By Matt Moryc, Walt Disney Archives
If you grew up watching television in the 1980s and 1990s, there is an objective argument to be made that some of the greatest family sitcoms of all-time were produced during this era.
The American Broadcast Company (ABC) was at the forefront of this golden age of adolescent television with their Friday night programming block titled TGIF (short for “Thank Goodness It’s Funny”). Debuting in 1989, TGIF became a staple in millions of homes across America, and would continue to be throughout 1990s as audiences tuned in weekly to watch classic shows such as Full House (1987-1995), Boy Meets World (1993-2000), Family Matters (ABC: 1989-1997; CBS: 1997-1998), and Sabrina the Teenage Witch (ABC: 1996-2000; WB: 2000-2003)
For Disney fans, these titles are memorable not only for their place in ABC history, but also for the episodes each show filmed at Walt Disney World Resort. The idea to send family sitcoms to the vacation kingdom could not have come at a better time for The Walt Disney Company as it was in the midst of vastly expanding its hold on ‘90s popular culture with a string of hit animated films and new theme park attractions that were ripe for promotion via television programming created for families.
Step by Step aired on ABC as a part of the TGIF television line up from 1991 to 1997. The show stars Patrick Duffy as Frank Lambert, a divorced father with three kids, and Suzanne Somers as Carol Foster, a widow with three kids. After Frank and Carol get remarried to each other—without informing their kids!—they decide to move both of their families under one roof in suburban Wisconsin. This large, blended family is seemingly always at odds, but each episode provides the opportunity for them to learn to live with and love each other via funny and heartwarming interactions that sitcoms are known for.
In February 1996, the cast of Step by Step traveled to Walt Disney World to film a two-part episode, which aired in May of that year. The story sees the family vacationing to Walt Disney World for one week thanks to a generous gift from Frank’s mother, Helen (June Lockhart). Because the show featured such a large cast, there are plenty of storylines to follow: JT Lambert (Brandon Call) and his best friend Rich (Jason Marsden) spend all of their joint apartment savings to impress two girls they meet at the Magic Kingdom; Frank and Carol struggle to find some alone time together to celebrate their anniversary; Karen Foster (Angela Watson) finds her confidence to compete in a country western singing contest at Pleasure Island thanks to encouragement from her sister Dana (Staci Keanan) and stepsister Al (Christine Lakin); and Grandma Helen falls for a Frenchman she meets on the ferryboat to the Magic Kingdom.
By far the most engaging storyline—and the one that ties everything together— belongs to Jake “Flash” Gordon (Jeff Juday), a bumbling and hyperactive handyman who makes a detour on his road trip so he can return a hammer to Frank. After deciding to join the family’s vacation, Flash learns that a man from Uzbekistan holds the world record for visiting every Walt Disney World attraction, restaurant, snack stand, and merchandise location in under four days. This doesn’t sit well with Flash and he declares that the record needs to be brought back to American soil. Utilizing help from Mark Foster (Christopher Castile) and Brendan Lambert (Josh Byrne), Flash succeeds in his quest to reclaim the record, and caps off the achievement with a celebration in front of Cinderella Castle with the rest of the cast.
The following behind-the-scenes and publicity photos—provided by our partners at ABC—are from the 1996 Step by Step episodes “We’re Going to Disney World, Part 1,” and “We’re Going to Disney World, Part 2,” now streaming on Hulu.
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