Recently, I debuted parts 1 and 2 of my conversation with Kellie Shanygne Williams who played the character of Laura Winslow on the hit 90’s TGIF show Family Matters.
Kellie Says It Was Important Steve Was Accepted
I began with turning back the conversation towards Family Matters by noting to Williams that the character of Steve Urkel– and his progression over the 9 seasons- was an inspiration to groups such as LGBTQ youth and other children who felt like they were outcasts. Specifically, this was due to the fact that, at the end, Steve still got the girl of his dreams and his life turned out the way he wanted it to.
“That’s one of the things that I’m most proud about- about the show- is that it was so inclusive,” Williams shared. “You knew that these characters with all the quirks that some of the characters had they were still loved, and still seen as valuable. I mean, in the end, obviously, right. And important, and they had a voice. You know, black nerds, they’re accepted in that world, in the Family Matters world.”
“Ultimately, when the characters grew up, and everybody adapted, that you realize the things that are important,” Williams added. “And that you know, that he was a friend and that he loved the family and the family loved him.”
Speaking of acceptance, I then asked Williams about how close the actors and actresses actually were in real life. While they seemed like a close-knit bunch on the show, many 90’s shows (such as Beverly Hills 90210) were chock-full of behind-the-scenes cast drama even though they appeared like the best of friends onscreen.
Williams assured me they were indeed close in real-life, detailing that “Obviously, you know, we were like a real family. So we had little tiffs here and there. But no, we got along like a family. You got mad but you dealt with it. Fight, screamed, tell the person what’s going on on your mind, and then it’s over with and we move on.”
Family Matters Cast Departures
Two of the main controversies surrounding Family Matters were the following:
- In season 9- the final season of the show- Jo Marie Payton, who played matriarch Harriette, left the show in the middle of the season and ended up being replaced with actress Judyann Elder for the final 9 episodes of the series.
- After season 4, the character of Judy– the youngest of the Winslow siblings- disappeared with no appearance and never was mentioned again.
I began with inquiring about Payton’s departure, which the fans- myself included- definitely felt.
“The show was built around her character,” Williams began by sharing. “She was a very important voice in the show. So I think it threw us all for a loop. And ultimately, the show went off the air shortly after she left, right. I think what if the lady was so lovely, Judy Ann was a really nice lady. Because she was so kind and everything we tried to, as much as possible, make her feel a part of the family. But it was different.”
I pushed the topic further, asking Williams if there was any resentment from the cast about Payton leaving, especially since she departed with only 9 episodes to go.
“I don’t think so,” Williams shared. “I think that Jo Marie is a really strong woman. We all knew that off (the) break. And, you know, for whatever reason, she felt like she needed to leave. And so we understood that as well. We supported her either way. We still went over her house. I still to this day, I still hang out with her. Always. You have to do what’s best for you.”
She just felt like (the show) was no longer something that she wanted to participate in,” Williams added. “And so she decided to leave. She walked.”
I then followed up by asking Williams if the cast ever wished Harriette had been written off the show as opposed to being replaced.
“We trusted the writers enough and the Harriette character is such an important voice,” Williams responded. “We trusted them to make the right decision. So I don’t know if I thought of it on that level. I knew there was a lot of upheaval and it felt a lot different. We just- we enjoy being together. So anytime we get to hang out, we like to hang out.”
Judy Disappearing Was Weird
I then turned the conversation from Payton’s departure to the character of Judy- who was played by Jaimee Foxworth– leaving the show with no explanation.
“It was weird,” Williams started off with sharing. “And because- specifically because she and I were kind of close outside of the show. So it was weird her not being there and just never mentioned again. It was weird.”
I then inquired if Williams thought Foxworth leaving the show had an impact on some issues she faced later in life, including a marijuana addiction Foxworth detailed to Dr. Drew.
“I know that she said she had a difficult time adapting after she had been written off,” Williams stated. “But, you know, you do what you have to do to survive. And I always- I can never fault somebody for dealing the best way that they know how. It took her a minute to adapt. And that’s understandable.”
Williams detailed more on Foxworth abruptly being written off the show, telling me that “I remember the adults being very- they were very upset about her departure. And so they were pretty much the spokespeople for the cast. And they brought it up often.”
As for why Foxworth ultimately left the show, Williams dished that “I never got to the bottom of it. I didn’t know. I think her mother had some disagreements with the producers. And so they felt that it was best to just part ways ultimately.”
The Season That Never Was
In my conversation with Williams, I couldn’t resist bringing up the tenth season of Family Matters that never came to fruition- namely, the one that was supposed to see Laura and Steve get married.
As for what changed and why this season never happened, Williams explained that it was “The ratings. The ratings changed. People weren’t interested in the show as much. In terms of money, I don’t think that it made sense.”
However, Williams did mention that she “very much resents” the fact that this storyline never got to be shared on the camera and that this season never occurred.
“Everybody always asks about it,” Williams added. “I wish we could have had that resolution. But you know, who knows.”
TGIF And A New House
I then mentioned to Williams that TGIF was such a Friday night staple in the 90’s and was curious as to her thoughts if something like that was lacking- and needed- on today’s television.
“I’m not a person who really looks back in that way where it’s necessary,” Williams shared in response to my question. “I think that everything adapts. You know, everything moves on and if you don’t adapt, you die a slow death. So I think what’s on television now is probably what America looks like now. Will and Grace came back. People want to see certain shows again. And that’s great. And I think that that world was able to come back 10 years later.”
I also asked her about the Family Matters house in Chicago, which was recently knocked down and replaced with condos.
On this topic, Williams shared that “It was just a different era. And you know, that those are some of the things I would love to be able to explore if we were to come back- like gentrification. I mean, areas change, things are gone. You know what I mean? So the city now reflects the people that live there now.”
Christmas In Carolina
I also asked Williams about her new movie coming out this year, Christmas In Carolina, which comes out December 1st, 2020.
“I produced it!” Williams proudly shared of the project. “So that was my first time doing that. And it was a lot of fun. Shawn (who played Waldo on Family Matters) came in help to direct and help, you know, help us with it. And Darius (who played Eddie on Family Matters) was in it. Some of the gang was there. We had a good time.”
Kellie Says Thanks For The Memories
Williams wrapped with a message for the fans, telling me that “I just want to say to people like you who have supported the show. Thank you so much. Thank you so much. We just want to say thank you for the people who continue and who have always supported the show. We really appreciate it.”
“And at the risk of sounding Pollyanna-ish,” Williams added, “When we say that we adore you guys, and we love you and thank you so much. We mean that.”