Canadian TV GUIDE
(April 12-18, 1997) (Ontario, Canada)
cover: Katey Sagal and her Married With Children co-stars gab about
their 10-year reign as TV's champions of bad taste.
GROWING UP BUNDY
"Prime time's trashiest sitcom family sticks to the tried and true for its laughs."
by Glenn Esterly.
Rude, lewd and crude.
Prime time's current longest-running sitcom, Married... With Children, started out that way 11
seasons ago, and despite ominous warnings at the time that the barbarians had stormed all the
barriers of good taste and were about to pillage the morals of North America -- the series just
keeps rolling around.
Set in a Chicago suburb, Married... With Children was designed to fly in the face of
conventional sitcoms, brandishing the dim, selfish, feuding Bundy family: Al, the husband and
father, a "stick in the rut for life" shoe salesman; Peg, mother and adamant non-housewife who
refused to cook and clean; Kelly, 15, dumb as a fender with a decolletage as low as her IQ and
Bud, 12, bewildered at his lousy luck at landing in this hopeless household.
Creators Ron Leavitt and Michael G. Moye set the tone for the series during the testing of
the pilot episode. Although the pilot generated lots of laughs with audiences, the two seemingly
mild-mannered traditional comedy writers and producers (Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley) were
warned that the show definitely had to be toned down by the vice president of the firm doing the
market research. Finally fed up with his advice, Leavitt addressed the man directly: "You're the
reason television sucks." And with that, Leavitt and Moye got up, bowed sarcastically to a room
that included major Fox executives, and walked out.
Whether it was because of or despite the producers' attitude, Fox stuck with them, and the
first raunchy episode of Married... with Children aired April 5, 1987. Thus began TV dialogue
aplenty about matters involving S-E-X, money, troublesome kids, private parts and the
shortcomings of everyone in the Bundy household.
It was an episode in 1989, however, that sparked the show's first big challenge. It was
called "Her Cups Runneth Over," with Peg in search of the perfect bra:
Marcy (the neighbor): "You know what will happen if men had breasts?"
Al: "We wouldn't need women anymore?"
Peg: "If you had what with other men have, I wouldn't need batteries."
Al: "So that's what happened to my Die-Hard."
That one led to a letter-writing campaign to get advertisers and viewers to boycott the
show. Leavitt, Moye and the cast now believe the highly publicized protest was one of the best
things that they could have hoped for: soon the series was the highest-rated on the network.
Leavitt and Moye no longer have hands-on control of the show, but the new producers follow
the first commandment of Bundyism: don't allow members of the family to grow and evolve. The
second commandment: don't soften the characters or the dialogue.
"We were the antidote to The Cosby Show," says Ed O'Neill (Al Bundy) of the controversial
arrival of the series. "Ron and Michael were determined to go against the family sitcom
stereotype, and particularly the huge success of the sanitized upper-class Huxtables of the
After an afternoon rehearsal, O'Neill and Katey Sagal (Peg) sit at the Bundy kitchen table,
reminiscing bout the show's long run. O'Neill vividly recalls "The Lost Episode" from the first
season, which has become the only episode Fox has refused to air. "The neighbors went to an
X-rated hotel and raved to Peg and Al about it," O'Neill says. "So Peg drags Al there." As it
turns out, the motel has been taping its customers. "Then Al and Peg find out they've been
filmed too -- so they sue and go to court."
The articulate O'Neill, 50, is a graduate of Ohio's Youngtown State University, where he
played football and later taught acting, laughs. "The neighbors got $10,000 after the jury saw
their tape. Al and Peg got nothing because their tape was inconclusive as to whether any sex
actually took place."
"I think we're the forerunner to a lot of comedies that have come since," says Sagal. "The
things we did that seemed outrageous the first few years, you see on all kinds of shows now."
"We were never 'political'," adds O'Neill. "Al's backwardness has been compared to Archie
Bunker's [All in the Family], but that show was very much about politics. The whole idea with us
was just to do a different take on family life, a black comedy that pokes fun at all kinds of
"It is true the Bundys don't change," he adds. "It reminds me of an uncle who gets stuck --
just keeps doing the same things over and over. A lot of people only know one way to go,"
Pamela Eells (The Nanny, Mad About You), the show's new executive producer, says that the
Bundys' lack of development hadn't made it as hard to generate new stories as she thought when
she first started. "We have new story editors full of ideas," Eells says. "Two of them wrote
their university theses on Married... With Children." And having Sagal back full time this
season, after last year's pregnancy (which ended with the birth of her second child), has also
helped, adds Eells. "Al needs Peg to bounce off to be most effective; without that consistency
last season it was much more difficult."
Christina Applegate and David Faustino grew up on the series as Kelly and Bud Bundy. Kelly
perfectly fits the profile of the never-changing character, a classic bimbo. "She's happy,"
says Applegate, 25, who, along with Faustino replaces her older colleagues at the kitchen table
to talk about the series. "That's the way she is, so why should she change?"
If any of the Bundys have changed, it's Bud. "He's the smartest one in the family, more
realistic and with a little more common sense," says Faustino, 22. "That actually makes the
comedy even better, because he ends up frequently looking at other family members as idiots.
But he always winds up back home with some foul-up in his plans not to be like them."
How do the two characters account for the long tenure of the sitcom?
Applegate: "The loyalty of the audience. And (laughing), you know, because it's dirty."
Faustino: "Viewers don't have to sit down and learn anything. You just laugh for a half-hour."
Applegate: "The same reason movies like 'Dumb and Dumber' are so successful: an escape."
It's hard to imagine two young performers less like their characters. Applegate says she
and Faustino have been best friends since the beginning. "Both of us, when we leave work, go to
yoga lessons, or to church, or classes where we can work on improving ourselves."
"Healthy, happy and holy," Faustino says in agreement. "We're growing as much as we can."
Adds Applegate: "We both keep workings on ourselves and have very grounded spiritual backgrounds."