The ‘Family Matters’ Cast Hated Steve Urkel
When Family Matters spun off from ABC hit Perfect Strangers, the emphasis was on the Family part of its title. Harriette and Carl Winslow had an adorable brood, one of the few Black families front and center on a television comedy. Figuring out the best way to parent teenagers Eddie and Laura drove a lot of the early plots, but something funny happened toward the end of the show’s first season. Laura went out on her first date, and the lucky guy was named Urkel.
Like the initially minor character Fonzie on Happy Days a decade earlier, audiences decided that the guy in the chorus was the one they wanted to see center stage in the spotlight. Urkel became a regular cast member in Season Two and soon, the show essentially became Urkel Matters.
“It's very important that I say this: I was not very well welcomed to the cast at all, okay?” White said in an interview on TVOne’s Uncensored. "And I don't need to rehash that with the adults over and over again. They know what it is.”
The adults were Jo Marie Payton, Reginald VelJohnson, and Telma Hopkins. Each of the actors “entered this show with the idea that ‘this is my vehicle to break out,’" says White. And they weren’t thrilled when the focus shifted over to young White. “They knew more than I did about the business at that age. They understood how the dynamic was changing.”
“We weren’t happy about (the shift to Urkel-centered stories),” Payton told E! True Hollywood Story. “It got to be a little resentful but it was just an adjustment we had to make.”
A little resentful? Payton says White actually challenged her to throw down on set. "There was one time he actually wanted to physically fight me," Payton told Entertainment Tonight. In season 9, there was an episode in which White also played Steve's “gangster” cousin, OGD. "(There was a scene where) I said we can't do that, standards and practices will not let that pass, it's not gonna happen. He wanted to do it anyway... He was so mad, he started kicking and screaming and stuff … I turned around — if he wanted to fight, I would. Darius (McCrary) grabbed me. I was gonna whip his behind."
VelJohnson never got in a boxing match with White, but “working with him was a challenge,” he said in a different Entertainment Tonight interview. “Because kids have a lot of energy... you couldn't deal with it. I remember one incident, he (and) the kids were playing basketball on the set, and I just couldn’t take it. I said, 'Please, please stop the basketball!' And they wouldn’t stop. I said, 'Listen, you either stop the basketball playing or I’m gonna leave.' And I left.”
Most cast members say the passing years have cooled the bad feelings between them. “Things were definitely strained in the early going. There’s no sense in hiding that,” White told Vanity Fair in 2011. “There was a division between myself and the rest of the cast, but over nine years and 215 episodes, obviously relationships get better.”