Surprisingly Interesting Stories About TV Sitcom Families

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Vote up the most fascinating sitcom family tales.

Fictional family units have been a staple on television series since the very beginning of the television industry. This is especially true in sitcoms - from the Ricardos (I Love Lucy) and the Andersons (Father Knows Best) in the 1950s to the Pritchetts, Dunphys, and Tucker-Pritchetts (Modern Family) in the 21st century, audiences have always enjoyed shows that revolve around a "family." And while some television families are quirkier or more dysfunctional than others, in order to have a successful series run, they must all be relatable in some way.

Behind the scenes, television families aren't much different than real ones when it comes to dealing with the ups and downs in their relationships. Some actors develop such close relationships that they end up considering each other to be "like family." Others may take longer to build a good relationship - if they ever do. And sometimes real life intrudes onto the set, for good or bad.

Here are some behind-the-scenes stories from some of the more popular family-centric sitcoms of the past 50 years.

  • 'Married... with Children' Became Popular When An Activist Tried To Get The Show Canceled For Its 'Anti-Family' Values
    Photo: Fox

    When Married... with Children debuted on the then-fledgling Fox network in April 1987, the sitcom about a loving but dysfunctional blue-collar family quickly built a core of loyal viewers who loved the less-than-perfect, relatable characters.

    As Katey Sagal, who played mom Peggy Bundy, recalled during a 2021 appearance on the WTF With Marc Maron Podcast:

    It was unbelievable. We were all stunned. We would get fan mail that said, "My family is just like that," or "I live next door to those people."

    But the show also had its share of haters. Perhaps the most prominent of these was Terry Rakolta, a woman who crusaded to try and get the show canceled. A wife and mother living in Michigan, Rakolta wrote to the sitcom's sponsors after her children saw the Season 3 episode "Her Cups Runneth Over." In the episode, Al Bundy buys a bra for his wife and also is shown ogling a naked model (whose back is to the camera). In response to Rakolta's boycott, several sponsors canceled their commercials and Fox moved the show from its 8:30 pm time slot to 9 pm. It also lessened the amount of sexual content in the show and decided not to air a potentially offensive episode. Rakolta appeared on many TV talk shows and news programs, including Nightline, to push her boycott.

    But as Sagal explained, Rakolta's actions ended up working in Married... with Children's favor:

    We [the show] sent her [Rakolta] flowers every year. She tried to get us off the air and all it did was get us on the front of The New York Times. And it doubled our audience.

    Indeed, within a year of Rakolta's protest, all of the sponsors that had pulled their commercials had resumed advertising during the sitcom's time slot. Rakolta herself believed that her boycott had helped increase the show's ratings.

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  • When Patricia Richardson Wanted To Leave 'Home Improvement,' Tim Allen Wouldn't Let ABC Kill Off Her Character
    Photo: ABC

    Patricia Richardson played Jill Taylor on ABC's hit sitcom Home Improvement for eight seasons. But at the end of that eighth season, she was ready for a different challenge, so despite pressure from the network and co-star Tim Allen, she decided to leave the show.

    In 2020, Richardson told Entertainment Tonight:

    So then [the network] went to Tim, and they said, "Let's do it with dead Jill." And then Tim was like, "I don't think we can do that." So then he went out and said "Well, I think it's time to end Home Improvement."

    Richardson and Allen reunited in 2016 when she did a guest spot on the latter's show Last Man Standing. But Richardson confessed to ET that she didn't think her co-star ever really forgave her for not wanting to do a ninth season of Home Improvement:

    He loved Tim Taylor. Tim Taylor was this happily married man with his great boys and great life, and so he wanted that show to go on forever.

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  • 'The Brady Bunch' Actors Could Have Died When Filming On A Roller Coaster If Robert Reed Hadn't Insisted The Ride Be Checked For Safety 
    Photo: ABC

    Over the course of The Brady Bunch's five-season run, the producers would do the occasional episode in a location outside of Southern California, such as the Grand Canyon or Hawaii. In the final season, the Brady family traveled to the Kings Island amusement park, which is located outside of Cincinnati, OH. 

    Well, of course, as at most amusement parks, one of the big attractions at Kings Island was its roller coaster, so the producers decided to film a scene for the episode "The Cincinnati Kids" on the ride. Depending on which account you believe, either actor Robert Reed noticed that the camera mounted to the front of the wooden roller coaster looked unstable or series creator Sherwood Schwartz thought the camera was too tall and would hit an overhang.

    Either way, they decided to do a test run with an empty ride before filming the actual scene. During this test run, the camera flew off. If anyone had been on the roller coaster, it's likely that the camera would have hit someone, possibly even seriously injuring or killing a rider.

    Luckily, the test run averted disaster, and adjustments were made to ensure the safety of the riders - but without Susan Olsen (who refused to go on the ride) or Reed (who wasn't meant to be in the scene).

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    Gary Coleman Was On Dialysis While Filming 'Diff'rent Strokes,' But Never Talked About It

    Gary Coleman Was On Dialysis While Filming 'Diff'rent Strokes,' But Never Talked About It
    Photo: NBC

    Gary Coleman, the child star who portrayed Arnold Drummond on the sitcom Diff'rent Strokes, suffered from a variety of health problems, including kidney disease, his entire life. He underwent kidney transplants in 1973 and 1984, and frequently had to be on dialysis.

    But as Charlotte Rae, who played the Drummonds' housekeeper Mrs. Garrett, explained in an interview for the Television Academy Foundation, Coleman didn't share his health problems with his co-stars:

    I went into his dressing room once to tell him something, and he was in dialysis. His mother was a nurse and supervising. He never talked about it. He was such a trooper. And always delivered. Always... It's tragic what happened to him. Tragic.

    In 2010, Coleman passed due to an intracranial hemorrhage after suffering a head injury in a fall. He was just 42 years old.

  • Isabel Sanford, Who Was 21 Years Older Than Sherman Hemsley, Thought No One Would Buy Them As A Couple On 'The Jeffersons'
    Photo: CBS

    In the mid-1970s, the upwardly mobile African American couple of George (Sherman Hemsley) and Louise "Weezy" (Isabel Sanford) Jefferson moved on up to the East Side "to a deluxe apartment in the sky." A spin-off of All in the Family, The Jeffersons was an immediate hit, finishing its first season ranked in the top five in the Nielsen ratings.

    But when she first met Hemsley, Sanford doubted that viewers would accept them as a married couple because of their age difference - Sanford (b. 1917) was nearly 21 years older than Hemsley (b. 1938).

    As Hemsley and Sanford explained in separate interviews for the Television Academy Foundation:

    Hemsley: [Director] John Rich grabbed Isabel. "Isabel... here's your new husband."

    Sanford: "What?" [Rich] "Your husband!"...I looked at this little man [Hemsley] that I could've squashed him like a bug and I said, "Oh, really?" He [Rich] said, "Yes! We've been trying to get ahold of him for weeks." ...I don't see how John [Rich] could figure out we would make a great-looking couple. 

    Her fears were unfounded. Not only did viewers love Sanford and Hemsley as a couple on The Jeffersons, but the actors were also later hired to play a couple in commercials and on other television shows.

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  • Ashton Kutcher Felt Weird About Kissing Future Wife Mila Kunis On 'That '70s Show' Because He Was 19 And She Was 14
    Photo: Fox

    Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis first met when they were both cast on the Fox series That '70s Show. When they first started working together, Kutcher was 19 and Kunis was 14.

    In an appearance on The Howard Stern Show, Kutcher talked about how he used to drive his co-star home from the set and would do her chemistry homework for her. He added that her being so young and the gap in their ages made it very awkward when the script required their characters to kiss:

    It was really weird. I was like, "Isn't this illegal?" It was really awkward 'cause I'm like a 19-year-old kid...

    He denied that he had any physical attraction to Kunis at the time:

    She was 14! She was like my little sister. I wanted to make sure she was okay.

    Kutcher added that he annoyed Kunis because he was like a big brother in the way he was always looking out for her.

    The two actors began dating in 2012 - when she was 28 and he was 34. They were married in 2015 and now have two children.

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