In a Los Angeles area lab in 1991, sitcom executives put The Brady Bunch and Full House into a petri dish, and Step by Step was born. It ran for seven years, and although it won’t be revived on Netflix anytime soon, it was certainly charming. Fans loved the wacky tale of a widow and divorcee who met on vacation and got married without telling their kids. The plot paved way for seasons of the charming misunderstandings and shenanigans that ensue when two families are blended.
The show emphasized love between the Foster and Lambert families, but behind the shiny facade of '90s TV, things were a little darker. From abuse convictions to money troubles, the cast faced their fair share of grim issues.
In the middle of Step by Step’s run in 1996, Brandon Call, who played J.T. Lambert, was involved in a traffic incident that proved almost fatal. According to Call, he was driving home from studios in Burbank when a car began to tail him. Once the driver cornered Call, he stepped out and began firing at Call with a gun, missing his head and chest but hitting both of his arms. The young actor escaped and made it to a police station. The motive remains a mystery, but authorities suspect a traffic conflict.
Sasha Mitchell’s character, Cody Lambert, was a major source of comic relief on the show. Sweet and dimwitted, Cody would often break the tension during more serious plot lines. Throughout the show's run, Mitchell was in and out of trouble with the law for domestic abuse. Police were called to his house several times to investigate reported incidents against his then-wife, Jeannette Robbins.
Robbins was accused of child abuse in the past, and full custody of the children was granted to Mitchell because of alleged neglect and violence by Robbins. Mitchell was quoted in an interview syaing that he "restrained her in a way that was deemed spousal abuse" after she was violent toward him and the children. However, Mitchell was later convicted on charges of child endangerment.
Mitchell was sentenced to a 30-day jail sentence for violating probation after he was convicted of domestic assault in September 1995. He was allowed to leave prison during his sentence to shoot Step by Step.
After Step by Step ended, Angela Watson, who played Karen Foster, realized that the $2.5 million she earned from her 10 years as a child actor was gone — her parents misspent the money and saved none for her. Watson shared her story and discovered that it was a common problem among child actors. In 2000, she started Child Actors Supporting Themselves (CAST), an organization that assists child actors in managing their own finances.
In 1995, Mitchell was charged with causing extreme physical harm to his wife and kicking a hole through the bathroom door. His attorney said Mitchell was framed, but the jury didn’t agree. The following year in 1996, Mitchell was once again arrested for abuse when he threw a chair against a wall, spit on his wife, and hit her with a couch pillow. He was later imprisoned for failing to complete his mandatory abuse counseling. The descriptions of the verbal and physical abuse are harrowing.
Mitchell was eventually fired from Step by Step. When he went to prison a second time, he was no longer allowed to leave for filming, although he returned as a guest for one episode in the show’s seventh season.