Behind Closed Doors: 30 Juicy Behind-the-Scenes Stories of 1980s Sitcom Stars
By Sarah Norman | July 4, 2023
Katey Sagal Said She 'Disguised' Herself As Peg Bundy On 'Married... with Children' Because She Didn't Want To Be Recognized
If you were a fan of sitcoms in the 1980s, then you may have thought you knew everything there was to know about your favorite shows and their stars. But behind the scenes, there were stories of drama, conflict, and fascinating moments that you never got to see on the screen. From Full House to Night Court, Moonlighting to Family Matters, Dallas to Dynasty, and The Golden Girls, this gallery takes a deep dive into the stories and secrets of the stars of these beloved shows. Get ready to discover the behind-the-scenes drama that made these shows must-see TV, and learn about the juicy tidbits that even the most die-hard fans may not know. Keep reading to uncover the hidden stories of your favorite sitcom stars from the 1980s.
Katey Sagal, who portrayed the character of Peg Bundy in the long-running sitcom Married... with Children for 11 seasons, recently revealed on The Talk that she was primarily working as a musician before landing the role. Sagal expressed her concerns during the show that she might lose her job and have to go back to performing gigs if she got fired from the sitcom. She said:
So I sort of had this idea that I'll disguise myself so that nobody will recognize me when I take this [costume] off. So that was one of my motivations... because she was really in drag. I mean, that was her, she was really dolled up. And I didn't really look like that, so I could go about my normal life... I went into the audition wearing very tight clothes, and I had my hair up. I sort of felt like when I read the script that they [Peg Bundy and her husband] spoke so horribly to each other that they had to have something really hot going on somewhere.
Cybill Shepherd And Bruce Willis Were Constantly Fighting On The Set Of 'Moonlighting'
The popular TV series Moonlighting had a downfall due to constant fighting and endless screaming before and after every take. Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis despised each other from the first day to the very last moments of filming for the show's fourth and final season.
The delay in shooting caused most of the drama, as Shepherd took a longer maternity leave while Willis was trying to launch his movie career. At the time, Willis was relatively unknown, and he felt Shepherd was hindering his future.
Mary-Kate And Ashley Olsen Of 'Full House' Aren't Identical Twins
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen became television stars at just 9 months old, jointly playing the role of Michelle Tanner on Full House. Despite their similar appearances, they are actually fraternal twins. Mary-Kate is left-handed, while Ashley is right-handed, which can sometimes be used to tell them apart.
Currently in their mid-30s, the Olsen sisters have turned their attention to fashion. They first ventured into the industry in 1999, partnering with Walmart to create a girls' fashion line. In 2008, they co-founded their luxury fashion brand, The Row, followed by their contemporary line, Elizabeth & James, the following year.
NBC Executive Brandon Tartikoff Didn't Want Michael J. Fox To Play Alex P. Keaton On 'Family Ties' Because He Was Too Short
Matthew Broderick was initially cast as the young conservative Alex P. Keaton in the hit television series Family Ties, rather than Michael J. Fox, who became a household name for the role. However, when Broderick dropped out of the project, the series creator Gary David Goldberg reconsidered some of the other actors who had auditioned for the part, including Fox. This time, Goldberg was convinced that Fox was suitable for the role.
Despite Goldberg's approval, Brandon Tartikoff, who was the head of programming at NBC, remained skeptical. Tartikoff believed that Fox was too short to realistically portray the son of Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter Birney on the show.
Despite his reservations, Brandon Tartikoff eventually allowed Michael J. Fox to play the role of Alex P. Keaton in the pilot of Family Ties. After watching the pilot episode, Tartikoff acknowledged that Fox's performance was excellent. However, he still had some concerns about the casting choice, particularly in relation to marketing the show.
Ultimately, Brandon Tartikoff decided not to replace Michael J. Fox in the role of Alex P. Keaton. Fox's portrayal of the young conservative on Family Ties was highly acclaimed, and he won the Emmy Award for outstanding lead actor in a comedy series three times.
On Her First Day Filming 'Cheers,' Kirstie Alley Arrived Dressed Up As Diane
After Shelley Long's departure from Cheers at the end of the fifth season, the show's writers had to create a new lead female character to replace Long's role as Diane Chambers. They introduced Rebecca Howe, a tightly wound corporate executive who takes over the management of the bar after it is sold to her company. Kirstie Alley was chosen to play the character.
On Alley's first day on set, she took a significant risk by arriving in costume as Diane Chambers. She wore a blonde wig, eyebrows, and a conservative dress. Her stunt proved successful, and by the end of her first week, her co-stars George Wendt and John Ratzenberger gifted her a shotgun. Ratzenberger told Alley:
If you ever want to leave [the show], you’ll have to shoot your way out.
Kim Fields Was So Short That She Had To Wear Roller Skates While Filming The First Season Of 'The Facts of Life'
Kim Fields was cast as Tootie Ramsey in the popular TV show The Facts of Life, where she was supposed to portray a 12-year-old character. However, Fields was actually a few years younger than her character and too short to convincingly play a preteen, as she revealed to Page Six. To make her appear older, the show's producers came up with an unconventional solution - they had Fields wear roller skates. In addition to giving the impression of a taller stature, the use of roller skates helped the show to avoid awkward camera angles caused by the height difference between Fields and her fellow cast members. Fields says that regardless of how ridiculous the roller skating was, she didn't really mind:
I was very grateful because it gave me an opportunity to have a job, that for all intents and purposes, I may not have had because I was nine years old and I was playing 12. So that’s what it took me to have the job. I was on skates till I grew.
Larry Hagman Disappeared From 'Dallas' Until They Ponied Up The Dough
In the summer of 1980, Dallas was gaining popularity, and Larry Hagman, who played J.R. Ewing, decided to renegotiate his contract for a higher salary. However, CBS, Lorimar, and Phil Capice disagreed. In response, Hagman went on strike and left the show and California. He refused to return to work until he received a substantial salary raise.
On June 12, 1980, the first day of shooting for the new season, Hagman was absent from the set. After ten days of negotiations, Lorimar eventually gave in to Hagman's demands, and he received a salary raise of $75,000 per episode. This was a significant increase from his previous salary and made him one of the highest-paid actors on television at the time.
John Stamos Tried To Get The Olsen Twins Fired From 'Full House'
John Stamos, who played Uncle Jesse on the original Full House series, has expressed disappointment that Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen have not been involved in the Netflix revival Fuller House. Stamos admitted that he initially tried to have the sisters fired from the original show, but he now regrets his past behavior towards them. In 2015, he explained:
It's sort of true that the Olsen twins cried a lot. It was very difficult to get the shot. So I [said], 'Get them out!'. That is actually 100% accurate. They brought in a couple of unattractive redheaded kids. We tried that for a while and that didn't work... [Producers] were like, alright, get the Olsen twins back. And that's the story.
Tom Hanks And Peter Scolari Went Off-Script Constantly On 'Bosom Buddies'
Back in 1980, Tom Hanks was a relatively unknown actor with only a handful of film and television credits to his name. Despite this, he secured the role of Kip Wilson in the new ABC sitcom Bosom Buddies, which later catapulted him to fame. Over the course of his career, Hanks has starred in numerous box-office hits and has been nominated for six Academy Awards for best lead actor, winning twice.
Bosom Buddies was a sitcom that focused on two young men, played by Hanks and co-star Peter Scolari, who were trying to establish themselves in the advertising industry. To make ends meet, they were forced to reside in an all-women hotel and cross-dress as women. Although the show was canceled after just two seasons, it helped to solidify Hanks' career in the entertainment industry. Furthermore, Hanks and Scolari developed a close friendship while working on the show.
In an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! following Scolari's passing in 2021, Hanks noted that the two stars improvised all over the place on Bosom Buddies, much to the chagrin of the people behind the camera:
We had to stay on the set and say every line over and over and over again, so we started... monkeying around with the script and playing around with props and whatnot, and the directors were up in a booth... We’d always hear on the studio talkback, 'Hey, guys? ... Are you going to say that?' 'We might!' 'But it’s not in the script.' 'Yeah, but... if it works, it works, right?' ... 'Can you give us a moment?' 'Yeah, sure. Go ahead.' And then we’d come up with something else. And then they’d come back again and say, 'Wait, wait, wait. We just figured out the one thing you’re gonna do. Are you gonna do that, too?' 'We might!'
Lisa Bonet Was Fired From 'The Cosby Show' For Getting Pregnant
According to actress Debbie Allen, however, The Cosby Show was full of drama. Most notably, Allen stated that Lisa Bonet, who played Denise, was pushed out of the cast of The Cosby Show after getting pregnant. It's not clear what the issue would have been with Bonet's character being pregnant - or if the production didn't just want to shoot around her growing bod, but it shows the petty ways that stars can treat one another on a hit show.
Vicki Lawrence Said Producers Were Worried Her 'Mama' Character Would Offend Viewers From The South
Vicki Lawrence, the actress who played the role of Thelma Mae Harper, popularly known as "Mama," was a part of The Carol Burnett Show cast for all 11 seasons from 1967 to 1978. The show was a variety program that became a household name during its airing. Lawrence's character "Mama" was a regular feature in the comedy sketches titled "The Family."
During an interview with the Television Academy Foundation, Vicki Lawrence disclosed that the writers who created the "Mama" character were initially apprehensive about how the character would be depicted:
[The writers] hated that [Burnett] wanted to do it Southern, they said that 'this is going to offend the entire southern half of the country,' but Carol said, 'No, this is where I feel it belongs.' They hated that I was Mama and she [Carol] was [Mama's daughter] Eunice. They pretty much hated everything we did with it. They came to the first run-through... and when they saw the sketch, the way we had done it, they were so angry that they threw down their pads and pencils and stormed out of the rehearsal hall... In the production meeting afterwards, 'You've ruined it. You can't do this. You can't... You're going to offend the South. You've ruined our beautiful sketch, our beautiful characters.' But that's the way it went on the air because that's the way Carol wanted to do it.
Delta Burke Got An Encouraging Note From Elizabeth Taylor When She Was Dealing With Weight Issues On 'Designing Women'
Delta Burke starred as Suzanne Sugarbaker, an interior designer who was formerly a beauty queen, in the successful sitcom Designing Women for five seasons. Despite her notable acting prowess, Burke's weight struggles attracted negative attention from the tabloids and were often the subject of ridicule on other comedy shows. In 2000, Burke spoke to the Los Angeles Times, revealing that it even created an uncomfortable environment on the set of Designing Women:
I remember being on the sound stage with people standing around me trying to decide what they were going to have me wear. They would talk about me like I wasn’t even there. 'What are we going to do about those hips?'
During the second season of Designing Women, Delta Burke experienced a severe bout of depression and requested to be released from her contract, which didn't happen. She sought therapy and medication to manage the condition but eventually started having panic attacks. Burke's situation continued to deteriorate, and by the middle of the fourth season, she had gained weight, reaching 200 pounds, and was still experiencing panic attacks. However, Jean Smart, one of Burke's co-stars, revealed that another actress who had faced ridicule because of her weight sent her a note one day:
It was this wonderful personal note from Liz Taylor saying, 'I know what you’re going through... Hang in there... I think you’re gorgeous.'
Estelle Getty Couldn't Remember Her Lines On 'The Golden Girls' Because She Had Stage Fright
Estelle Getty, a renowned stage actress, was cast as Sophia Petrillo, an 80-year-old character in the hit TV show The Golden Girls. Although Getty had a successful career in theater, her experience in television was limited prior to joining the show. In an interview with the Television Academy Foundation, Rue McClanahan, one of Getty's co-stars, noted that Getty's limited TV experience posed some difficulties for her:
She couldn't remember her lines, you know. She had an awful time remembering lines because she would freeze. She'd panic. And panic, there's nothing worse than, and there's also there's nothing stronger than... you can't buck it. It is gonna get you if you don't have any way to get over it... She would start getting under a dark cloud the day before tape day... You could see a big difference in her on that day. She'd start walking around like Pig Pen under a dark cloud. By tape day, she was unreachable. She was just as uptight as a human being can get. And when you're freezing, when your brain is frozen like that, you can't remember lines... She was so scared, she couldn't remember her name...
Christina Applegate Initially Turned Down 'Married... with Children' Because She Thought The Script Was 'Disgusting'
Christina Applegate rose to fame on the Fox sitcom Married... with Children, where she played the role of Kelly Bundy as a teenager. In an interview on The Rich Eisen Show, Applegate revealed that she was initially approached to be part of the show's pilot when she was just 15 years old. Despite her interest in pursuing dramatic acting, she eventually took on the role that catapulted her to television stardom. She explained:
I did not want to do the show. At that time, I was on a drama series and I thought [the pilot script] was disgusting. I wouldn't even audition for it. And then they went ahead and shot a pilot with two other kids. And, for whatever reason, the chemistry just didn't work and they came back to me and said, 'Would you please come in?' and I was like, 'No.' And they sent me the pilot. My mom and I did not want to like it, and we turned it on and we were stifling laughing. So I thought I'd go in. But I'd never done comedy before... I know my mom said to [Ed O'Neil] on day one, 'Look, Christina is not very good at comedy. Will you help her?' And I guess it worked out. Eventually, I figured it out.
Thanks To 'Perfect Strangers' Bronson Pinchot Had Female Fans Throwing Themselves At Him
Bronson Pinchot gained fame for his portrayal of Balki Bartokomous, a shepherd from Eastern Europe who moves in with his cousin Larry Appleton (Mark-Linn Baker) on the ABC sitcom Perfect Strangers.
In the show, Pinchot's character is known for his exuberant "Dance of Joy" to celebrate every good fortune. However, the actor faced personal struggles off-screen. In an interview with Page Six, he revealed that despite the success and acclaim from Perfect Strangers, he was "very unhappy" and "depressed" while working on the show due to personal issues:
I would go home, and my then-girlfriend wouldn’t even look up from the TV. I would go home from people screaming and police barricades, and then I would go home and my girlfriend at the time wouldn’t even look up. I would crash and I would say how is it possible that they had to hold people back, and I just want one person to and I guess I’ll just have to wait for commercial. It was extreme, it was what it was.
Pinchot later admitted to Page Six that he never hooked up with any of his super fans, instead he just lived a "very sad and very lonely" life throughout the height of his fame. Woof.
'Webster' Was Not Supposed To Be About Star Emmanuel Lewis
Alex Karras transitioned to acting after his NFL career and met Susan Clark while portraying her husband in Babe. The couple developed a TV series based on their relationship, Another Ballgame, and ABC picked up the pilot in 1983. Meanwhile, Emmanuel Lewis became famous through commercials for Burger King and signed a deal with ABC in 1982. To fit Lewis into one of their new shows for the 1983 season, ABC approached Karras and Clark to add him to Another Ballgame and rework the plotline into a story about a newlywed couple who adopt a young boy.
However, Karras and Clark's vision for the show clashed with other producers and ABC executives, who wanted the show centered around Lewis and renamed it Webster. This created tension on set during the first season. Lewis felt responsible for the conflicts, but an agreement between the production company, Karras, and Clark made the show more balanced, improved Lewis's relationship with his co-stars, and resolved most of the disputes. Webster ultimately ran for six seasons before being canceled.
Born Again Christian Lisa Whelchel Refused To Have Her Character Lose Her Virginity On 'The Facts of Life'
The TV show The Facts of Life, which was about four schoolgirls studying in an all-girls boarding school in Peekskill, NY, originally intended to have Blair, a wealthy and snobbish girl played by Lisa Whelchel, lose her virginity in Season 2. However, Whelchel, who became a Christian at age 10, did not agree with the storyline.
It was not until Season 9 that Natalie, played by Mindy Cohn, became the first of the four girls to lose her virginity. Whelchel admitted that she had requested to be written out of the episode, making it the only episode of the season in which she did not appear. She expressed remorse for her decision and stated that if she could redo it, she would have tried to address the topic in a "responsible" manner through her character.
'Night Court' Actress Ellen Foley Was Replaced In Meat Loaf's 'Paradise by the Dashboard Light' Music Video
Ellen Foley played the role of Billie Young, a public defender and possible love interest for Judge Harry Stone (Harry Anderson), in the second season of Night Court. However, she only appeared for one season as she was allegedly released due to a lack of on-screen chemistry with Anderson. Despite this, Foley claimed in a 2008 interview with New York Magazine that she was never given an explanation by the show's producers.
According to a source, the producers of Night Court initially wanted actress Markie Post to play the role of the public defender and love interest, but she was unavailable due to being under contract with ABC's The Fall Guy. When her contract ended, Post replaced Ellen Foley on Night Court, although she played a different character.
Before appearing on Night Court, Ellen Foley had already made a name for herself in the music industry as a talented singer. She had also acted in various off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway shows. One of her most notable musical contributions is being the female singer on Meat Loaf's 1977 single "Paradise by the Dashboard Light." Despite the success of the song, Foley declined an offer to tour with Meat Loaf and was replaced in the music video by Karla DeVito, who lip-synced to Foley's vocals. Foley explained her decision not to tour with Meat Loaf in a 1979 interview:
I had the chance to do my own record, and that took time with demos and all. I knew if I toured in a position behind somebody else, it would take me awhile to get up front, so I just decided to take the direct route.
Dave Coulier Introduced Fellow 'Full House' Star Candace Cameron To Her Future Husband At A Hockey Game
Candace Cameron Bure, who portrayed D.J., the oldest daughter in the sitcom Full House, has Dave Coulier, her co-star, to thank for introducing her to her husband, former NHL player Valeri Bure. During an interview with HuffPost Live, Bure revealed that she met her future partner during the final season of the television series:
[Coulier] was playing in a charity hockey game, and so he said, 'Hey, there are these two really good Russian hockey players.' It was Val and his brother Pavel.
We sat there and were looking at these two really cute boys - two cute men, I guess - on the ice, and I was like, 'I want to meet that one, the blonde one,' which was Val. And that was it.
Valeri Bure, the former NHL player, turned out to be a Full House stan. He actually watched the show to work on his English skills so it sounds like things are meant to be.
'Roseanne' Almost Had A Different Name
Before the premiere of The Conners spinoff, the original Roseanne reboot was canceled by ABC in 2018. However, the show had originally been developed under a different name. The creator of Roseanne and its head writer, Matt Williams, wanted the show to be titled Life and Stuff to emphasize its focus on the entire family rather than just Roseanne. Williams believed that the show would be an ensemble piece. With the recent controversies involving Roseanne Barr, having the show titled Life and Stuff would have made things easier for ABC as long as audiences had accepted the title. Which is a big if. That's a horrible title so it's likely that series would have never made it past season one.
Norm And Cliff Weren't Meant To Be Main Characters On Cheers
Despite being such iconic characters in the show, Norm and Cliff were not originally intended to be series regulars on Cheers. Actor John Ratzenberger auditioned for a different role on the show but suggested to the production team that the bar needed a "know-it-all." The writers then created the character of Cliff, who went on to become a beloved character on the show. George Wendt's character Norm had a similar story, as he was not meant to be a major character, but the production team recognized Wendt's talent and decided to keep him on the show.
Kirk Cameron's Behavior On 'Growing Pains' Made Things Hard On The Cast
Kirk Cameron's religious transformation while working on the ABC sitcom Growing Pains had a significant impact on the show. Cameron's newfound faith led him to modify his on-screen behavior, including his character's actions. He refused to participate in a scene where his character, Mike Seaver, would share a bed with a girl. He told CBN:
When you make a decision, like, 'I'm not comfortable saying that line or doing that scene', well that meant that 11 writers had to come up with a new scene. And that meant that the other actors and actresses in that scene had to learn new lines, because I didn't want to do that scene.
Harry Anderson's Least Favorite Episode Of 'Night Court' Was One He Wrote And Directed
Harry Anderson, known for his portrayal of the character "Harry the Hat," a charming con artist on Cheers, was offered the role of Judge Harry T. Stone on the NBC sitcom Night Court. Anderson also wrote and directed several episodes of the show, earning four writing and two directing credits. In a podcast interview Anderson discussed the behind the scenes drama that led to this episode being his personal nadir on the series:
It sounded so good on paper. Harry and [court clerk] Mac (Charles Robinson) were going to go into business creating 'Mac snacks.' [Mac's] wife made these little rice snacks, and we decided we were going to go into business and market them. And then Harry got out of control and decided that Mac had to be the logo of the company and had to wear tights and a cape. And we ended up poisoning people with the snacks. And it sounded like a romp when I wrote it, and boy, by the end of that week, Charlie [Robinson] was gonna wrap that cape around my neck... I don't think the cast really ever forgave me for putting them through all that. Plus, I think I directed it, and I'm just the world's slowest director... I think they would have given their salaries back if they hadn't had to do it.
The Cast Of The A-Team Didn't Want Marla Heasley On Set
Marla Heasley played reporter Tawnia Baker in the second season of The A-Team, but claimed she faced sexism behind the scenes. Heasley alleged that on her first day, George Peppard told her "none of the guys want you here," and that she was only on the show because producers believed they needed a female character. Peppard did not directly respond to the accusation but expressed his view that actresses on the show were a "distraction" and that everything stops for "sexy smiles." He questioned why such shots were necessary on The A-Team.
Mr. T And George Peppard Feuded Throughout 'The A-Team'
George Peppard played the role of the elder statesman in The A-Team, but soon realized that Mr. T was going to be the star of the show. To make matters worse, Peppard discovered that Mr. T was being paid more than him. Peppard refused to speak to Mr. T directly and would only communicate through Benedict. He even referred to him as "the man with the gold." In an attempt to ease the tension between the two actors, Robert Vaughn joined the cast in the fifth season.
John Forsythe And Joan Collins Refused To Speak To One Another On The Set Of 'Dynasty'
Collins, who played Alexis on the television show Dynasty, had a difficult time building a relationship with co-star Forsythe, who portrayed Blake. She claimed that Forsythe never fully embraced her and kept a distance from her during their time together on set. It is even rumored that during one season of the show, Forsythe didn't speak to Collins at all, except when filming scenes.
Their strained relationship didn't just affect their personal dynamic, but also the show itself, as their on-screen characters had a tumultuous relationship that was integral to the show's plot.
Paul Reiser Turned Down A Role In 'Full House' To Be A Different Kind Of Father On 'My Two Dads'
Comedian Paul Reiser was offered a role in Full House by the show's creator Jeff Franklin before he became well-known for his role in Mad About You. However, Reiser declined the offer, and the role of Danny Tanner ultimately went to Bob Saget.
Interestingly, Reiser did accept a different "dad" role around the same time, playing Michael in My Two Dads. Both family-oriented sitcoms premiered in 1987, with My Two Dads running for three seasons and Full House running for eight seasons.
Jodie Sweetin From 'Full House' Had A Hard Time Adjusting To Normal Life
Jodie Sweetin, who played Stephanie Tanner on Full House, has faced significant challenges throughout her life. Sweetin began playing the role at just five years old, and when the show ended during her early teenage years, she struggled to adjust to life outside of the industry.
At the age of 14, Sweetin started drinking and eventually became addicted to methamphetamines. However, she turned her life around in 2008 after becoming a parent and has been sober since then. Sweetin credits her recovery for her ability to create a successful life and embrace her return to show business.
Ted Danson Had To Get Gross To Find His Character On 'Cheers'
Ted Danson portrayed the role of Sam Malone, a former baseball player who became a bar owner in Cheers. However, during a tribute to James Burrows, the show's co-creator and director, Danson explained in 2016 that he had little similarity with the character he played:
I didn't know baseball, I didn't know jock, I hadn't gotten too arrogant yet, I didn't know any of that stuff. So he [Burrows] told me that I needed to, that perhaps if I reached down and rearranged myself periodically it'd get me into that jock feel. And I used to. I used to get some of the best close-ups because I'd do this at the most inappropriate times.
Craig T. Nelson Was Originally Turned Down For The Title Role In 'Coach' Because He Had Zero Comedy Chops
Craig T. Nelson, known for his portrayal of Hayden Fox on the ABC sitcom Coach for nine seasons, won the Emmy Award for best lead actor in a comedy series for his role as the college (later NFL) football coach in 1992. However, in an interview with Cleveland sports radio channel 92.3 The Fan, Nelson revealed that he was initially rejected for the role during his audition:
They called me back and said, 'We want to see you again.' So I went in. See, I didn't have a reputation as a comedian then. Although I'd grown up as a writer doing the Tim Conway Show... and I'd done stand-up. So, I did have a background in it, but I hadn't been doing it [as an actor] ... Anyway, I didn't get the part, and then I got it. And then we started doing it, and it was a lot of work in the beginning because there was not really a center to that character in the beginning.