Married… With Children

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents




Married...With Children, created by Michael Moye and Ron Leavitt, premiered as one of the new FOX Broadcasting Company's Sunday series in 1987. Moye and Leavitt had previously produced The Jeffersons, a long-running comedy about a black entrepreneur who becomes wealthy and moves his family to an almost all-white New York City neighborhood. Set in Chicago, their new show was a parody of American television's tendency to create comedies dealing with relentlessly perfect family. Their program was immediately termed "anti-family."

At the time of MWC's appearance, the top-rated television series was The Cosby Show. In the Cosby version of family, an African-American doctor and his attorney-wife raised their college bound offspring in an upper-middle-class environment. Instead of such faultless people, Moye and Leavitt presented "patriarch" Al Bundy (Ed O'Neil) whose family credo is, "when one of us is embarrassed, the others feel better about ourselves." In Married...With Children, almost every character is amusingly tasteless and satirically vulgar.

Bundy is a luckless women's shoes salesman who hates fat women, tries to relive his days as a high-school football hero, and does almost anything to avoid having sex with his stay-at-home, bon-bon eating spouse Peggy (Katie Sagal). Peg loves to shop and her ability to buy always exceeds Al's capacity to earn. She refuses to cook and the Bundys must take desperate measures to stay fed, frequently searching beneath the sofa cushions for crumbs of food. After one family funeral, the Bundys steal the deceased man's filled refrigerator. Peggy's clothes are too tight, her hair too big, make-up too thick, and heels too high. She wants sex as much as Al avoids it.

The Bundy's stereotypically beautiful dumb blonde daughter, Kelly (Christina Applegate), is a frequent target of their naive con artist son, Bud (David Faustino). Moye and Leavitt created Kelly in the guise of Sheridan's Mrs. Malaprop; she can never manage to find the right word and her verbal confusions are felicitous. According to Bud, Kelly will have sex with any available male. In one episode, Kelly acquires backstage passes to a rock concert and announces she is just one paternity suit away from a Caribbean home. The Bundy's think Bud has no chance of ever attracting a date; running jokes mention his collection of blow-up rubber women. All characters have a common failing: none exercises good judgment.

In MWC Moye and Leavitt not only lampoon Cosby, they parody its creator, Marcy Carsey. The other continuing characters in Married...With Children are Al and Peggy's upscale next door neighbors, Jefferson and Marcy D'Arcy. Marcy and her husband serve as a device to entice and challenge the Bundy clan, then put them down. Marcy (Amanda Bearse) is a banker and activist for almost any cause which defeats Al's current get rich quick scheme. She marries Jefferson (Ted McGinley) while drunk and discovers him in her bed the next morning. He has no career although he has claimed to be a clever criminal, now living in the witness protection program. Marcy's first husband Steve Rhoades (David Garrison) makes frequent guest appearances.

The show had a small, loyal following until February 1989, and the producers had a history of arguments over taste and language with FOX's lone, part-time network censor. One episode, "A Period Piece" in which the Bundy and Rhoades families go camping, was delayed one month in the broadcast schedule because it focused on the women's menstrual cycles. Two months later, the episode scheduled for 19 February 1989, "I'll See You in Court," was pulled from the schedule and never aired on the FOX network. The episode involved sexual videotapes of Marcy and Steve, which Al and Peggy viewed when they rented a sleazy motel room. When both couples realized their activity at the motel was broadcast to other rooms, they sued. The jury chose to compensate the couples for their performance quality, with Al and Peggy getting no money.

That same winter, two weeks after "A Period Piece," an episode titled "Her Cups Runneth Over" led to a social stir. The segment featured Peggy's need for a new brassiere, which coincided with her birthday. Al and Steve traveled to a lingerie shop in Wisconsin where an older male receptionist wore nothing below his waist but panties, a garter belt, stockings and spike heeled shoes. Steve fingered leather-fringed falsies attached to the nipples of one near-naked mannequin; women flashed Al and Steve, though the nudity was not shown on camera.

One television viewer, Terry Rakolta, from the wealthy Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan took offense at the show after the brassiere episode. She saw her children watching the program and found both the language and partial nudity unacceptable for viewing during a time when children made up a large portion of the audience. Rakolta acted by writing to advertisers and asking them to question the association of their products with Married...With Children's content. She also brought her cause to national television news shows.

In March 1989 Rakolta said on Nightline, "I picked on Married...With Children because they are so consistently offensive. They exploit women, they stereotype poor people, they're anti-family. And every week that I've watched them, they're worse and worse. I think this is really outrageous. It's sending the wrong messages to the American family."

Rakolta had mixed success. Advertisers such as major movie studios and many retail stores refused to buy commercials on the new FOX network (prime time telecasts had started less than two years earlier). Media brokers cited a bad connotation. Newsweek magazine featured a front page story on "Trash TV" questioning the standards of taste in prime time television. Married...With Children and tabloid news shows such as A Current Affair were primary examples. Yet the greater effect was strongly positive.

Among FOX's greatest problems at the time of the controversy was limited viewer awareness. Many viewers simply did not know a fourth network existed. Related to this was the fact that a small, similar viewing group comprised FOX's entire audience. Moreover many FOX stations had weak UHF signals which were difficult to receive. Rakolta's complaints garnered substantial national publicity and this seemed to assist the network in solving many of its difficulties. After Nightline, Good Morning America, Today and most other national and local news shows featured the controversy over Married...With Children viewer awareness rose dramatically. People purposely sought out their local FOX affiliate and Married...With Children became a success.

By April 1989 Married...With Children had reached a 10 rating according to Nielsen's national measurements, the highest rating of any FOX show to that date. FOX began charging the same amount for commercials in Married...With Children that CBS asked for 60 Minutes. The program began intermittently winning its time slot.

By 1995, the show had become the longest-running situation comedy currently programmed on network television, on the air as long as the classic comedy Cheers. After many years, Married...With Children no longer pushed new boundaries of good taste and the jokes became routine and expected, even when still funny. The show did, however, have an extremely lucrative afterlife in daily syndication, running strongly for years in many markets. In Los Angeles, FOX's station KTTV ran the program twice each weekday in primetime access. Daily viewership for the show continues to be strong and with at least ten seasons of episodes to add variety to off-network nightly reruns MWC is likely to consistently remain one of the most successful properties in the history of television syndication.

-Joan Stuller-Giglione


Al Bundy....................................................... Ed O'Neill

Peggy Bundy.............................................. Katey Sagal

Kelly Bundy..................................... Christina Applegate

Bud Bundy .............................................David Faustino

Steve Rhoades (1987-1990)..................... David Garrison

Marcy Rhoades D'Arcy........................... Amanda Bearse

Jefferson D'Arcy (1991- ) ...........................Ted McGinley


Ron Leavitt, Michael G. Moye, Katherine Green, Richard Gurman, John Maxwell Anderson



April 1987-October 1987   Sunday 8:00-8:30

October 1987-July 1989   Sunday 8:30-9:00

July 1989--    Sunday 9:00-9:30


Block, Alex Ben. Outfoxed. New York: St. Martin's, 1990.

Impoco, Jim. "The Bundys Meet the Censors at FOX." U.S. News & World Report (Washington, D.C.), 11 September 1995.

"Steamy TV." Transcript. Nightline. American Broadcasting Company, 2 March 1989.

Stuller, Joan. FOX Broadcasting Company: A Fourth Network Entry within the Broadcasting Marketplace. (Masters Thesis, California State University, 1989).

"Too Bawdy at the Bundy's." Time (New York), 11 March 1989.

Michael Moye on co-creating Married...With Children
Gene LeBell on stunt work on Married... With Children
Ed O'Neill on shooting the pilot of Married...With Children
Ed O'Neill on his Married... with Children character, "Al Bundy's" walk and stance
Michael Moye on the cast and characters of Married...With Children
Vanna White on appearing on Married… With Children
Who talked about this show

Tim Conway

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Tim Conway on his guest appearances on Married...With Children

Barbara Corday

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Barbara Corday on her favorite shows at Columbia including Who's the Boss?, Married... With Children, and Designing Women

Gene LeBell

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Gene LeBell on stunt work on Married... With Children

Michael Moye

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Michael Moye on co-creating Married...With Children
Michael Moye on creating and casting Married...With Children
Michael Moye on the pilot, initial testing, network notes, and audience reaction to Married...With Children
Michael Moye on Married...With Children being "not The Cosbys"
Michael Moye on "the Rakolta incident" (so called because a woman named Terry Rakolta complained about content on Married...With Children) and FOX withholding fan mail; on subsequent problems with the network
Michael Moye on typical production on the show and working with Married...With Children co-creator Ron Leavitt 
Michael Moye on story ideas for Married...With Children that came from his life; on his favorite episodes of the show and the writing staff
Michael Moye on the cast and characters of Married...With Children
Michael Moye on the original and re-cast actors to play "Bud and Kelly Bundy" on Married...With Children
Michael Moye on the neighbors of the Bundys and supporting characters on Married...With Children
Michael Moye on "the lost episode" ("The Camping Episode") of Married...With Children
Michael Moye on the second "lost episode" of Married...With Children
Michael Moye on the proposed Married...With Children spin-off
Michael Moye on FOX's reaction to his proposed spin-off and leaving Married...With Children
Michael Moye on the legacy of Married...With Children
Michael Moye on the 2012 status between FOX and Married...With Children

Ed O'Neill

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Ed O'Neill on how starring in the play "Of Mice and Men" led to getting cast on Married...With Children
Ed O'Neill on how Married...With Children was described to him, and originally passing on the show
Ed O'Neill on the premise of Married...With Children and the success of the show
Ed O'Neill on how he's like his Married... with Children character, "Al Bundy"
Ed O'Neill on shooting the pilot of Married...With Children
Ed O'Neill on his Married... with Children character, "Al Bundy" and his strengths and weaknesses; on how "Al" evolved over the years
Ed O'Neill on his Married... with Children character, "Al Bundy's" walk and stance
Ed O'Neill on audience reaction to Married...With Children
Ed O'Neill on having his image on Married...With Children merchandise and promotions
Ed O'Neill on a typical work week on Married...With Children and shooting in front of a live audience
Ed O'Neill on his input on his Married...With Children character "Al Bundy," the atmosphere on set, and not getting along with a certain cast member
Ed O'Neill on working with Daivd Faustino, "Bud Bundy" on Married...With Children
Ed O'Neill on censorship issues on Married...With Children and the Terry Rakolta campaign
Ed O'Neill on working with Katey Sagal, "Peg Bundy" on Married...With Children
Ed O'Neill on his favorite episodes of Married...With Children
Ed O'Neill on how co-creator Michael Moye leaving the show affected Married...With Children
Ed O'Neill on why Married...With Children ended and never doing a "last show" wrap-up for the series
Ed O'Neill on where "Al Bundy" would be today
Ed O'Neill on the legacy of Married...With Children

Vanna White

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Vanna White on appearing on Married… With Children

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