‘Family Matters’: JoMarie Payton Doesn’t Regret Abandoning Harriette After 9 Seasons

The ’80s and ’90s were a significant time for wholesome sitcoms like Family Matters. Viewers couldn’t get enough of the relatable storylines, relevant family struggles, and hilarious interactions and comebacks in each family’s unique dynamic. This gave the lucky stars cast in these popular hits a quick route to success and fame. 

So, why did Family Matters star JoMarie Payton abandon her iconic Harriette role after nine years of incredible success? It was rumored to be because of Urkel, but that’s not what Payton says.

The premise of ‘Family Matters’

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Family Matters was a light-hearted and funny sitcom that premiered in 1989 on ABC and finished its ninth season on CBS in 1998. It earned several awards for its funny quips, family dynamic, grumpy dad and straightforward/loving mother duo, teenage drama, and of course — the well-loved nerd next door Steve Urkel

Although Urkel quickly became the center of fan adoration, the show mainly captured the love, conflicts, struggles, and successes of a dedicated and loving family household in the ’90s. They had their own problems associated with their age, gender, and career/schooling — but they could always count on each other to get through their toughest times and overcome anything with the family’s support.

Jo Marie Payton’s role on the show and her replacement

JOMARIE PAYTON;REGINALD VELJOHNSON
JOMARIE PAYTON; REGINALD VELJOHNSON | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

Payton starred on Family Matters as Harriette, the Winslow mother of Judy, Eddie, Laura Lee, and later 3J (through adoption)and the wife of policeman Carl Winslow. She was strong-willed, conservative, and upfront about what she’s thinking and feeling. For this reason, she’s always been good at pointing out the problems and resolving family conflicts.

The show was centered around Harriette, who earned the sitcom spin-off after her success in the show’s predecessor, Perfect Strangers – an iconic role that viewers fell in love with and had a hard time seeing anyone but Payton playing. 

Nonetheless, in the middle of their ninth and final season, Payton left her role as Harriette and handed it over to Judyann Elder to finish off the season as the Winslow family mother. 

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In reaction to her replacement, Darius McCrary told VladTV, “That was hard. That was really difficult.”

“She was replaced by a wonderful actress who I don’t think ever was received the way she should’ve been for her talent,” The eldest Winslow child added.  “[Mostly] because she had to come in under such adverse circumstances, bearing such a heavy load [following Payton’s exit].”

Payton on why she left the show

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As the show began to reach its finale, the original Winslow mother lost her interest in the show after her nine-year reign and wanted to focus on her jazz album instead. It wasn’t a last-minute decision but rather one that was stirring for years.

“[I] just wanted something else to do, just to energize me a little bit more, on the creative side,” Mental Floss reports Payton saying. “I was like a free agent, and so when they went to CBS and all, they asked me to come back. And I really didn’t want to come back. I had just done my jazz album and all.”

The sitcom star added, “We agreed that I would come back just to kick off the move to CBS, and that’s how that whole deal went. I was to do half of a season, eight of the episodes. And I had an option out, and I exercised my option.”

Sometimes the reasons behind big stars leaving major roles are the same reason most people quit their jobs after a long time with their company — they’ve become bored with what they’re doing and are ready for a career change. JoMarie Payton may have left her role as Harriette right at the end, but there isn’t a Family Matters fan alive that wouldn’t appreciate her for staying as long as she did.

As for Payton, he has no regrets. “I don’t regret that I left,” she told Entertainment Weekly.