USA Today
January 8, 1992

   

People's Producers:
Miller-Boyett synonymous with sitcom
Their buddy 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 us.

"We condition 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.)

"Our extended 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 brother.

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.

"There have 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.

"They really 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 credit for."

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.

"He kept 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 says.

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.

"Somebody once 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 week."

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 flesh out.

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 muffins.

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 as well)

"I'm amazed 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, he admits.

"It's much easier to make people cry than it is to make them laugh," Miller says, "and it's real hard to make them laugh."