Married… with Children is an American television sitcom that aired on Fox, created by Michael G. Moye and Ron Leavitt. Originally broadcast from April 5, 1987 to June 9, 1997, it is the longest-lasting live-action sitcom on Fox and the first to be broadcast in the network’s primetime programming slot.
The show follows the suburban Chicago lives of Al Bundy, a once glorious high school football player turned hard-luck women’s shoe salesman; his lazy wife, Peggy; their attractive, dumb, and popular daughter, Kelly; and their smart, horny, and unpopular son, Bud. Their neighbors are the upwardly mobile Steve Rhoades and his feminist wife Marcy, who later gets remarried to Jefferson D’Arcy, a white-collar criminal who becomes her “trophy husband” and Al’s sidekick. Most storylines involve Al’s schemes being foiled by his own cartoonish dim wit and bad luck.
The first two seasons of the series were videotaped at ABC Television Center in Hollywood. From season three to season eight, the show was taped at Sunset Gower Studios in Hollywood, and the remaining three seasons were taped at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City. The series was produced by Embassy Communications during its first season and half of its second season and the remaining seasons by ELP Communications under the studio Columbia Pictures Television.
In 2008, the show placed number 94 on Entertainment Weekly‘s “New TV Classics” list.
- Al Bundy (Ed O’Neill)—the misanthropic head of the Bundy household; afflicted by the “Bundy curse” that consigns him to an unrewarding career selling women’s shoes and a life with a family that mocks and disrespects him, but who still enjoys the simple things in life. He constantly attempts to relive his high-school Big Man On Campus days, when he was the “All State Fullback”. His most noted achievement was having scored four touchdowns in a single game for Polk High. His favorite things in life are the local nudie bar, his collection of BigUns magazine, his television, his Dodge car with almost 1 million mi (1.6 million km) on the odometer, and a television show called Psycho Dad. Despite his family’s contempt for him, and his for them, Al is always ready to defend Bundy honor (often with his fists), and he is fiercely protective of daughter Kelly, his “little girl” who rarely had a boyfriend Al did not beat up.
- Peggy Bundy (Katey Sagal)—Al’s wife who is always on his case about money and refuses to clean or cook. She is a lazy, big-haired redhead who spends most of her time parked in front of the TV watching talk shows such as Oprah or robbing Al blind to go shopping; a famously inattentive mother and nagging wife who uses every opportunity to humiliate Al about his job, his meager earnings, and even sexual abilities. Her careless spending on things like clothes and going to male strip clubs have run Al into debt on numerous occasions. A recurring joke in the series is Al’s regret of having married Peggy in the first place; the union was forced on him at shotgun-point. Peggy’s best friend is Marcy, with whom she occasionally conspires against Al. Her family is a stereotypical backwoods clan of degenerates whom she often forces the other Bundys to endure, especially her morbidly obese mother, whom Al finds intolerable.
- Kelly Bundy (Christina Applegate)—the Bundys’ firstborn; a stereotypical dumb blonde who is often derided as promiscuous and dates men who get under Al’s skin to the point of him physically assaulting them. Her stupidity manifests in many ways, from forgetting ideas on the spot to mispronouncing or misspelling simple words. Like her mother, she is quick to steal Al’s money for expensive things. Her favorite hobby is belittling her lonely and sexless brother, though she stands up for him against anyone outside the family.
- Bud Bundy (David Faustino)—the younger Bundy offspring, and the most intelligent family member; the first Bundy to attend college. His awkwardness and preoccupation with sex leads to inevitable failures with women. To improve his success with girls, Bud often uses his alternate persona, “Grandmaster B”, a bad-boy rapper from New York City. When using the “Grandmaster B” persona, Bud usually wears dark sunglasses and a backward Los Angeles Raiders hat. His mistreatment at the hands of Kelly is returned in kind, making jokes at her expense regarding her promiscuity and stupidity, and tricking her into mixing up TV shows with novels; but when she is in a legitimate bind, Bud will stand up for her, much like Kelly does for him under similar circumstances.
- Marcy Rhoades D’Arcy (Amanda Bearse)—the Bundys’ next-door neighbor; Peggy’s best friend and Al’s nemesis; an educated banker, but also a feminist and environmentalist who often protests Al’s schemes with his NO MA’AM (National Organization of Men Against Amazonian Masterhood) group. Ironically, she is just as chauvinistic as Al and the founder and leader of an anti-man support group called “FANG” (Feminists Against Neanderthal Guys). Despite her political correctness and structured life, Marcy harbors a dark, somewhat sexually deviant side, which comes up when she reminisces over events in her past. Al is repulsed by Marcy and frequently belittles her, likening her to a chicken, and mockingly confusing her for an adolescent male. At the outset of the show, Marcy is married to Steve Rhoades. After Steve is written off the show during the fourth season, he is replaced by Jefferson D’Arcy.
- Steve Rhoades (David Garrison) is Marcy’s first husband, a nerdy banker who is dragged into Al’s schemes, such as going to strip clubs, chasing after girls, watching sports when Marcy disapproves, and reading pornographic magazines. Steve’s most prized possession is his Mercedes Benz, which he does not even let Marcy drive. Growing increasingly tired of Marcy’s controlling behavior, Steve eventually leaves her during the fourth season to become a forest ranger at Yosemite National Park. He comes back in “The Egg and I” to try and reclaim his old life with Marcy, but finds trouble with Jefferson. Steve later has another job as the dean of Bud’s college, after blackmailing the previous one he worked under as a chauffeur.
- Jefferson D’Arcy (Ted McGinley), a pretty-boy scam artist to whom Marcy wakes up one morning and discovers she is married. Unlike Steve, Jefferson is an unemployed, lazy dimwit who takes advantage of Marcy. When he gets caught, he distracts her by working his pretty-boy charm and resorting to sexual bartering. Steve and Jefferson do not like each other for personal reasons. In several episodes, Jefferson is implied to have had a past life as a former spy/CIA operative.
It is never explained how Peggy was able to go to high school in Chicago when she lived in Wisconsin. While the audience is aware that Al’s father died years ago, his mother’s whereabouts are never mentioned or acknowledged. She is only heard once during the season one episode “Nightmare On Al’s Street”. Peggy calls her briefly on the phone, because she promised to invite her for summer the next time Al was “right about anything”.
During its 11-season run on the Fox network, Married … with Children aired 258 episodes. A 259th episode, “I’ll See You in Court” from season 3, never aired on Fox, but premiered on FX and has since been included on DVD and in syndication packages. The episode counts in the chart below include it. Three specials also aired following the series’ cancellation, including a cast reunion.
Despite the show’s enduring popularity and fanbase, Married … with Children was never a huge ratings success. Part of the reason was the fact that Fox, being a new startup network, did not have the affiliate base of the Big Three television networks, thus preventing the series from reaching the entire country. In an interview for a special commemorating the series’ 20-year anniversary in 2007, Katey Sagal stated that part of the problem the series faced was that many areas of the country were able to get Fox only through low-quality UHF channels well into the early 1990s, while some areas of the country did not receive the new network at all, a problem not largely rectified until the 1994 United States broadcast TV realignment which brought the NFC football rights to the network, and beyond, as the network maintained a national cable channel to carry the network in very small markets over cable as late as 2006.
Another problem lay in the fact that many of the newly developed series on Fox were unsuccessful, which kept the network from building a popular lineup to draw in a larger audience. In its original airing debut, Married … with Children was part of a Sunday lineup that competed with the popular Murder, She Wrote and Sunday-night movie on CBS. Fellow freshman series included Duet, cancelled in 1989, along with It’s Garry Shandling’s Show and The Tracey Ullman Show, both of which were canceled in 1990. The success of The Simpsons, which debuted on The Tracey Ullman Show in 1987, helped draw some viewers over to Fox, allowing Married … with Children to sneak into the top 50 of television shows for seasons 3 through 9 doing its best overall rating at number 8 for its third and tenth season. Although these ratings were somewhat small in comparison with the other three networks, they were good enough for Fox to keep renewing the show.
- 1986–1987 Season 1: #142
- 1987–1988 Season 2: #116 (4.70 rating)
- 1988–1989 Season 3: #48 (10.45 rating)
- 1989–1990 Season 4: #50 (10.12 rating)
- 1990–1991 Season 5: #30 (13.00 rating)
- 1991–1992 Season 6: #29 (13.36 rating)
- 1992–1993 Season 7: #37 (11.97 rating)
- 1993–1994 Season 8: #46 (10.77 rating)
- 1994–1995 Season 9: #49 (10.10 rating)
- 1995–1996 Season 10: #56 (9.20 rating)
- 1996–1997 Season 11: #63 (8.70 rating)
In 1989, Terry Rakolta, from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, led a boycott of the show after viewing the episode “Her Cups Runneth Over“. Offended by the images of an old man wearing a woman’s garter and stockings, the scene where Steve touches the pasties of a mannequin dressed in S&M gear, a homosexual man wearing a tiara on his head (and Al’s line “…and they wonder why we call them ‘queens'”), and a half-nude woman who takes off her bra in front of Al (and is shown with her arms covering her bare chest in the next shot), Rakolta began a letter-writing campaign to advertisers, demanding they boycott the show.
After advertisers began dropping their support for the show and while Rakolta made several appearances on television talk shows demanding the show’s cancellation, Fox executives refused to air the episode titled “I’ll See You in Court“. This episode would become known as the “Lost Episode” and was aired on FX on June 18, 2002, with some parts cut. The episode was packaged with the rest of the third season in the January 2005 DVD release (and in the first volume of the Married … With Children Most Outrageous Episode DVD set) with the parts cut from syndication restored.
Ironically, viewers’ curiosity over the boycott and over the show itself led to a drastic ratings boost in an example of the Streisand Effect, which Rakolta has since acknowledged. She has been referenced twice on the show: “Rock and Roll Girl”, when a newscaster mentioned the city Bloomfield Hills, and “No Pot to Pease In”, when a television show was made about the Bundy family and then was cancelled because (according to Marcy) “some woman in Michigan didn’t like it”.
The conservative Parents Television Council named Married… with Children the worst show of both the 1995–96 and 1996–97 television seasons in its first two years in operation. In 1996, the organization called the show the “crudest comedy on prime time television…peppered with lewd punch lines about sex, masturbation, the gay lifestyle, and the lead character’s fondness for pornographic magazines and strip clubs.”
A book discussing the creation of Married. . . with Children, the controversy around it and the aftermath of that controversy, as well as telling the entire behind-the-scenes story of the show, was released in 2017 by Bear Manor Media. The book is written by Denise Noe who interviewed David Garrison, E.E. Bell, dog trainer Steven Ritt, and others who worked on the show for the book.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has released all eleven seasons of Married… with Children on DVD in Regions 1, 2, & 4. On December 12, 2010, Sony released a complete series set on DVD in Region 1.
In December 2007, the Big Bundy Box—a special collection box with all seasons plus new interviews with Sagal and David Faustino—was released. This boxset was released in Australia (Region 4) on November 23, 2009.
The Sony DVD box sets from season 3 onward do not feature the original “Love and Marriage” theme song in the opening sequence. This was done because Sony was unable to obtain the licensing rights to the song for later sets. Despite this, the end credits on the DVDs for season 3 still include a credit for “Love and Marriage.”
On August 27, 2013, it was announced that Mill Creek Entertainment had acquired the home media rights to various television series from the Sony Pictures library including Married… with Children with the original theme song “Love and Marriage” sung by Frank Sinatra. They have subsequently re-released the 11 seasons on DVD. The Mill Creek Entertainment version (along with the versions available for streaming and downloading) include scenes that are normally edited in syndication and most of the licensed music that’s dubbed over or deleted due to copyright issues. A complete series DVD set was re-released on July 7, 2015. All seasons of Married with Children are now available for online download and streaming through Amazon, Apple iTunes, Hulu, and Vudu.
ITV had been screening the original Married… With Children since 1988. In 1996, the UK production company Central Television and Columbia Pictures Television (Columbia TriStar Central Productions) produced UK version called Married for Life, which lasted for one series with seven episodes.
Distributed by Columbia Pictures Television Distribution (now Sony Pictures Television Distribution), Married… with Children debuted in off-network syndication in the fall of 1991. The series later began airing on cable on FX from September 1998 until 2007. In June 2002, FX became the first television network to air the controversial, previously banned episode “I’ll See You in Court”, albeit in an edited format. The fully uncensored version of “I’ll See You in Court” can only be seen on the DVD release Married… with Children: The Most Outrageous Episodes Volume 1 and the Mill Creek Entertainment complete series collection. The version found on the Third Season DVD set under Sony is the edited-for-TV version. In 2008, the Spike network reportedly paid US$12 million for broadcast rights to every episode including the unedited version of the infamous episode, “I’ll See You in Court“.
The series started airing on Spike TV on September 29, 2008 with a weeklong marathon. TBS also began airing the show shortly after, acquiring the show in fall 2008 to run in the early morning hours. Through late September 2018 it ran for two to three hours (on rare occasions four or five) on TBS during the early morning hours (depending on the length of overnight programming) before TBS dropped it from their lineup. TV Land picked up the rights to broadcast the show from its MTV Networks sister Spike in August 2009. Comedy Central began airing the show on February 8, 2010; Comedy Central acquired rights to air the series from TV Land, who in turn, had earlier acquired the rights to the series from Spike, though Comedy Central dropped the rights to the series in April 2010. Spike picked up the rights to series again, and began airing the series for the second time on July 10, 2010, airing on weekend mornings only. All three cable channels are owned by Viacom. The comedy began airing on Nick at Nite on July 6, 2011. MTV2 added the series on March 21, 2012 and VH1 Classic began airing the series on April 9, 2012.
The series has aired on a total of seven MTV Networks owned cable networks since 2008. It previously aired on Antenna TV, Ion Television, and TBS. The series currently airs on GetTV, Logo TV and regularly on WGN America. WGN America gained rights to the show when TBSremoved it from their early morning slots in September 2018. In November 2018, the entire 11 season run became available to watch through Hulu.
Married…with Children has also been a ratings success in other countries around the world.
The opening footage comprises views of Chicago, opening with a shot of Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park. The aerial downtown shot was taken from the Lake Shore Drivesection north of the Loop. The expressway entrance shot was taken from the 1983 movie National Lampoon’s Vacation featuring the Griswolds’ green family truckster with a northeastward view of the Dan Ryan/Stevenson junction southwest of the Loop. Both the downtown view and the highway entrance shot were omitted from Season 4 onwards, but the remaining fountain shot included an “In Stereo Where Available” note. Non-English versions might differ, e.g. the dubbed German version always includes the expressway shot.