‘Family Matters’: Steve Urkel Was Never Supposed to Be a Major Character

“Did I do that?”

Did you hear Steve Urkel’s voice in your head? If you ever watched the popular TV show Family Matters, you probably did.

Steve Urkel, and his ubiquitous catchphrase, are well cemented into sitcom history. In fact, Urkel is probably the most memorable part of the sitcom! Urkel wasn’t the center of the show, however, he did steal the show.

It’s funny that this happened, then, because Urkel was never meant to appear more than once on the show. What did the writers initially intend to do with this now-beloved character? And what led them to decide that Urkel would stay around, and eventually become a part of the main cast?

What was ‘Family Matters’ about?

Urkel (Jaleel White) and Carl (Reginald VelJohnson)
Urkel (Jaleel White) and Carl (Reginald VelJohnson) | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

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Family Matters started airing on ABC in 1989, and ran for nine years and nine seasons – in fact, it’s the third longest-running sitcom with primarily Black cast, behind Tyler Perry’s House of Payne and The Jeffersons. It was actually a spinoff of Perfect Strangers, but became quite popular on its own.

The show focuses on the Winslow family: Chicago police officer Carl Winslow, his wife Harriette, Carl’s mother Estelle, and their children and cousins who live with them. Harriette had been a main character and fan favorite on Perfect Strangers, so fans were excited to see her get her own show.

However, the character of Steve Urkel — the nerdy neighbor of the Winslows with a crush on the daughter, Laura — was much beloved after his introduction midway through season one, and he soon became a central character on the show, with many episodes focusing on him and his often quite absurd antics.

Who is Jaleel White?

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Jaleel White played Steve Urkel on Family Matters, and really made the role iconic. He took it when he was only twelve years old, though he had been acting in commercials, guest, and supporting roles since the age of three. He did well on Family Matters, and even came to write some episodes for the show. At the same time, after the show ended, White had grown tired of the role, and wished to distance himself from it.

Luckily, White was able to take many more roles that were unrelated to Urkel. He voiced Sonic the Hedgehog in the 90s animated series, and starred in the sitcom Grown Ups for a few years. He’s been in various roles and movies sense, and even come around to his fame as Urkel, voicing the character in an episode of Scooby Doo. Though being a major child star can be difficult, White seems to have handled it with grace.

What was Steve Urkel’s role supposed to be originally?

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The writers of Family Matters only wrote one episode with Urkel. Therefore, when White auditioned, he didn’t expect it to be a major role.  According to Entertainment Weekly, White was acting less anyway: he had braces, which made agents reluctant to cast him. However, in a role as a nerd, they could be a major asset.

White’s acting blew them away. He embodied the character, and the producers immediately wanted to see him in more episodes. This did mean that White had to choose between this and his other goal: joining a basketball team. We may never know what Jaleel White the athlete’s career would have been like, but we know that Jaleel White the actor made TV history.