On September 22, 1989, ABC launched a revolutionary new block of programming that would eventually become a cornerstone of strategic planning for primetime television. Known as TGIF, or Thank Goodness for Fun (boy howdy!), it was believed to be the first attempt by a network to sell fans of its wholesome family sitcoms on multiple series by having the stars of each show introduce the plots of the other series. Basically, on any given Friday night, we could find ourselves in the living rooms of the Tanner or Winslow families, as well as Cousin Larry Appleton, as the characters we knew and loved filled us in on what to expect from their time slot neighbors that night. It was family stacked on family stacked on giant piles of money, and for the first few years, it was a ratings bonanza.
Obviously, 25 years to the week after the debut of TGIF, the landscape of TV programming has changed considerably (here’s a very interesting read from the perspective of some original TGIF series writers about life after corny family shows). Gone is the idea that the average American family gathers around the boob tube to watch that zany Balki Bartokomous do the Dance of Joy, because Friday night programming is typically where TV shows go to die now. Networks have recognized that today’s families are ready to party on Friday nights and don’t have time to lay on their beanbag chairs to watch fake people do fake things. That’s why NBC wised up in 1993, piggybacked on the TGIF formula and success and made Thursday night the “Must-See” home of the best sitcoms.
But what today’s networks and show runners didn’t take from TGIF was, for starters, the showmanship. Just look at this incredible TGIF promo from 1989, featuring the cast of Just the Ten of Us, which is a show that is sorely underappreciated when it comes to today’s 80s nostalgia.
Oh Wendy Lubbock, how I’d like to blame your flirty ways on the downfall of conservative romance in modern relationships, but darn it all to heck if a Young Burnsy didn’t have a super huge crush on you. My TGIF female character crush rankings saved for another day (Dana Foster was and always will be No. 1 – <3 you 4ever, Staci Keanan), the majesty of the many sitcoms that would air on TGIF, at least through the initial run that lasted from 1989 to 2000, remained in the opening credits of each series. I’m not saying that the intros were fun and campy in a corny, “Haha, I can’t believe the guy from Kickboxer who was like a low-rent Keanu Reeves agreed to do that” kind of way.
No, these intros were works of art, as they took the catchy songs of 80s classics like Growing Pains (“Show me that smile again…” good luck getting that out of your heads) and Facts of Life, and combined them with adorable and unintentionally hilarious actor intros that immortalized their characters in our brains and hearts. No show did that better than Perfect Strangers, which week after week retold the story of how both Balki and Cousin Larry found their ways to Chicago and each other, all while set to one of the best TV anthems ever recorded.
The biggest disappointment about Perfect Stranger’s 8-season run from 1986-1993 (with three years as the 9 PM centerpiece of TGIF) was that Balki’s Myposian tuxedo never took off as a classic fashion staple. Also, not that it’s important to the issue at hand, but it’s still semi-relevant to an earlier point – Jennifer Lyons (Melanie Wilson) is No. 3 on the list. But I digress…