For kids and teens of the ‘90s, to miss a night of “TGIF” on ABC provoked a primal type of utter pain and devastation. For kids and teens of today, there’s Hulu.
The actors and creators behind some of the programs that were part of the popular programming block — the classic lineup of ABC comedies that aired Friday nights from 1989 to 2000 — gathered Friday at the ATX Television Festival to discuss the new generation of viewers discovering their shows since becoming available to stream on Hulu last fall.
William Bickley, the creator of “Family Matters” and “Step by Step,” said the most important element to a successful TGIF show was in showing families with heart … and flaws.
"It's not that you can't do shows that are controversial and about characters that aren't so good, but my interest was a family or relationship,” Buckley said. “Where the people made big mistakes, had flaws, but at the heart of them wanted to do the right thing even if they failed. The bottom line was ultimately they wanted to be a good father or a good mother. That was always in my mind. I was interested in doing stories about those people."
For “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” creator Nell Scovell, there was something about the “sweetness” of the programs that stands apart from the new brand of comedy focused on insults and trading barbs.
“These shows were geared toward families,” she said.
Under a deal with Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution last year, Hulu nabbed more than 800 episodes of “Full House,” “Family Matters,” “Perfect Strangers,” ‘Step by Step” and “Hanging with Mr. Cooper.” Other popular “TGIF” shows included “Boy Meets World,” “Dinosaurs,” and “Sabrina the Teenage Witch,” which were already available to stream on Hulu.
The shows are now being consumed in a radically different world than the one in which they were created — a world with social media.
"We didn't have social media, so we were in a bit of a cocoon and we were just creating the show and having fun and exploring. I think there's a lot more pressure on kids today because everything they're doing is being scrutinized," said Ben Savage, who played Cory Matthews on “Boy Meets World.” "We got to have a little more fun, a little more flexibility. We didn't get as much interaction with fans, but we got more freedom."
Beyond discovering the recent classic programs on Hulu, the properties have found new life in other ways. The Disney Channel aired a continuation of “Boy Meets World” called “Girl Meets World.” The series had Savage and Danielle Fishel reprise their roles as “TGIF” royal couple Cory and Topanga, only this time as parents to a preteen daughter. And “Sabrina the Teenage Witch,” which aired from 1996 to 2003, is being reimagined as a darker coming-of-age series for Netflix.
The idea to take a grittier tone on the character was a welcome development for Scovell.
“Right before I did ‘Sabrina,’ I shot my first pilot for The WB — ‘Prudy and Judy.’ When we shot it, there was another show sharing the office called ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer,’”she said. “I remember reading that pilot script and going, ‘This show is amazing.’ And then I got offered ‘Sabrina’ … When I heard they were rebooting ‘Sabrina,’ it made me smile. Its kind of like the two things I like together. I’d watch it.”
But for those who that have an affinity for the oldies, Bickley just hopes the shows bring viewers hope.
“I want people to laugh and have a good time,” he said. “I will tell you, I wasn't raised in a normal family. I had a very abusive childhood. I never had a normal family … I was always trying to create a family I never had. Bottom line, I hope these people who watch these shows have a little more hope about life. That’s what I would like for them to get.”