How Everything Wrong With America Today Can Be Traced Back To One Television Show!

It was "Full House" that started it all.

The ABC sitcom about a widowed husband and father to a "full house" of kids, who got help from his "Uncle Joey" and bad-boy "Uncle Jesse", hit the airwaves in 1987 with all the substance of a half-eaten bag of cotton candy.

I was 21 years old at the time, reasonably versed in what constituted "good television". Keep in mind, we had only three channels in those days, four if you count PBS, which was insufferable. What I saw in the first five minutes of the premiere episode of "Full House" was a new low in writing, acting and casting a TV show and it shook me to my core.

I'm not kidding.

Now, one doesn't need to have worked in episodic TV to know whether a sitcom was funny or not without the aid of a laugh track and, judging from the intentionally bad humor and wooden acting, "Full House" was a show for people who didn't just need to be told when to laugh, but when to breathe and eat as well.

By then, it was no secret that networks had come to rely upon focus groups and market research to determine programming decisions rather than simply selecting shows they believed in from a creative standpoint

See, this is when the networks began pandering to people at the other end of the taste and sophistication spectrum for the sole purpose of selling advertising space at a higher rate. By pandering to this untapped audience of, for lack of a better term, half-wits, ABC chose to offend the comedic sensibilities of a great many people.

Why would they do that, you ask?

Keep in mind that, even then, there was considerable data proving that less sophisticated audiences are more responsive to suggestion (a.k.a. advertising). As a TV executive reliant upon advertising dollars for your flashy suits and Rolexes, the idea of being able to literally promise advertisers "guaranteed results" would be a license to print money and don't think for a minute that every suit in Advertising hasn't been trying to figure out a way to do just that since there was a department called "Advertising".

Even a simpleton employing basic logic at a major corporation, when asked if they'd like their ads run during a sophisticated crime drama or a mindless (and I do mean mindless) sitcom is gonna go with "Full House" over "Columbo", 100% of the time.

It was a dilemma the suits in advertising had been wrestling with since the dawn of broadcasting: "How can we advertise to dumb people if the boys upstairs keep airing such sophisticated programming?"

Well, one of the "boys upstairs" at ABC, upon hearing of the advertising department's predicament, finally went and did something about it and "Full House" was the coming out party.

The show had been the brainchild of Jeff Franklin, a man this writer had no reason to dislike, as he'd been a writer on "Laverne & Shirley" and "Bosom Buddies". While neither comedy was what you would call "sophisticated", they were full of actors and actresses who would go on to have great careers in the industry: Penny Marshall, Tom Hanks, Michael McKean, just to name a few.

What had begun in Franklin's mind as a show about three comedians who live together was given new life at ABC just by adding kids to the equation. And losing the comedians. And selling your soul.

Hey, a writer's got to make a living, I guess.

Thing is, Bob Saget sold his soul, too. By signing on to play milquetoast Danny Tanner, a white, male TV reporter in San Francisco, a man who, even then, had a golden reputation as one of the "blue-est" comics you will ever see held his nose and took the paycheck..

As for John Stamos, he'd already taken a gig on a soap opera while waiting for his music career to take off and the rest, as they say, is history. On a semi-related note, wanna know when the Beach Boys officially jumped the shark?

Yes, that would be when America's band, the Beach Boys, showed up on "Full House" during the show's 1988 season to play "Kokomo" (a huge hit at the time from the movie "Cocktail", itself a shallow tale on the life and times of a business student who "took a paycheck" and became a bartender in New York City. Riveting stuff!).

This new trend in programming quickly spread like a plague of fleas and by 1989, we could also add
"Look Who's Talking", a movie about a bastard love child voiced by Bruce Willis also featuring Kirstie Alley and John Travolta, and "Saved By The Bell", a Saturday morning comedy about the antics of high school students at Bayside High School.

In both instances, the influence of "Full House" is readily apparent as subtlety and nuance are pushed out the door to make room for the actors to telegraph every joke so that even the dimmest bulb can anticipate the punchline in advance and, most importantly of all, be swayed by all of those commercials.

As for this dim bulb, I'm off to spend a beautiful weekend in San Francisco and I've found just the place to relax for just under $500 a day. What a deal!


Superior St. Rehearsal Facility


  1. Sociologists and their cousins, mass media researchers for years posed media effects questions such as "Does Mass Media reflect culture or influence it?" There were two main contingents in this research at the time that FULL HOUSE appeared, the folks who argued that TV (in particular) and its effects were limited and to a large extent mitigated by other social activities. Other researchers saw an elite in TV, radio and film companies prescribing social roles in the TV shows and films they produced. Both approaches had their followers. Eventually media effects research focused on one hand on audience members and how they used the shows and films they watched, and on the other they focused on the producers and corporate culture of such shows to determine how shows were constructed. But in all cases shows and films had to be popular, and by that I mean "reach large audiences" to sell consumer goods through advertising. Media companies are businesses after all. FULL HOUSE was a rare example of a successful TV show, idiotic though it was, that sold goods reliably. Sort of like GRAND FUNK RAILROAD. But the year 1987 was in those heady pre-Internet years, where researchers thought media culture couldn't be any more overwhelming than it was then. And FULL HOUSE didn't break into the Top 20 rated shows until its fourth year. But as an example of follow-my-lead mug-to-the-camera logical-script-point TV, FULL HOUSE had few equals, regardless of Saget's comic turn, John Stamos' take on Henry Winkler or the stage-managed cloying cuteness of the Olsens. And it's pretty hard to watch today, though not as hard to watch as WELCOME BACK KOTTER.

  2. Yeah, its funny you mention kotter. I never missed an episode as a kid of maybe ten years old but I have never seen an episode since, never even got curious during Travolta's first and second comebacks...not until you mentioned it. I can believe it hasn't aged well at all.

  3. Kotter had the worst TV show lighting EVER. Way too bright ... evrything, and no depth of field. The background non-talking characters were just as visible as the main foreground characters. And so much mugging. To camera, to each other, everywhere. But it did have its charm, and that charm was Marcia Strassman, who died in 2014. From a post I created somewhere else.

    Marcia Strassman, as you may have read, died at home late last week at age 66 after seven years of fighting cancer.

    Dustin Hoffmann had Katharine Ross in The Graduate (1967). Charles Grodin had Cybil Shepherd in The Heartbreak Kid (1972). Gabe Kaplan had Marcia Strassman in Welcome, Back Kotter (1975 – 1979). Chevy Chase had Christie Brinkley in National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983). Bruce Willis had Cybil Shepherd in Moonlighting (1985 – 1989).

    And Freddie Prinze had Jack Albertson in Chico and the Man (1974 – 1978), but that’s another story.

    I like to think that I would’ve been happy being Gabe Kotter. Back then, anyway.

    Ross, Shepherd, Strassman and Brinkley were unattainable, but Strassman appeared to be human. And Jewish, which she was. So did Jack Albertson appear to be -- human and Jewish -- but for Jewish guys like me growing up in the 1960s, Marcia Strassman was our IT girl, and she had to have IT, because she came to attention in a subordinate role in a TV show that was wildly popular for a brief period of time, and which in its own time I recall being the worst lighted show on TV ever -- too much light, too much of the time, and too much everywhere -- and a show too broad in its TV-style ethnic humor to last much longer than it did.

    But when Strassman was on-screen, it was just the right amount of light. And believe me, Welcome Back, Kotter was no Car-54-Where-Are-You brief-moment-of-TV-brilliance. Kotter's harder to watch now than it was during its original broadcast TV run, too.

    I recall how my teenage friends and I would note the fact that Steve Allen, who we all thought to be one of the funniest persons this side of Groucho Marx, was serous ONLY when his wife, Jayne Meadows, who was no dummy, was a guest on his show. “Well, it’s his wife,” we would say. And Jayne Meadows was old-fashioned glamorous. Marcia Strassman was quiet. Anti-glamorous, in fact. And Gabe Kaplan always played it straight with Strassman. No double-takes, no turns-to-camera to appeal to viewers, no using Strassman as a comic object.

    Look, I know that actors that appear on TV shows are playing a role, but I also like to think privately that the roles some actors portray are close to their real selves.

  4. Could not agree more. I always loved seeing Strassman at work, she imbued even characters such a lowly nurse on MASH with a certain depth of humanity that wasn't written into the part.

  5. And I keep forgetting that Strassman was on MASH, whose roles for women were primarily as foils.