-1993)
Perfect Strangers kicked off the TGIF concept, thanks to its early move to Friday nights and the between-show segments that stars Bronson Pinchot and Mark Linn-Baker hosted in character, introducing the other comedies of the night (it also spawned Family Matters as a spin-off). Unlike most TGIF hits, Perfect Strangers wasn’t about a family, even though it was family-friendly; it followed Chicago reporter Larry Appleton (Linn-Baker) and his long-lost cousin Balki Bartokomous (Pinchot) as they lived together as mismatched roommates. With a rotating supporting cast and frequent changes in circumstances for the characters, Perfect Strangers remained rooted in the relationship between Larry and Balki.
4. 'Step by Step' (1991-1998)
There was no crazy high concept to Step by Step, just a modernized version of The Brady Bunch, with Suzanne Somers and Patrick Duffy as a widowed mother and a divorced father who impulsively marry and have to integrate their families. Each brings three kids to the marriage, making for a very, er, full house, and leading to numerous conflicts between step-siblings (as well as surprising friendships). Veteran TV stars Somers and Duffy brought a little bit of respectability to this otherwise by-the-numbers family comedy, which, like Family Matters, migrated from ABC to CBS for its final season.
5. 'Boy Meets World' (1993-2000)
As the most memorable second-wave TGIF show, Boy Meets World appealed to the younger siblings of the Full House and Perfect Strangers fans who might have already outgrown hokey sitcoms. It followed young Cory Matthews (Ben Savage) from his time in junior high through attending college and getting married, mirroring the lives of many of the show’s viewers, who saw aspects of themselves in Cory and his friends. A little more nuanced and grounded than other TGIF shows, Boy Meets World offered a funny and emotionally resonant take on the perils of growing up.
6. 'Sabrina, the Teenage Witch' (1996-2003)
Launched in the later years of TGIF, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch ended up outliving the programming block, moving to The WB for its final three seasons. Based on the Archie Comics character, the show featured Melissa Joan Hart as Sabrina, who learns on her 16th birthday that she comes from a long line of witches and has inherited magical powers. Thanks to some smart writing and creative ideas for Sabrina’s use of her powers, plus the sarcastic voice of Nick Bakay as Sabrina’s talking cat Salem, this show managed to be a little more clever and edgy than typical TGIF fare (its success also inspired a number of subpar supernatural TGIF sitcoms that didn’t last very long).
7. 'Dinosaurs' (1991-1994)
The strangest show ever to air on TGIF and perhaps one of the oddest sitcoms of all time, Dinosaurs featured animatronic dinosaur puppets created by the Jim Henson Company, portraying characters in a typical family sitcom. The Sinclair family of dinosaurs, voiced by actors including Jessica Walter, Sally Struthers and Sherman Hemsley, dealt with standard sitcom antics filtered through the show’s skewed view of life in 60 million BC. Thanks to its cartoonish characters and concept, Dinosaurs often got away with sly social commentary and corporate satire, and featured an infamous final episode in which all the characters go extinct after ignoring an impending environmental disaster.
8. 'Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper' (1992-1997)Originally launched following the later years of Full House on Tuesday nights, Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper moved to Fridays in its second season and became an important part of TGIF. Starring comedian Mark Curry as the title character, a laid-back former Golden State Warriors pro basketball player turned substitute teacher and gym coach, Hangin’ gradually became more family-oriented over the course of its run, introducing Mr. Cooper’s cousin and her daughter and Mr. Cooper’s young neighbor. It was one of two long-running TGIF shows (along with Family Matters) to feature a predominantly African-American cast.
9. 'Just the Ten of Us' (1988-1990)Along with Perfect Strangers, Just the Ten of Us was one of the first shows to form part of the TGIF block. The spin-off from Growing Pains focused on basketball coach Graham Lubbock (Bill Kirchenbauer) and his wife and eight kids, who lived together in a California small town. It was an important precursor of common TGIF themes like large extended families and characters who work in school settings, but Just the Ten of Us only lasted two seasons on TGIF before being pushed aside in favor of filling the entire block with shows created by Full House/Family Matters/Perfect Strangers producers Miller-Boyett Productions.
10. 'The Hughleys' (1998-2002)
A vehicle for stand-up comedian D.L. Hughley, The Hughleys was launched toward the end of the TGIF era and became one of many TGIF shows (along with Family Matters, Step by Step, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, Sister, Sister and Clueless) to complete its run on a network other than ABC. Although its TGIF presence had minimal impact for two seasons, The Hughleys became a signature show of the UPN network when it moved there for its final two seasons. The story of an inner-city family moving to the suburbs fit in with UPN’s focus on sitcoms featuring African-Americans, becoming part of the shift of shows catering to that audience away from major networks.