Children, created by Michael Moye and Ron Leavitt, premiered
as one of the new FOX Broadcasting Company's Sunday series in 1987.
Moye and Leavitt had previously produced The Jeffersons,
a long-running comedy about a black entrepreneur who becomes wealthy
and moves his family to an almost all-white New York City neighborhood.
Set in Chicago, their new show was a parody of American television's
tendency to create comedies dealing with relentlessly perfect family.
Their program was immediately termed "anti-family."
At the time of MWC's appearance, the top-rated television series
was The Cosby Show. In the Cosby version of family,
an African-American doctor and his attorney-wife raised their college
bound offspring in an upper-middle-class environment. Instead of
such faultless people, Moye and Leavitt presented "patriarch" Al
Bundy (Ed O'Neil) whose family credo is, "when one of us is embarrassed,
the others feel better about ourselves." In Married...With Children,
almost every character is amusingly tasteless and satirically vulgar.
is a luckless women's shoes salesman who hates fat women, tries
to relive his days as a high-school football hero, and does almost
anything to avoid having sex with his stay-at-home, bon-bon eating
spouse Peggy (Katie Sagal). Peg loves to shop and her ability to
buy always exceeds Al's capacity to earn. She refuses to cook and
the Bundys must take desperate measures to stay fed, frequently
searching beneath the sofa cushions for crumbs of food. After one
family funeral, the Bundys steal the deceased man's filled refrigerator.
Peggy's clothes are too tight, her hair too big, make-up too thick,
and heels too high. She wants sex as much as Al avoids it.
Bundy's stereotypically beautiful dumb blonde daughter, Kelly (Christina
Applegate), is a frequent target of their naive con artist son,
Bud (David Faustino). Moye and Leavitt created Kelly in the guise
of Sheridan's Mrs. Malaprop; she can never manage to find the right
word and her verbal confusions are felicitous. According to Bud,
Kelly will have sex with any available male. In one episode, Kelly
acquires backstage passes to a rock concert and announces she is
just one paternity suit away from a Caribbean home. The Bundy's
think Bud has no chance of ever attracting a date; running jokes
mention his collection of blow-up rubber women. All characters have
a common failing: none exercises good judgment.
In MWC Moye and Leavitt not only lampoon Cosby, they parody its
creator, Marcy Carsey. The other continuing characters in Married...With
Children are Al and Peggy's upscale next door neighbors, Jefferson
and Marcy D'Arcy. Marcy and her husband serve as a device to entice
and challenge the Bundy clan, then put them down. Marcy (Amanda
Bearse) is a banker and activist for almost any cause which defeats
Al's current get rich quick scheme. She marries Jefferson (Ted McGinley)
while drunk and discovers him in her bed the next morning. He has
no career although he has claimed to be a clever criminal, now living
in the witness protection program. Marcy's first husband Steve Rhoades
(David Garrison) makes frequent guest appearances.
show had a small, loyal following until February 1989, and the producers
had a history of arguments over taste and language with FOX's lone,
part-time network censor. One episode, "A Period Piece" in which
the Bundy and Rhoades families go camping, was delayed one month
in the broadcast schedule because it focused on the women's menstrual
cycles. Two months later, the episode scheduled for 19 February
1989, "I'll See You in Court," was pulled from the schedule and
never aired on the FOX network. The episode involved sexual videotapes
of Marcy and Steve, which Al and Peggy viewed when they rented a
sleazy motel room. When both couples realized their activity at
the motel was broadcast to other rooms, they sued. The jury chose
to compensate the couples for their performance quality, with Al
and Peggy getting no money.
same winter, two weeks after "A Period Piece," an episode titled
"Her Cups Runneth Over" led to a social stir. The segment featured
Peggy's need for a new brassiere, which coincided with her birthday.
Al and Steve traveled to a lingerie shop in Wisconsin where an older
male receptionist wore nothing below his waist but panties, a garter
belt, stockings and spike heeled shoes. Steve fingered leather-fringed
falsies attached to the nipples of one near-naked mannequin; women
flashed Al and Steve, though the nudity was not shown on camera.
television viewer, Terry Rakolta, from the wealthy Detroit suburb
of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan took offense at the show after the
brassiere episode. She saw her children watching the program and
found both the language and partial nudity unacceptable for viewing
during a time when children made up a large portion of the audience.
Rakolta acted by writing to advertisers and asking them to question
the association of their products with Married...With Children's
content. She also brought her cause to national television news
March 1989 Rakolta said on Nightline, "I picked on Married...With
Children because they are so consistently offensive. They exploit
women, they stereotype poor people, they're anti-family. And every
week that I've watched them, they're worse and worse. I think this
is really outrageous. It's sending the wrong messages to the American
had mixed success. Advertisers such as major movie studios and many
retail stores refused to buy commercials on the new FOX network
(prime time telecasts had started less than two years earlier).
Media brokers cited a bad connotation. Newsweek magazine featured
a front page story on "Trash TV" questioning the standards of taste
in prime time television. Married...With Children and tabloid
news shows such as A Current Affair were primary examples.
Yet the greater effect was strongly positive.
FOX's greatest problems at the time of the controversy was limited
viewer awareness. Many viewers simply did not know a fourth network
existed. Related to this was the fact that a small, similar viewing
group comprised FOX's entire audience. Moreover many FOX stations
had weak UHF signals which were difficult to receive. Rakolta's
complaints garnered substantial national publicity and this seemed
to assist the network in solving many of its difficulties. After
Nightline, Good Morning America, Today and most other national
and local news shows featured the controversy over Married...With
Children viewer awareness rose dramatically. People purposely
sought out their local FOX affiliate and Married...With Children
became a success.
April 1989 Married...With Children had reached a 10 rating
according to Nielsen's national measurements, the highest rating
of any FOX show to that date. FOX began charging the same amount
for commercials in Married...With Children that CBS asked
for 60 Minutes. The program began intermittently winning
its time slot.
By 1995, the show had become the longest-running situation comedy
currently programmed on network television, on the air as long as
the classic comedy Cheers. After many years, Married...With Children
no longer pushed new boundaries of good taste and the jokes became
routine and expected, even when still funny. The show did, however,
have an extremely lucrative afterlife in daily syndication, running
strongly for years in many markets. In Los Angeles, FOX's station
KTTV ran the program twice each weekday in primetime access. Daily
viewership for the show continues to be strong and with at least
ten seasons of episodes to add variety to off-network nightly reruns
MWC is likely to consistently remain one of the most successful
properties in the history of television syndication.
Ed O'Neill Peggy Bundy..............................................
Katey Sagal Kelly Bundy.....................................
Christina Applegate Bud Bundy .............................................David
Faustino Steve Rhoades (1987-1990)..................... David
Garrison Marcy Rhoades D'Arcy...........................
Amanda Bearse Jefferson D'Arcy (1991- ) ...........................Ted
Ron Leavitt, Michael G. Moye, Katherine Green, Richard Gurman, John
April 1987-October 1987
Sunday 8:00-8:30 October 1987-July 1989
Sunday 8:30-9:00 July 1989-- Sunday
Block, Alex Ben. Outfoxed. New York: St. Martin's, 1990.
Jim. "The Bundys Meet the Censors at FOX." U.S. News & World
Report (Washington, D.C.), 11 September 1995.
"Steamy TV." Transcript. Nightline. American Broadcasting
Company, 2 March 1989.
Joan. FOX Broadcasting Company: A Fourth Network Entry within
the Broadcasting Marketplace. (Masters Thesis, California State
Bawdy at the Bundy's." Time (New York), 11 March 1989.
Domestic Setting; Family
on Television; Gender