Created by Michael G. Moye and Ron Leavitt, Married… with Children was a classic American sitcom originally broadcasted on Fox from 1987 and 1997. As the creators were tired of the almost-perfect, saccharine family sitcoms during the ‘80s, they created one that revolves around dysfunctional family for the then-brand-new Fox network. This sitcom became Fox’s first series to be broadcasted on the primetime programming slot and the network’s longest-lasting live-action sitcom.
Married… with Children revolved around the Bundys, a dysfunctional suburban Chicago family whose members wouldn’t say a kind word to one another. It follows the lives of Al Bundy (played by Ed O’Neill), a former high school football player turned unlucky shoe salesman; his obnoxious and lazy wife Peggy (Katey Sagal); their attractive, promiscuous, dim-witted daughter Kelly (Christina Applegate); and their awkward, girl-crazy and wisecracking son, Bud (David Faustino).
The Bundy family lived beside their neighbors Steve Rhoades (David Garrison), a nerdy banker who is often dragged into Al’s schemes, and Marcy (Amanda Bearse), Steve’s feminist wife who’s Peggy’s best friend and Al’s nemesis. Most storylines involved Al’s schemes being foiled due to his own bad luck and dim wit. Marcy later gets remarried to Jefferson D’Arcy (Ted McGinley), a white-collared criminal who becomes her “trophy husband.”
Married… with Children became part of the 90’s culture, as it ran for 10 years and 11 seasons. But there are still some behind-the-scene information about the show that you probably didn’t know.
Here are some facts about the series that you’ll find surprising:
1. It made TV history but it didn’t win an Emmy
Married… With Children was Fox network’s first primetime show. It’s also the longest-running, scripted live-action show to ever air in Fox, with its 259 episodes. It was one of TV’s favorite sitcoms, but it’s hard to believe that it never received an Emmy during its 10 years on the air. It was the longest-running show that was never awarded the honor of an Emmy, until Baywatch ended in 2001 and also never got an Emmy Award.
2. The show became an overnight sensation
The show was an absolute hit from the very first episode. When it debuted on April 5, 1987, so many viewers watched – the ratings were so high that Fox decided to air the episode again and again, back to back with the series premiere of The Tracey Ullman Show. It aired at 7 PM EST, and again at 8 PM and then again at 9 PM. The network received a lot of phone calls from viewers, and they decided to air it three times to let people who haven’t heard of the show get a chance to see it live. This was an era before DVR’s and Internet, so to make that kind of huge impression for just 20 minutes was unheard of. If Internet was a thing back then, the sitcom would have been a huge overnight viral sensation.
3. The show became successful because of a letter from a family activist
So it received a lot of viewers on the pilot airing… But not all were pleased to see the show. A family activist started a letter campaign complaining about the show’s subject matter, arguing that it has anti-family values. The story caught the media’s attention and put the show into spotlight. They say all publicity is good publicity, and it was certainly the case with Married… With Children as it turned out to become a hit since then.
4. The working title for the show was Not the Cosbys
The show was revolutionary at the time for portraying a family that is far from perfect. The family patriarch, Al Bundy, seemed to constantly hate his life for having a nagging wife that doesn’t do anything around the house while overly spending the little money that he makes, as well as having a promiscuous daughter and a socially inept son. So, in short, it was the anti-thesis of what The Cosby Show was all about. The contrast and reference to the good-family show was made obvious that the show was first titled as Not the Cosbys when it was first in production.
5. A scene for the opening sequence from the show was pulled from a famous movie
If you’ve watched the show, you’ve seen a shot of cars driving through the interstate in the opening credits. But that shot wasn’t an original – it was pulled from a famous 1983 movie National Lampoon’s Vacation. If you look closely, you can see the Griswold family’s iconic station wagon.
6. Ed O’Neill was cast as Al Bundy because of a simple gesture
Ed O’Neill is best known for his role as Al Bundy, but what he did to land the role was pretty simple. During his audition, all he did was to walk through the front door of the Bundy home and that already impressed the casting people. Knowing he was auditioning for a role of a man who was struggling in his business and has an emotionally draining family, he simply slumped his shoulders and sighed in defeat before walking into the house. That simple yet perfect acting choice landed him the part.
7. Michael Richards almost played Al
While Ed O’Neill became a sitcom legend because of his role, there was another 90’s sitcom star who could have played Al Bundy. It was Michael Richards, who went on to play the iconic Cosmo Kramer in Seinfeld. Richards auditioned for the role in 1986, and the producers were considering him. After a few test tapings of the scenes, the casting director Marc Hirschfeld and the producers felt that Richards just wasn’t right for Al Bundy. He was too energetic for the role of Al, and they needed someone who was a little more grumpy. When Hirschfeld went on to cast for Seinfeld, he remembered Richards, and that’s how he became Kramer.
8. Katey Sagal got the part due to the way she dressed
Katey Sagal really wanted to get the role. So instead of going through audition like a regular actress, she decided to go above and beyond. She already had a pre-notion that Peggy would dress like a former cocktail waitress, with a huge red hair and a fair skin. So, she showed up at the audition wearing a poofy wig, a short dress and a ton of makeup. This sartorial choice captivated the casting directors. She was also slaying it, as she never broke character, even when simply walking around the audition stage.
9. The unaired pilot had different actors playing Kelly and Bud
The Bundy kids, Kelly and Bud, were originally played by Tina Caspary and Hunter Carson, respectively. O’Neill never met them before the shooting of the pilot episode, and then eventually felt a lack of chemistry with the original kids. He said he couldn’t stand these actors and requested a recast. The producers accepted his complaint, and all the scenes with the Bundy kids had to be shot again. The producers were in a hurry to find new actors, and that’s how Christina Applegate and David Faustino got the roles. This time, O’Neill had met them before they came onstage. This move cost the production a lot, but it proved to be a good investment.
10. The show was pitched with Roseanne Barr as Peggy and Sam Kinison as Al
After the show Married… with Children has been iconic, it’s easy to forget that anyone else was ever even considered for the role of Al and Peggy Bundy. Looking back, they were both so perfect for the role. But before O’Neill auditioned as Al Bundy, it was first offered to brash comedian Sam Kinison. Also, the hilarious role of Peggy was first intended for big-time comedienne and TV producer Roseanne Barr. However, both Kinison and Barr’s managers told the show’s producers that their clients are only shooting for film, not television.
11. Katey Sagal had an unfortunate pregnancy while filming the show
During filming the earlier seasons of the show, Katey Sagal found out she was pregnant. Because of that, the writers decided that they would write their pregnancy to the show. They wrote a whole storyline of her and Marcy being pregnant together, which would torment Al. Unfortunately, Sagal miscarried after a few months of pregnancy. The news became very devastating that the writers decided they can’t make Sagal wear a fake pregnancy belly to keep her pregnant on the show. Instead, they decided the pregnancy a dream, where Al wakes up and say he dreamt about Peggy being pregnant. Fortunately, Sagal did give birth to two healthy babies years later. But due to her previous stillbirth, her two pregnancies were not included in the script and were hidden from the audience through wardrobe and set tricks. Did you know you can calculate your pregnancy using these calculators?
12. O’Neill and Amanda Bearse really didn’t get along even on the set
It’s not always easy to get along with all of your co-workers, and actors aren’t exempted. In the writers’ original plan, Al and Peggy loved their neighbors Marcy and Jefferson. But because Ed O’Neill and Amanda Bearse didn’t get along, there was no way to hide it on screen, so they wrote Al and Marcy as enemies. According to people who worked on the show, O’Neill doesn’t support Bearse’s lesbian lifestyle. Ironically, O’Neill is now starring as a father of a gay man on the sitcom Modern Family, and it looks like he is more supportive of the LGBTQ community now.
13. Christina Applegate was a big reason why the show gained a lot of fans
Without question, the breakaway star of the show was Christina Applegate. From the first episode, the audience couldn’t look away from her. She was playing a 16-year old daughter of a dysfunctional couple, and does whatever a divorced woman on the prowl does on a weekly basis. The writers and producers of the show had noticed her talent and appeal, which helped the show gain a lot of fans over the first episodes. Her revealing outfits had an impact, as the show was actually bombed with complaints and angry letters regarding that. However, the show didn’t listen to its critics and continued with Kelly’s original bad girl stories and sartorial choices. Applegate’s incredible sense of humor, self-parody and readiness to give her best also helped a lot to make the show a success.
14. There was a banned episode that didn’t show up on TV until 2002
There was an episode of Married… with Children that Fox deemed too racy to air in 1989. It was a season 3 episode entitled “I’ll See You in Court,” and it didn’t air until June 18, 2002 in edited form. The show was under scrutiny at the time by Terry Rakolta, a Michigan housewife, anti-obscenity activist and former sister-in-law of Mitt Romney. Rakolta started a letter-writing campaign regarding TV and decency, and had advertisements pulled from the show.
15. O’Neill’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is in front of a shoe store
While there are many Hollywood actors and actresses that have a star on the Hollywood walk of fame, few have a star located in a place as fitting as Ed O’Neill’s. In 2011, O’Neill was honored with a star in front of the DSW shoe store on Hollywood Boulevard, as a nod to his character’s dead-end job as a shoe salesman.
Married…with Children Episode Controversies
As Married…with Children became Fox’s one of the best sitcoms in the 1980s, it undoubtedly became a center of many controversies. Its slice-of-truth presentation of a problematic family became the talk of the town. Here are some controversies that revolved around this show.
- Terry Rakolta, an activist, tried but failed to convince the viewers to stop watching Married…with Children. Rakolta’s concerns about the show were raised by the third season with the episode “Her Cups Flow Down” about Peg Bundy’s favorite bra style, which was discontinued. It was a major concern on the level of sex appearing on television programs, leading to a massive television industry blowing a gasket.
- Michael Moye, Married..with Children co-created, admittedly mentioned one problematic episode initially rejected by the network for airing as they wanted to avoid issues with period and menstrual synchronization. The episode was called ” The Camping Show.”
- One iconic yet controversial Christmas episode of Married…with Children was tagged as unsuitable for general audience. It was hailed as a graphic for the young audience; thus, the episode started with parental guidance before it aired. The scene was shot with everyone watching a parachuting Santa on television. Santa landed and handed out presents. Eventually, Santa accidentally ended up in Bundy’s backyard, where he died from the fall.