January 8, 1992
Miller-Boyett synonymous with sitcom
and family shows brim with kids, humor and great ratings
By Jefferson Graham - USA Today
CULVER CITY, Calif. -
When producers Thomas Miller and Robert Boyett meet with the cast on the first
day of shooting a TV show, they always warn the actors: The critics will hate
the cast to except terrible reviews," says Miller, 47. "The
first thing we say is that everybody will hate this except for the people."
Make that 27.7
million people who tune in on Tuesdays to watch ABC's Full House, not
counting the 4 million who watch nightly reruns on local stations.
On Fridays, when
three Miller-Boyett shows air -- Family Matters, Step by Step and Perfect
Strangers -- the producers slaughter the competition with their easygoing
family and buddy comedies -- to the tune of 22-plus million viewers. (Perfect
Strangers moves to Saturdays Feb. 1.)
families were large," explains Miller, who grew up in Wisconsin with a
brother and a sister. "We spent a lot of time with them on holidays
and in the summer. That's where we learned it was fun -- or not fun -- to
have so many kids around." Boyett, 47,who grew up in Atlanta, has a
There are so many
kids on the Miller-Boyett shows (five on Full House and Family Matters,
seven on Step by Step) that when kids decide to join show biz, agents
call them first.
been occasions when we say 'We're not interested in doing a family show now,
let's do a buddy show instead,'" Boyett says. "But we have these
great kids under contract, so let's develop a show for them."
While TV goes for
more and more reality, Miller-Boyett comedies are like idealized visits to a
small town. Time stands still. Their shows are usually based in the
Midwest, centering on large, extended families.
know how to create programs that are filled with fun, that tell nice family
stories that aren't gritty or reek with realism," says ABC Entertainment
President Bob Iger. "The heart of their shows is that they are
entertaining, very well made, and higher in quality than most people give them
The duo also has
high praise for Iger, whom they credit for sticking by Family Matters in
those pre-Steve Urkel days when the show was pulling in low numbers.
telling us he really believed in the multi-generational family concept and would
stick with us, even when others were telling him to get rid of the show,"
Miller and Boyett
got together in the 1970's when they were both at Paramount, along with Edward
Milkis, who dropped out when they joined Lorimar in 1984.
They have also
produced movies, including The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Foul Play
and Silver Streak, but devote their attentions to TV because of the fast
pace, and because they're so good at it. The networks want what they have
to offer. They already have a deal with ABC for a fifth sitcom for next
season, and one with CBS as well.
said they like to watch our shows because kids will look at the parents and say,
'See!,' and a minute later the parents will turn to them and say, 'See!'
. . . We're very concerned with what that little mind gets exposed to every
Miller gets more
involved with casting and creative situations at the shows, but he hates the
business end, which Boyett enjoys. Together, they sit down and create the
concept and characters for a new show, and then give it to a team member to
The duo has a
"little black book" of ideas, where they jot things down. The
concept for Family Matters came to them in 1982, when they wanted to do a
show about a three-generation black family. The networks passed, The
Cosby Show made its debut and they stuck the idea back in their black book,
waiting until 1989 to bring it out.
For all their
success and wealth (estimated in the millions) Miller and Boyett are
unassuming. In their office at Lorimar, both are dressed in jeans and
button-down shirts. The only sign of an executive perk is the catered
But their ample TV
booty hasn't given Miller and Boyett what many people dream of: free time.
They are generally at the studio from morning until night. They are
hands-on producers, who go to rehearsals, read all scripts and watch all the
tapes. That said, they leave the day-to-day details of their veteran shows
to their producers, and are concentrating this year on Step, helping to
get it off the ground.
"We all agree
that four heads are better than one," says William Bickley, an executive
producer of Step by Step and Family Matters, "and that our
approach to television should be positive -- people struggling to do the right
thing, shows the meaning."
In his rare spare
time, Boyett has been overseeing the building of his new house. Miller
goes to three movies a weekend, usually in the Westwood section near UCLA,
because he likes to study the big audience's responses.
Asked to name the
definitive Miller-Boyett TV show, the duo has a hard time. Boyett says Bosom
Buddies (about two ad men / cross dressers, with Tom Hanks) and The Hogan
Family. Miller goes for Happy Days and Perfect Strangers.
"Someday we'll look back and see that show (Strangers) as a
classic," he says.
What do they watch
on TV because ABC's Friday lineup? They like CBS' Monday lineup (with the
exception of Major Dad), NBC's Cheers and ABC's Roseanne
"because after all the controversy, she just makes me laugh," Boyett
says. "That's what it's all about."
Boyett spent more
time with theater and movies when he was growing up, but Miller says Father
Knows Best was an obsession and a big influence.
"I would be
playing outside, and always be sure to run in for the last five minutes of the
show," he says. "Because he (dad) would always say something to
make everybody feel OK. Bud would feel better, Princess would be happy . .
. it just influenced me so much."
The duo is said to
wield great power at ABC -- they develop a show, they choose the time
slot. But the producers say those reports are overplayed.
"We think, if
we have done a good job on an 8:00 show and an 8:30 show, and they're going to
separate those shows and put a new one in between, we deserve that time
period," Boyett says. "We feel we earned it."
But all the power in
the world doesn't seem to mean a thing to members of the TV Academy of Arts and
Sciences, who routinely ignore their shows at Emmy time.
Of all the hits,
only Happy Days has been mentioned, with an Emmy nomination one year for
Henry Winkler. (Editor's note - Bronson was nominated for an Emmy once
that Henry only got nominated once," Miller says. "I'm amazed
that Mark (Linn-Baker) and Bronson (Pinchot, both of Perfect Strangers)
don't get nominated. That's the thing I feel bad about."
The shows are
overlooked because they're viewed as "just a trifle" by the industry,
easier to make people cry than it is to make them laugh," Miller says,
"and it's real hard to make them laugh."