‘Family Matters’: Steve Urkel Appeared in Multiple Sitcom Crossovers, Including ‘Full House’
When it comes to TV shows, creators have some clever tricks to help create excitement and buzz around their series. Spinoffs are one tried-and-true way to take the popularity and established fan base for one series and (hopefully) transform it into the foundation for another show. Of course, spinoffs are expensive, challenging, and prone to failure, so that’s not always an option.
A crossover, however, is a lower stakes way to achieve a smaller version of the same goal. When a popular character from one series makes a surprising — or even recurring — appearance in another show, it generates discussion and interest that can expand both series’ popularity.
A good crossover character is one that’s readily recognizable even for those who don’t watch the show being represented. Steve Urkel — Jaleel White’s cartoonish character from Family Matters — fit the bill exceptionally well, and the character appeared in many sitcom crossovers over the years.
‘Family Matters’ was a popular and important comedy
Premiering in 1989, Family Matters ran for nine seasons before wrapping up in 1998. It centered around the Winslow family, a fairly typical middle class American nuclear family that was pestered endlessly by their young neighbor, Steve Urkel.
On the surface, the show’s premise was primarily a silly one. Steve Urkel was a quirky kid who was also a genius. His schemes and inventions were a source of constant consternation for the Winslows as well as a generator of frequent laughs for the viewers at home.
Despite this goofy focus, Family Matters achieved something important and lasting in television history. It was among the first shows to portray a Black family with clear middle class identities and that managed to obtain mainstream and multiracial viewership.
On top of that, the series was unafraid to tackle hard-hitting topics in between its laughs. In fact, the series — now decades old — still resonates today, especially an episode that had Carl Winslow, who was a police officer, confronting two of his fellow officers for racially profiling his own son.
As Relevant explains, “It takes on institutional racism without flinching, and it’s just as powerful today as it was then.”
Steve Urkel became the center of ‘Family Matters’
As the series went on, Steve Urkel definitely became the most recognizable and memorable element of the show. As AV Club muses, the character may have become a little too central to the plot. “[O]ver the course of its nine-season run, as the show tilted toward breakout star Jaleel White and numerous iterations of his gimmicky Urkel character, Family Matters became completely untethered from reality,” Joshua Alston observed.
These cartoonish elements became more apparent in later seasons of the series. “White played seven different alter egos of Steve Urkel, and the writers had blithely incorporated such elements as international teleportation and time travel,” Alston explains. Urkel’s schemes got more and more outlandish, and the series finale features the nerdy character returning from a trip to space before landing his dream girl — Laura Winslow.
While there may be plenty to criticize from a character analysis perspective, the creators certainly knew that Urkel was the driving force of the show’s identity, and that left the character poised for crossover potential.
Crossovers were popular for Steve Urkel
As the most recognizable part of Family Matters — especially for those who did not regularly view the series — Steve Urkel was a great candidate for crossovers. Ironically, as Mental Floss reports, Steve Urkel was originally only slated to appear in a single episode, but he clearly stole the scene and became not only more central to the series but the driving force behind its plot.
Urkel was particularly popular with young viewers, and the network was desperate to attract more of their peers. Part of that plan included Steve Urkel-branded products, and his face appeared on everything from lunch boxes to breakfast cereals.
He also made appearances in other popular sitcoms of the day that had appeal to young viewers. Steve Urkel shows up in Full House, Step by Step, and Meego. He also gets a shout out — though not an appearance — on Boy Meets World.