Every era has its own specific genre of TV show, and within that genre there’s a hierarchy: the forerunners, the second-rate but solid middle class and the imitators. For example, in the late ’90s you had shows like Friends and Seinfeld at the forefront of the “good-looking single young people in NY” genre, and then a second tier, with shows like Mad About You, that were good, not great, but still run for over 100 episodes, and then you had outright copycats like The Single Guy and It’s Like…You Know that burn out after one or two seasons. Or in the 1970s (as you can read much more about in the AV Club’s ‘70s Sitcom Primer), you had the top dogs like All in the Family and Mary Tyler Moore, then a second level with series like Maude and Rhoda, and then the bottom rung with shows we’ve never heard of because we’re too young (but possibly including Bridget Loves Birney). Likewise, the late ’80s/early ’90s was the golden age for saccharine, safe, wholesome family sitcoms, a genre which basically dominated the airwaves from about 1986 until Seinfeld and Friends changed the game in the mid-’90s. Your preeminent shows in this era included The Cosby Show, Growing Pains and Full House, who were a cut above other successful shows like Who’s The Boss?, Family Matters and Major Dad; and then you had the bottom layer, cheap xeroxes and flashes in the pan like Baby Talk, Getting By, and Day By Day. Right there, in that second tier – the shows that never set the ratings world on fire, programs that are not looked back on as innovators in the genre, and yet ran for many seasons in first run broadcast and in syndication – you can find The Hogan Family. Premiering in 1986 as Valerie, starring Valerie Harper (of MTM and Rhoda, mentioned above), and morphing into Valerie’s Family and ultimately the Hogan Family after Harper left the show due to creative differences following the second season (killed off via car accident on the show), the show ran for 6 seasons with 110 ten episodes across two networks. It never won any major awards, was never critically acclaimed, and was never atop the Nielsens. And yet it was a staple on NBC for many seasons (paired with ALF, natch), and could be seen for years in reruns on local channels and basic cable networks. Buoyed by Sandy Duncan, who stepped in for Harper as Aunt Sandy (creative!), it was a workhorse; a dependable, middle of the road sitcom that perhaps defines the era. Also, no other show featured Edie McClurg and Willard Scott.
Before he was Michael Bluth, Jason Bateman was David Hogan, and if not for the brilliance of Arrested Development (which couldn’t be further from The Hogan Family on the sitcom scale) that could have been his most memorable role (besides Teen Wolf Too. And this). But The Hogan Family is where he cut his chops (and for which his work as director qualified him as the youngest ever member of the DGA), and you can see a little bit of oldest brother David Hogan in most responsible brother Michael Bluth, both of whom often had to play the father figure in their respective TV families.
Indeed, one could argue that Bateman’s finest work can be found in the Hogan Family episode “Burned Out, as the Hogan clan, still reeling from the loss of their matriarch, must watch helplessly as their house burns down, the result of a rogue lamp in the attic (because that sort of thing happened in those days). Scroll to approximately 6:00 to see Bateman work his magic.
Interesting bit of trivia about this episode, courtesy of Wikipedia:
The episode had a commercial tie-in with the McDonald’s Corporation, who financed the expenses accrued in damaging the set for the fire. As a sponsor that evening, McDonald’s commercials aired promoting fire safety.
Because that makes sense.
McDonald’s, we know we speak for Jason Bateman when we say thank you. Thank you.
And, because it’s somewhat relevant, let us again remind you about Justine Bateman.