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Friday, June 15, 2012

Step By Step

I was one of those kids who grew up in a family where my mother and father stayed together (and are still married as of right now).  So, as a result, I never had to deal with the idea of having a step-mother, step-father, step-brothers, or step-sisters.  I did know a lot of people who did have to deal with being in a step-family, and generally speaking, the relationships that they had with their step-parents and step-siblings usually ranged from happiness, to tolerance, to bitter hatred. 

The fact remains that out of all of us in this world (or at the very least, this continent), being a part of a step-family will be a reality for about half of us.  The divorce rate for couples these days is hovering around the 50% mark, and of those, quite a large portion of that 50% remarry.

Now, I imagine that when people try their luck at marriage for a second time (or third, fourth, or twelfth), and there happens to be children involved, some of them have a rather idyllic view of how a step-family is going to be.  After all, we did see the ideal step-family situation in the long running television sitcom “The Brady Bunch”, where Carol’s three girls and Mike’s three boys magically get along with each other from the moment the couple exchange their wedding vows right before the family pet trashes the wedding reception.

However, not all families are as practically perfect as the Brady Bunch.  In fact, I would say that finding a step-family exactly like the Brady Bunch would be almost an impossible challenge.  Although I don’t know what it is like to be a part of a step-family, I know quite a few people who are, including a couple of family members.  And believe me when I tell you that their first few days as a family were nothing like that of the Brady family.  It took them a lot of work, patience, and persistence in order to keep the peace within the blended family.

Kind of like the blended family that we’re going to feature in this blog entry.

The blended family that we’re going to be talking about is the Lambert-Foster family of Port Washington, Wisconsin, the family that happens to be the stars of the TGIF sitcom, “Step By Step”.

“Step By Step” was created by William Bickley and Michael Warren, and was developed by the popular Miller/Boyett production team.  It initially debuted on ABC on September 20, 1991, and stayed on the network until the summer of 1997.  The show was then moved to CBS along with “Family Matters” for one more season, ending its seven season run on June 26, 1998.

The sitcom certainly had star power from the very beginning.  Suzanne Somers was cast as Carol Foster, a widowed beautician who had three children.  For Somers, this was her first sitcom on ABC following her abrupt 1981 firing from “Three’s Company”.  The role of Frank Lambert, a divorced contractor with three children of his own, was taken on by Patrick Duffy, who had just completed his work on “Dallas”, playing Bobby Ewing.

On the show’s pilot episode, we learn that Frank and Carol ended up meeting each other while they were on separate vacations in Jamaica.  Long story short, both of them ended up falling in love with each other, and made the spontaneous decision to get married while they were in Jamaica.

Okay, so the sitcom was somewhat contrived from the beginning. 

FRANK:  “Hi, Carol, I’ve only known you for four days...let’s get married.”

CAROL:  “Okay, Frank!”

Never mind the fact that they would eventually have to explain to their children that they were married, and that all of them would be moving into the same house as one big happy family.

Wouldn’t that be an awkward conversation to have?

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Lambert children and the Foster children already knew each other from school.  And as to be expected, they all had their issues with each other before Frank and Carol even knew each other.  After all, Frank and Carol just happened to live in the same town as each other this whole time, yet they never met each other until they went to Jamaica.

Yes, you can say it with me folks.  How contrived.

Let’s take Carol’s children, for instance.  There was Dana (Staci Keanan), an intelligent perfectionist who also doubled as a feminist with an extreme moral compass, even if she acted superior to others as a result.  Karen (Angela Watson) was depicted as a mall rat that cared more about shopping and cosmetics than schoolwork and tests, but occasionally she had her moments of level-headedness and aspired to make it big as either a model or a singer.  And Mark (Christopher Castile) was the token nerd of the series who loved computers and science.

And let’s contrast that with Frank’s kids.  J.T. (Brandon Call) was the typical slacker, who often had the attitude that the less work he did, the better it was, and he often did poorly in school.  Alicia (Christine Lakin) was such a tomboy that she demanded that people call her “Al” instead, not afraid to get into a fight.  Then there was Brendan (Josh Byrne), the youngest of the children who mostly kept to himself.

Apparently, Frank and Carol believed that it would be a great idea to bring all the kids together at a family barbecue where they could finally meet each other, and where they could break the news to them that they had gotten married.  Why don’t we watch the first episode of the program by clicking HERE, HERE, and HERE to see how that all worked out?  By the way, the second part includes the barbecue, if you wanted to just skip to that section.

So, just to recap...Dana and J.T. hated each other with the fire of a million suns.  Al was completely turned off by Dana’s snotty behaviour and Karen’s vain attitude.  Even Mark and Brendan were fighting with each other.  Poor Carol and Frank had their hands full.  Throw in Frank’s nephew Cody (Sasha Mitchell), who also happened to have a mad crush on Dana that always went unreciprocated, and you had a tentative recipe for disaster.

But eventually, the ice between the Fosters and the Lamberts would begin to thaw.  When Al complained of stomach pains, Frank and the other Lambert children dismissed it as her wanting to skip school.  Carol believed her, and after a trip to the doctor’s office, it was revealed that Al had appendicitis.  This caused Al to befriend Carol, and was the beginning of the true merging of the two families.  As the series progressed, Al became closer to her step-siblings and shed her tomboy image.  Although Dana and J.T. still badmouthed each other, they reached a mutual understanding and both of them helped the other one out in a variety of ways.  Frank and Carol eventually ended up having a child of their own named Lily (Emily Mae Young), and Brendan ended up pulling a Chuck Cunningham and disappeared from the series for the whole final season.

I guess in conclusion, the show itself was a bit unbelievable in some instances, but on the other hand, it really depicted what life was like for a blended family in the 1990s.  No, it wasn’t as picture perfect as the Brady Bunch, but it certainly did have its share of nice moments.  I imagine that a lot of people watched the show when they were going through their own issues with being a part of a blended family and came upon the realization that if the Lambert-Foster family could make it work, they could make the effort as well.

It’s funny though.  While I was doing the research for this blog entry on “Step By Step”, I ended up getting a lot of trivia information that I didn’t even know myself!  I imagine you’d like to know some of this trivia, wouldn’t you?

Here it is.

1 – Jaleel White guest starred on the second episode of the series as his Steve Urkel persona.

2 – Three stars of “Perfect Strangers” have ties to this show.  Mark Linn-Baker directed some episodes of the series, while Melanie Wilson and Bronson Pinchot had roles on the series.  In the case of Pinchot, he appeared in the contract role of Jean-Luc during the show’s sixth season.

3 – Bronson Pinchot was cast after the abrupt departure of Sasha Mitchell, who left the show amidst allegations of spousal abuse.  Mitchell was later acquitted of all charges, and was allowed to appear in the 1998 series finale.

4 – Some of the actors of Step By Step worked with each other previously.  Patrick Duffy worked with Sasha Mitchell on “Dallas”, while Staci Keanan and Christopher Castile were on the failed ABC sitcom “Going Places”.

5 – The role of Mark was initially played by Jarrett Lennon, but was recast with Christopher Castile.  In fact, in the earliest opening credits, you might see an unidentifiable black haired child...that was Lennon.  It also explains why Castile was the only cast member who did not appear on the roller coaster at the end of the credits.

6 – If the Lambert/Foster residence interior looks familiar, it’s because it was used on “The Hogan Family”.

7 – The amusement park used in the opening credits of the show is Six Flags Magic Mountain.  The water was digitally added.

8 – As you well know, Patrick Duffy was written out of “Dallas” for one year during the infamous “dream season”.  Upon his return in 1986, Duffy’s contract was amended with the promise that he would get cast in another television show after “Dallas” ended.  “Step By Step” was that show.

9 – The show had a lot of inside jokes in relation to other projects that the stars were on.  For example, J.T. tells Frank that if he’s watching Baywatch with his wife, you know nothing about marriage”.  Brandon Call was the first Hobie on “Baywatch” before being replaced with Jeremy Jackson.

10 – The addition of Bronson Pinchot and Jason Marsden to the cast helped save the show from cancellation in May 1996.

11 – The first season featured Peggy Rea and Patrika Darbo as Carol’s mother and sister, who worked at Carol’s salon which was attached to her house.  After season two, the two women, and the salon set, were never seen again.

12 – The show was in the Top 10 in the Nielsen ratings between 1994 and 1996.

13 - In 1996, Brandon Call was injured after being shot at outside of the studios after taping had wrapped up.  He was shot in both arms, but managed to avoid serious injury.

14 – The theme song was written by Jesse Frederick and Bennett Salvay, who also composed the themes for “Full House”, “Family Matters”, and “Perfect Strangers”.

15 – The character of Lily was aged five years in a single season, similar to that of Chrissy Seaver in “Growing Pains”.

1 comment:

  1. Here is a few points. Your depiction of how they met in Jamaica was not accurate. Patrick Duffy's character actually had been getting his hair cut by Suzanne Somers character for 3 months previous and found a way to meet her in Jamaica. That wasn't an accident.
    Also, Staci Keenan was on a show a bit before that called "My Two Dads"..another unusual variation on the broken family concept. Paul Riser was in that, before he starred on "Mad About You".