Behind-The-Scenes Stories About '80s Sitcom Stars

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Before Michael J. Fox was Back to the Future's teenaged time traveler, Tom Hanks won multiple Academy Awards for his film work, or the Olsen twins established their fashion empire, they were among the actors who starred in a 1980s sitcom. Now, a conservative yuppie teen (Fox) living with his liberal, ex-hippie parents, a struggling ad man (Hanks) pretending to be a woman in order to rent affordable housing, and a toddler (Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen) being raised by her widowed father and his two best friends don't have much in common as characters. But that just underscores the diversity of sitcoms in the 1980s.

The decade was definitely big on sitcoms about families, both "conventional" and "unconventional"; for example, in their own way, the four best friends living together in The Golden Girls and the four best friends attending boarding school together in The Facts of Life formed their own kind of "family" units as much as the parent-children groups on shows like Family Ties, Full House, or Married... with Children did. Workplace comedies featuring ensemble casts, such as Cheers, Night Court, and Designing Women, were also big in the 1980s.

But no matter the setting of a show or the topics it explored, pretty much every sitcom in the 1980s likely had interesting behind-the-scenes stories. Some of those stories are explored below.

  • Katey Sagal Said She 'Disguised' Herself As Peg Bundy On 'Married... with Children' Because She Figured She'd Soon Get Fired And Didn't Want To Ruin Future Career Chances 
    Photo: Fox

    Katey Sagal played Peg Bundy on the sitcom Married... with Children for 11 seasons. During an appearance on The Talk, the actor explained she had been working mainly as a musician prior to being cast, and she was worried that she would be fired from the show and be forced to return to playing gigs. She explained:

    So I sort of had this idea that I'll disguise myself so that nobody will recognize me when I take this [costume] off. So that was one of my motivations... because she was really in drag. I mean, that was her, she was really dolled up. And I didn't really look like that, so I could go about my normal life.

    She added:

    I went into the audition wearing very tight clothes, and I had my hair up. I sort of felt like when I read the script that they [Peg Bundy and her husband] spoke so horribly to each other that they had to have something really hot going on somewhere.

    1,234 votes
  • Christina Applegate Initially Turned Down 'Married... with Children' Because She Wanted To Be A Dramatic Actress And Thought The Script Was 'Disgusting'
    Photo: Fox

    Christina Applegate became a television star as a teenager by playing Kelly Bundy on the Fox sitcom Married... with Children.

    As she admitted during an appearance on The Rich Eisen Show, Applegate was just 15 and more interested in being a dramatic actress when she was originally approached about being in the Married... with Children pilot:

    I did not want to do the show. At that time, I was on a drama series and I thought it [the Married... with Children script] was disgusting. I wouldn't even audition for it. And then they went ahead and shot a pilot with two other kids. And, for whatever reason, the chemistry just didn't work and they came back to me and said, "Would you please come in?" and I was like, "Nooo." And they sent me the pilot. My mom and I did not want to like it, and we turned it on and we were stifling laughing. So I thought I'd go in. But I'd never done comedy before... I know my mom said to him [Ed O'Neil] on day one, "Look, Christina is not very good at comedy. Will you help her?" And I guess it worked out. Eventually, I figured it out.

    1,030 votes
  • NBC Executive Brandon Tartikoff Didn't Want Michael J. Fox To Play Alex P. Keaton On 'Family Ties' Because He Was Too Short
    Photo: NBC

    Michael J. Fox was not the first choice to play the young conservative Alex P. Keaton on Family Ties - Matthew Broderick actually was originally cast in the role. But after Broderick dropped out of the project, series creator Gary David Goldberg was talked into taking another look at one of the other actors who had auditioned for the part - Fox. This time, Goldberg agreed that the actor would be right for the role.

    But Brandon Tartikoff, NBC's head of programming, was not convinced, as he believed Fox was too short to convincingly play the son of Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter Birney. As Fox recalled in his memoir Lucky Man, the NBC executive told Goldberg:

    It always annoyed me as a kid watching Father Knows Best that Bud Anderson was so much shorter than his parents.

    But Tartikoff agreed to let Fox play the role in the pilot. When he saw it, the NBC executive agreed that Fox was very good in the role, but still was hesitant about the casting choice, especially in terms of the marketing for the show. He told Goldberg:

    This [Fox] is not the kind of face you'll ever see on a lunchbox.

    Goldberg retorted:

    Look, all I know is this: I send the kid out with two jokes and he brings me back five laughs.

    In the end, Tartikoff agreed not to have Fox replaced, and the actor went on to win the Emmy Award for outstanding lead actor in a comedy series three times for his performance as Alex P. Keaton.

    833 votes
  • 4
    567 VOTES

    Kim Fields Was So Short That During The First Season Of 'The Facts of Life,' Producers Had Her Wear Roller Skates To Avoid Awkward Camera Angles

    Kim Fields Was So Short That During The First Season Of 'The Facts of Life,' Producers Had Her Wear Roller Skates To Avoid Awkward Camera Angles
    Photo: NBC

    When Kim Fields was cast as Tootie Ramsey on The Facts of Life, she was meant to be playing a 12-year-old character. But as the actor admitted to Page Six, in reality, she was several years younger than her character and too short to convincingly appear as a preteen. So the producers came up with an unusual idea to try and make Fields appear older - they put her on roller skates. Another benefit of putting the actor on the skates was that it allowed the show to avoid the awkward camera angles caused by the difference in Fields's and the other actors' heights. For her part, Fields didn't mind having to skate through her scenes:

    I was very grateful because it gave me an opportunity to have a job, that for all intents and purposes, I may not have had because I was nine years old and I was playing 12. So that’s what it took me to have the job. I was on skates till I grew.

    Ironically, Fields's height had earlier cost her the opportunity to be cast on the sitcom Diff'rent Strokes since she was thought to be too tall to play the part of Gary Coleman's girlfriend.

    567 votes
  • 5
    553 VOTES

    Tom Hanks's And Peter Scolari's Tendency To Go Off-Script Could Frustrate The Producers On 'Bosom Buddies'

    Tom Hanks's And Peter Scolari's Tendency To Go Off-Script Could Frustrate The Producers On 'Bosom Buddies'
    Photo: ABC

    In 2021, Tom Hanks is a huge movie star with multiple box-office hits and six Academy Award nominations for best lead actor, winning twice. But in 1980, he was a young actor with just a few film or television roles under his belt when he won the part of Kip Wilson in the new ABC sitcom Bosom Buddies.

    Hanks and co-star Peter Scolari played two young men struggling to make it in the advertising industry who had to cross-dress in order to be able to live in one of the few places they could afford - an all-women hotel. The sitcom was canceled after just two seasons, but Hanks and Scolari became good friends. As Hanks recalled during an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! after Scolari's passing in October 2021, the two actors did a lot of improvising on Bosom Buddies, which could sometimes frustrate the show's staff:

    We had to stay on the set and say every line over and over and over again, so we started... monkeying around with the script and playing around with props and whatnot, and the directors were up in a booth... We’d always hear on the studio talkback, "Hey, guys? ... Are you going to say that?" "We might!" "But it’s not in the script." "Yeah, but... if it works, it works, right?" ... "Can you give us a moment?" "Yeah, sure. Go ahead." And then we’d come up with something else. And then they’d come back again and say, "Wait, wait, wait. We just figured out the one thing you’re gonna do. Are you gonna do that, too?" "We might!"

    553 votes
  • 6
    867 VOTES

    Dave Coulier - Uncle Joey On 'Full House' - Introduced Candace Cameron To Her Future Husband Who Had Watched The Sitcom To Learn English

    Dave Coulier - Uncle Joey On 'Full House' - Introduced Candace Cameron To Her Future Husband Who Had Watched The Sitcom To Learn English
    Photo: ABC

    Candace Cameron (now Candace Cameron Bure), who played oldest daughter D.J. on Full House, can credit her co-star Dave Coulier with introducing her to her husband, former NHL player Valeri Bure. As she explained to HuffPost Live, the future couple met during the final season of the television show:

    [Coulier] was playing in a charity hockey game, and so he said, "Hey, there are these two really good Russian hockey players." It was Val and his brother Pavel.

    Coulier invited his co-stars to attend the charity game. Cameron accepted the invitation:

     We sat there and were looking at these two really cute boys - two cute men, I guess - on the ice, and I was like, "I want to meet that one, the blonde one," which was Val. And that was it.

    For his part, the NHL player was a fan of Full House, which he watched to help him learn English. The two went on a date the day after being introduced by Coulier. They have been married since 1996 and have three children. The couple made sure to thank the Full House actor for his role in bringing them together:

    Dave Coulier still has a hockey stick that my husband signed for him that says, "Thanks for Candace."

    867 votes