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!
RENT THE 'FULL HOUSE' HOUSE