In 1987 , a new network was born. With the advent of cable channels like Showtime and HBO, people really didn’t that have many options when it came to free channels. Fox came in a with a whisper and began making huge waves in the entertainment community. It pushed the envelope and gave the world programming that would revolutionize television.
On April 5, 1987 Fox aired for the first time “Married With Children” It was unconventional because the family wasn’t your stereotypical happy sitcom family. “Modern Family’s” Ed O Neil played Al Bundy, a sad sack of a man who was employed as a women’s shoe salesman whose only joys in life included reliving his glory days as a high school athlete and going to nudie bars. His family consisted of his wife , Peggy who had no ambition and was constantly asking for sex, his oversexed and brainless bimbo of a daughter Kelly, and his son, nerdy Bud. Nosey snobby neighbors included Marcie and her first husband Steve and second husband , Jefferson D’Arcy. Both men ended up as Al’s partners in crime. The show was not without controversy though. In 1989, a Michigan housewife lodged a boycott after viewing an episode. The boycott backfired and the show’s ratings began to skyrocket.
Another early Fox show was “The Tracy Ullman Show” . Tracy Ullman was a British comedienne who had became popular with Americans through her novelty hit “They Don’t About Us.” She entertained with a combination of sketch comedy and musical numbers. Her choreography was done by future music superstar , Paula Abdul and won an Emmy for the choreographer. Tracy’s ensemble consisted of Sam McMurphy, and Joseph Malone. Two of Tracy’s other cast members would come to fame for the voices that they would provide. Julie Kavner of “Rhoda” fame and Dan Castellaneta . Both actors provided the voices of Homer and Marge Simpson. The Simpsons were originally shown on Tracy’s show and both are still working on the cartoon series to this day.
Poised to get the youth audience, Fox partnered with Stephen J. Cannell for the first runaway hit for the fledgling network. “21 Jump Street.” The show was about a group of young narcs sent to filtrate a normal high school. The young cops would pose as normal high school students. It proved to be the springboard for young Johnny Depp and had one spin off, “Booker” starring Richard Grieco.
With the youth audience now looking at Fox, the next audience was the African Americans. After years of fighting stereotypes and making their way to the foreground , Keenan Ivory Wayans gave America “In Living Color.” The show was in the same lines as SNL except it boasted a predominantly African American cast. The exception to the rule was a white comedian by the name of Jim Carry. Carry skyrocketed after the series ended. Wayans included many members of his own family in the cast like Shawn, Marlon, Kim, and Damen. Oscar winner Jamie Foxx, started his career playing the world’s ugliest woman, Wanda. Singer-actress Jennifer Lopez and Rosie Perez came into being as two of the “Fly Girls.” This ushered in several programs featuring African American casts. They included “Martin” featuring stand up Martin Lawrence, “Roc’ featuring award winning actor Charles S. Dutton, and the all female cast of “Living Single.”
Fox scored another victory in the popularity sweepstakes when a new show premiered in the fall of 1990. Brenda and Brandon Walsh and their Midwestern family came to LaLa land and there was a huge culture shock in “Beverly Hills 90210” The show made huge stars of all the young cast especially Jason Priestley and Luke Perry. The show spawned a few spinoffs “Melrose Place” and “Models Inc.”
Fox also came to be known as a place where a lot of young superstars to be would be first exposed to the public. Debra Messing of “Will and Grace” and “Smash” would first come to the public’s notice in “Ned and Stacey.” She starred with another future superstar Thomas Haden Church. Our favorite guy “Friends” all started on the Fox network. Matthew Perry appeared on many shows and in his own series, “Second Chances.” Matt LeBlanc made his sitcom debut on “Married With Children ” as Vinnie Verducci, which was spun off into “Top of the Heap.” and finally actor-director David Schwimmer was cast as Henry Winkler’s son in his attempt at a comeback . “Monty.”
Next: Fox brings talent to the world with Idol and shows that misfits can win too. Stay tuned for part two !
“21 Jump Street” was a show that was about young cops posing as high school students. It launched the careers of Richard Grieco and Johnny Depp. Pictured is Holly Robinson Peete, Peter Deluise, Dustin Nguyen, and Steven Williams
90210 was Fox’s first big hit. It made stars of all the cast and made Jason Priestley and Luke Perry teen pin ups. Here is the West Beverly gang Ian Zierling, Jenny Garth, Tori Spelling, Brian Austin Green, Gabrielle Carteris, Priestley, Shannon Doherty, and Perry
“Herman’s Head” was an unusual show . Herman (William Ragsdale) had thoughts and the thoughts were illustrated by different actors . Hank Azaria of movie and cartoon fame played Herman’s pervert friend, Jane Sibbett who would go on to play Ross’ lesbian ex wife on Friends was the mean bitch who wouldnt go out with him and Yeardley Smith who would be the voice of Lisa Simpson was Herman’s female buddy. Jennifer Aniston would go on to do a guest star role on the show.