90s sitcom dads who are unrecognizable today

In the ’90s, there were no streaming services like Netflix or Hulu, and certainly no websites like YouTube — those were dark times, indeed! But fortunately no one knew what they were missing, and there was television, both network and cable, which meant that there were plenty of sitcoms to keep viewers entertained. From Friends to Full House to Married with Children, these shows covered all kinds of issues, from non-traditional families, burgeoning romances, gender and sexuality, and yes, even smelly cats. It was a different time, for sure.

At the heart of many of these sitcoms was the all-American dad, an authority figure to his children and a source of wisdom for his wife — well, sometimes. These memorable characters, be they brilliant or buffoons, kept American audiences laughing while simultaneously serving as a virtual father figure for anyone who tuned in. Have you ever wondered what your favorite ’90s TV papa looks like today, or if you’d recognize him after all these years? Read on to catch a glimpse of ’90s sitcom dads who are unrecognizable today.

Bob Saget – Danny Tanner (Full House)

One of the first sitcoms to feature a non-traditional, blended family with several different father figures was Full House, which ran from 1987 to 1995. Bob Saget played Danny Tanner, a sports anchor and widower who calls upon his brother-in-law Jesse Katsopolis and best friend Joey Gladstone to help him raise his three daughters. Of course, there were plenty of hi-jinx on the show, but there were also a lot of tender teaching moments between father and daughters. 

Even though the show is long off the air, the cast of the program has stayed close, even though it’s been decades — something Saget acknowledges is rare. “Normally actors don’t stay with an ensemble, and stay friends, but… we stayed really close,” he shared in an interview with Steve Harvey on his eponymous talk show Steve. “We went to dinner once, years ago, in Malibu, the entire cast… and Tony Danza walked in with his wife, and he said, ‘What are you all doing together?’ and I said, ‘What? Who’s the Boss? doesn’t go to dinner?'” Hilarious!

The seminal sitcom was rebooted in 2016 as Fuller House, with many of the same cast members all grown up.

Reginald VelJohnson – Carl Winslow (Family Matters)

Believe it or not, Family Matters, which chronicled the daily life of the Winslow family, was actually a spin-off of Perfect Strangers. In the show, which ran from 1989 to 1997, Reginald VelJohnson played Carl Winslow, a police officer living in Chicago, Illinois with his family and neighbors. The show was also notable for the role of Steve Urkel, played by Jaleel White, who was so popular with fans that he often became the focus of the show, especially in later episodes. 

The cast of the show reunited in 2017 to celebrate their 20 year reunion, an experience that made VelJohnson especially emotional. “I love these people. …Every one of them,” he gushed in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. “I didn’t realize I was going to see everybody. …To see them now, the way they are, is wonderful. It’s heartwarming. It makes me cry.” Awww, someone is cutting onions in here!

The cast enthusiastically expressed interest in a reboot at the reunion, so maybe it’s in the cards — though White shut down the idea in a post on his Instagram page. Maybe someday!

Tim Allen – Tim Taylor (Home Improvement)

Tim Allen was the comedic heart of the wildly popular sitcom Home Improvement, which was broadcast from 1991 to 1999, and arguably launched his career as a comedic actor. The show, which focused on the life and work of Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor, was consistently nominated for a host of awards. Allen himself managed to snag the Golden Globe for best actor in 1995, showing just how lauded his work was on the program. The guy knew how to get a laugh!

As to whether or not fans can count on a revival of tool time, Allen says he and most of the original cast would be on board for a reboot. “I can’t say everybody, but it has been floated,” he explained in an interview with Entertainment Tonight. “And more than I would have expected said, ‘Yeah, that would be cool to do it years later,’ like Roseanne.” Allen also added that he would take on a leadership role in getting the proverbial band back together, given the opportunity. Fingers crossed!

Charles Shaughnessy – Maxwell Sheffield (The Nanny)

From 1993 to 1999, you could catch ’90s it-girl Fran Drescher as Fran Fine in The Nanny, a sitcom about a Jewish fashionista who becomes nanny to three children — and eventually the wife of their father, Broadway producer Maxwell Sheffield. Charles Shaughnessy starred opposite Drescher in the role, serving as a foil to her spirited and humorous temperament.

While Drescher has expressed her desire for a reboot, starring Cardi B (!), Shaughnessy seems less than excited about the prospect. “I’m not sure how it would work,” he said frankly in an interview with Soap Opera Digest. “The whole concept of The Nanny is a nanny to these three kids. When those three kids are all grown up, there is no need for a nanny.” That’s one way of looking at it, but he does have a point. 

In fact, Shaughnessy isn’t a fan of reboots in general. “Nostalgia is remembering things as they were. You can’t re-create it,” he continued. “It doesn’t work like that.” Sound like there might be a need for a new dad if a revival ever happens.

William Allen Young – Franklin "Frank" Mitchell (Moesha)

Moesha was the sitcom vehicle for ’90s pop star Brandy, who starred in the titular role as a teenager trying to find her place in the world. Her father, who was played by William Allen Young, was a tough but loving dad, who bordered on overbearing at times. But he also managed to get laughs fairly frequently, even in a show that dealt with serious issues like race relations, substance abuse, and teenage pregnancy. They didn’t shy away from the heavy stuff!

Young looks back fondly on his time on the program, which he sees as a seminal contribution to television history. “It was beautiful to be a part of it, even when I step back as an audience. …I realize how important that series was in the whole scheme of television, period,” he recalled in an interview with Afterbuzz TV. Young also appreciated the way the show depicted African-Americans, something he said was “beautiful.”

As for a reboot? Literally the entire cast is a resounding yes. Given how the show ended without being fully resolved, it would be amazing to finally get some answers!

Patrick Duffy – Frank Lambert (Step by Step)

If you thought the premise of Step By Step, which focuses on two single parents who each have three kids of their own when they marry, sounded a bit familiar, you’d be right. A page out of The Brady Bunch playbook, the sitcom ran from 1991 to 1998, and starred Suzanne Sommers and Patrick Duffy as the mother and father. The couple spontaneously get married on a Jamaican vacation early on, and the rest of the series follows the integration of their respective families. 

When the role of Frank Lambert landed in Duffy’s lap, he welcomed it with open arms. “Well I’d been working for 17 years playing the most, not downer characters, but never frivolity, never fun, never joyful. It was always serious, heavy drama,” he shared in an interview with Sidewalks Entertainment. “And to walk out the Dallas door and walk in the Step By Step door… was such a joy.” It must have been a breath of fresh air to finally be a little less severe.

Duffy said that he and Somers would like to see a Step By Step reboot in a Reddit AMA. Anything is possible!

John Lithgow – Dick Solomon (3rd Rock from the Sun)

Who could forget 3rd Rock from the Sun, the zany, off-the-wall comedy that followed the lives of aliens inhabiting human bodies? The show, which starred John Lithgow in the leading paternal role, ran from 1996 to 2001 on the NBC network. The sitcom poked fun at human beings and society in general, using the alien characters to point out how silly life on earth really is — and how easy it is to get caught up in it, too. 

Lithgow didn’t hesitate when he was asked what, of all of the comedic roles he played, was his favorite character. “Oh, Dick Solomon,” he revealed in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “Dick Solomon was not just Dick Solomon! He was a man trying to figure out what kind of a human being he was! So it allowed me to just act and act and act and act.” Sounds like he had a total blast on set.

Lithgow remains open to a reboot of the show, according to E! News, though he admits it would be difficult to be that energetic. We totally get that.

Ray Romano – Ray Barone (Everybody Loves Raymond)

When it comes to sitcom depictions of the lives of Italian-Americans in New York, the first show that pops to mind is Everybody Loves Raymond. From 1996 to 2005, viewers followed the trials and tribulations of Ray Barone, played by Ray Romano, and his extended family. Barone was a sarcastic and often indecisive patriarchal character, who seldom took sides in an argument or did much around the house. It’s a miracle everyone ended up loving him then, huh?

By the time the sitcom ended, Romano was the highest-paid sitcom actor on all of television. But that didn’t mean he was looking for a repeat of the show’s success, or even another sitcom role. “I didn’t want to have to follow Everybody Loves Raymond with another sitcom,” he revealed in an interview with Vanity Fair. “Let it be my sitcom legacy, and leave it at that.” Fair enough — he clearly put in his time.

Given his resolve to avoid sitcoms, a reboot is highly unlikely. Plus, he can’t imagine the show without the actors who played his parents, who are deceased, according to an interview with UPI. Reruns it is, then!

Ed O'Neill – Al Bundy (Married with Children)

Arguably one of the most memorable sitcoms from the ’90s was Married with Children. Ed O’Neill starred as Al Bundy, a women’s shoes salesman who’s often miserable, and always pining for his glory days when he played high school football. The show, which was reviled by conservatives, ran from 1987 to 1997 — an impressive run, for sure. And though it hasn’t aged well in some aspects, it’s definitely considered to be sitcom canon now.

Believe it or not, O’Neill was performing in a dramatic role on Broadway when the casting director first saw him. A year later, when they needed to fill the role of Al Bundy, that director suggested O’Neill — not an obvious pick in the least. So when O’Neill read for the role, he stood out. “Apparently most of the guys that read for it were doing it like Jackie Gleason… you know, yelling and mad,” he recalled on an interview with The Rich Eisen Show. But inspired by an uncle of his, O’Neill read it as resigned — and got the part.

TMZ reports that the cast is game for a reboot, but who knows if it will come to fruition.

Kurtwood Smith – Red Forman (That '70s Show)

In the same vein as The Wonder YearsThe ’70s Show did a bang-up job depicting another era, quenching viewers’ need for nostalgia for seemingly simpler times. While Kurtwood Smith played Red Forman, one of the show’s fathers, the sitcom mainly followed the adventures of six teenagers coming of age in Point Place, WI in the latter part of the decade. Still, Smith’s character was notable — a combat veteran who could be hard on his son, but not without a tender side.

Smith looks back at his time in Point Place with a genuine fondness. “It was just a pleasure doing that show,” he gushed in an interview with AV/Film. “I mean, even if we had a day or two here and there that wasn’t fun for whatever particular reason, by and large it was just a pleasure. I loved working with all those folks.” Sounds like they really connected during their time on set!

Some cast members have said they’d totally do a reboot, like Topher Grace, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Netflix, take note!

Bill Cosby – Cliff Huxtable (The Cosby Show)

One of the most important sitcoms in television history for its impact on race relations alone was The Cosby Show, which was on the air from 1984 to 1992. The show chronicled the exploits and adventures of the Huxtables, a well-off African-American family wherein the matriarch was an attorney and the patriarch was a medical doctor — the first show of its kind to buck racial stereotypes in that manner. Of course, it was helmed by Bill Cosby, who played Cliff Huxtable, alongside Phylicia Rashad’s Clair Huxtable.

Unfortunately, the show’s invaluable legacy is marred by the multiple allegations of sexual assault that have been leveled at Cosby. “There was no knowledge on my part about his specific actions,” said co-star Lisa Bonet in an interview with Newsweek. “There was just energy. And that type of sinister, shadow energy cannot be concealed.” Yikes.

Cosby is serving a three to ten year sentence in prison for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand, according to CNN. But despite Cosby’s actions, the show’s importance and impact remain significant.

Tony Danza – Tony Micelli (Who's the Boss?)

Just as The Cosby Show aired from 1984 to 1992, so too did Who’s the Boss?, a much different flavor of sitcom. Tony Danza played Tony Micelli on the show, a retired baseball player who becomes a live-in housekeeper for an advertising executive, played by Judith Light, and her children. Danza’s character was remarkable at the time, as it showed that a man could serve in the role of a stay-at-home father figure while the woman in the partnership was the breadwinner. We are so here for that!

Danza won a lot of hearts on the program, and isn’t surprised that it’s still in syndication on television. “It’s a good show for kids to see,” he explained in an interview with Entertainment Tonight. “It was about trying to be there for people, and about supporting each other… and love and trust and all the things that we don’t highlight in TV too much anymore.” Welcome to wholesomeville, from its mayor, Tony Danza.

In an interview with Uproxx, Danza said he’d rather “look forward than backward,” so it’s doubtful there will ever be a reboot.

Craig T. Nelson – Coach Hayden Fox (Coach)

When it comes to sitcom characters who love football, Coach Hayden Fox on Coach makes Al Bundy look like a mere football tourist. Played by Craig T. Nelson, Fox is consumed by football, though he obviously cares about his family and friends as well. He was also deeply concerned about his daughter’s imminent transition to full-blown womanhood in earlier seasons of the show, something he had to adjust to as a father.

The sitcom endured for many years, running from 1989 to 1997. And even though Nelson was a fantastic fit for the role, he thought his audition went terribly — so he left early. “I just said, ‘You know what? You guys are not enjoying this, and I’m not really doing a very good job,’ and I left,” he revealed in an interview with AV/Film. “And the next day, they wanted to give it to me.” He said yes, and the rest is history!

The show was supposed to be rebooted in 2015 by NBC, according to Variety, but the network cancelled it before it came to fruition. Who knows what could have been?

John Goodman – Dan Conner (Roseanne)

From 1988 to 1997, the then-cutting-edge sitcom Roseanne, which centered on Roseanne and Dan Conner, played by Roseanne Barr and John Goodman, respectively, was a staple of network television. It was groundbreaking not only in its depictions of LGBTQ+ characters, but also of overweight characters whose size wasn’t relegated to a punchline. Goodman was a very human patriarch of the working-class, blue-collar family, which often dealt with real life situations that viewers could identify with.

The program was rebooted in 2018, but was only a few months into its run when Barr posted a racist tweet, which led to the show’s cancellation — and left its cast members reeling. “There was the feeling of not wanting it to go away until we were ready,” Goodman confessed in an interview with People magazine. “There was a debt owed to this fictional family. We want to finish telling this story.”

Fortunately for Goodman and the rest of the cast, ABC created a spin-off called The Conners, which follows the family’s exploits after their matriarch’s sudden passing. Phew!

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