The Dark Side Of Married... With Children

When "Married... With Children" first aired back in 1987, the series was the antithesis of every family sitcom that had preceded it. Gone was the sentiment, the family values, the moral of the story at the end of each episode. Instead, viewers were faced with a highly irreverent show that pushed the boundaries of what was considered acceptable on primetime television. This was no accidental formula; rather, a conscious effort on the part of the creators to stand out against what they perceived as their heavily sanitized competitors.

"We started the show as a response to the wave of sitcoms with an idealized family... They were 22-minute morality plays that ended with a gang hug," series co-creator Michael Moye told EW in 1994. "We thought somewhere out there, there's a group of people not being represented." Well, in lieu of a group hug, we got a "Whoa Bundy!", which is the closest the series ever got to old-fashioned family sentiment. As Moye points out, the series appealed to many Americans who felt that their lives were inharmonious with the comfortable, middle-class families of, say, "Family Ties" or "Growing Pains."

While the show remains much loved by fans, and, indeed, made stars out of Ed O'Neill, Christina Applegate, and Katey Sagal, there is a dark undercurrent scarcely considered. Though the principle cast formed a tight unit on set, there were numerous shady and tragic goings-on behind the scenes. From co-stars feuding to raunchy casting choices, this is the dark side of "Married... With Children."

David Faustino was crushing on his TV sister

Bud and Kelly were the terrible twosome of the Bundy brood, a sort of diss track on repeat (Bud was Grandmaster B, after all) whereby they would constantly throw pointed barbs at each other. However, Bud, it must be said, almost always came out the loser. Despite their on-screen animosity, there are rumors that David Faustino and Christina Applegate, who played the warring siblings, hooked up. 

In an interview with LA Weekly, Faustino was asked about this juicy gossip. While he remained coy, he nonetheless hinted at something borderline incestuous (well, sort of) having taken place. "I don't kiss and tell," he said. "Keep that one a mystery." Speaking with HipHopDX, he laughed off the rumors, claiming that he was merely bragging in his previous admissions. But Faustino wasn't the only one who had a thing for Applegate. 

During an appearance on the "Allegedly" podcast, Faustino revealed that George Harrison was infatuated with Applegate. During a chance encounter, the Beatle told Faustino that he was a huge fan of "Married... With Children." Subsequently, he said he wanted to do some pretty NSFW things to Applegate after seeing her as Kelly Bundy: Even aside from the huge age gap between the pair, this is more than a tad ick. The next day, Faustino returned to work and relayed the story to his fellow cast members. While the others found it hilarious, Applegate was left feeling humiliated by the revelation.

Note: The podcast mentioned above includes lewd language that may not be suitable for all listeners. 

The tragic reason Katey Sagal's pregnancy was written out of the show

In the Season 6 premiere "She's Having My Baby," Peggy reveals she's pregnant, much to the horror of Al. But fans were surprised when the show pulled a "Dallas" at the end of the season — that's right, it was all a dream and Peg was not expecting a child after all. Although the plotline was farcical, it hid a dark reality.

During filming, Katey Sagal became pregnant with her then-husband Jack White's child. But tragically, she suffered a stillbirth in 1991, and the writers omitted her pregnancy storyline. Per the Los Angeles Times, Sagal had been absent from several episodes as she dealt with the devastating loss. Opening up to Buffalo News shortly after the stillbirth, she revealed that she was in labor for 32 hours, almost 8 months into her pregnancy. "It was a girl. We would watch and talk to her," Sagal poignantly reflected.

Regarding the episode "Al Bundy, Shoe Dick," in which Peg's pregnancy was revealed to be a dream, Sagal said she found the whole experience to be rather unsettling. "It was just Al's 'scary dream.' The perfect way to handle it given the irreverent nature of our show," she wrote in her memoir, "Grace Notes." "Of course, just because Peg was never seen losing the baby didn't mean my stillbirth wasn't public knowledge. ... Odd to go through something so personal in public." She shared that she was harassed by lurking paparazzi following the harrowing loss.

Adult film actors were frequently hired on set

The "Married... With Children" audience was infamous for cheering — and leering — every time an attractive woman came on set. Back in 1994, EW noted that the live audience was filled with raucous bros who seemed to identify with Al Bundy's lust for buxom beauties. At times, the audience members were so boisterous that filming had to be paused until the hollering subsided. The writers certainly didn't help matters: David Faustino revealed that they purposely cast pornographic actors for the audience's titillation.

Speaking with HipHopDX, he said writers Ron Leavitt and Michael Moye "were two of the biggest horndogs of all time." He divulged that the pair would cast thirst traps for Al through NSFW means. "I mean, they had porn stars on the show," Faustino said. "Teri Weigel, she would come through all the time and she would be flashing everybody." He recalled an instance when Weigel put his head underneath her top, exposing the then 15-year-old to her bare breasts. Although he laughed off the experience as fulfilling his teen fantasy, it was admittedly a pretty inappropriate act to subject a literal child to.

Speaking of inappropriate behavior toward kids, Christina Applegate was a mere 15 years old when the show began. Despite this, she was highly sexualized from the outset of the show, with frequent shots of her bending over in tight clothing. It must be stressed: she was a literal child. No doubt, such scenes wouldn't fly today.

The show severely hampered Ed O'Neill's career prospects

Al Bundy undoubtedly remains an iconic sitcom character. But the role, while beloved by many, ended up doing a great deal of harm to Ed O'Neill's career. Somewhat inevitably, he was typecast after donning the famous Bundy shirt and slacks combo.

A 1991 profile in the Los Angeles Times highlights that O'Neill was an established dramatic actor prior to playing Al. But years of hurling insults at women who stepped into his failing shoe store had left the seasoned actor thoroughly typecast. In fact, when O'Neill did a screen test for a serious part in war movie "Flight of the Intruder," the audience burst out into laughter when he emerged on screen, despite the fact that he was performing in a highly somber scene. Ultimately, he lost out on the role because of this. "It's not as much my job as the audience's job to accept something else from me. ... Obviously, you're going to have some people who say, 'Oh, I only like him as Al,'" O'Neill told the outlet regarding his faltering film career. "That's just the way it is."

Speaking with Deseret News, O'Neill said that he prefers to distance himself from the Bundy patriarch. Moreover, he confessed that he was looking to discard the role in favor of rejuvenating his dramatic acting career. "After next year, I think I'll be looking to get out," he said in 1991. "After you get over 100 episodes, it's tough for the writers." However, the show continued for 6 more years.

Katey Sagal thought the show was misogynistic

Per EW, "Married... With Children" undeniably drew in a certain (male) demographic. As the outlet notes, "...'Married' hooks the testosterone crowd for several reasons: Its humor is locker-room, aggressive, insult driven. On every episode, you'll see at least one gratuitous cleavage shot or exposed navel." Subsequently, the hit series has been frequently called out as sexist. Dallas Observer argued that the sitcom is unmatched in its objectification of women and appeal to the male gaze. But it's not just critics who think the show demeaned women. In a surprise move, Peg Bundy herself, Katey Sagal, critiqued the show for its misogyny.

"It was a very misogynistic show," she said in a Build interview, adding, "Women were portrayed, like, completely exploited on that show. That was part of Al Bundy's thing. He liked hot women and they showed them all the time." When fans would confront her about taking on a role in an arguably chauvinistic sitcom, Sagal explained that it was her job to interpret the role from a woman's perspective, thereby subverting its inherent sexism. Although she acknowledged that the show was ultimately a satire, she nonetheless believed it to be misogynistic and exploitative.

When speaking with the Los Angeles Times in 1989, Ed O'Neill addressed the sexism controversy, but argued that Al Bundy was not someone fans should look up to. "The last thing I think Al should be is a role model. ... These characters are just supposed to make people laugh, not teach or enlighten anyone," he said.

Producers were dishonest to the cast

In 1997, "Married... With Children" ended after 11 years on air, per the Los Angeles Times. But it seems the show's stars were the last to find out. As Ed O'Neill recounted on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," he went back home to Youngstown, Ohio, when a newlywed couple declared that "Married... With Children" had been canceled, much to his surprise. "I said, 'I'd rather hear it from you!'" he joked. And he wasn't the only cast member who found out about the sitcom's cancellation in a rather inappropriate way.

During an interview on "Jimmy Kimmel Live," Christina Applegate said that she discovered the show was canceled from a friend who had been listening to the radio. "Kevin & Bean knew before me... Someone I knew had heard it on 'Kevin & Bean' and then called me to tell me that the show was canceled," she disclosed.

Not only did O'Neill and Applegate find out that the show was axed from secondary sources, but the stars were cheated out of royalties. While O'Neill was raking in a whopping $500,000 per episode by the end, David Faustino hasn't been quite so lucky when it comes to his bank balance. Speaking with Access, he admitted that he wasn't receiving a dime from "Married... With Children" reruns. Since the show was under a cable contract, the cast were not entitled to receive residuals. "We got really screwed over," Faustino admitted, adding, "Married With... Children has made over a billion dollars, and we didn't really get a piece of that."

Ed O'Neill vs. Amanda Bearse

The acrimony between lowly shoe salesman Al Bundy and his super successful yuppie neighbor Marcy resulted in many of "Married... With Children's" most acerbic one liners. Well, it appears that life imitated art: Ed O'Neill and Amanda Bearse did not get along at all. The two engaged in a feud, particularly toward the end of the series.

During a Q&A at Raleigh Supercon, Bearse was asked about her relationship with O'Neill and replied, "I follow the Thumper rule: if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all." Ouch. "He was not happy towards the end of the series and so, that affected everything," she added, noting that by the finale she was directing most of the episodes, which apparently displeased O'Neill.

Speaking for the Archive of American Television, O'Neill didn't mince words when it came to his dispute with Bearse. Explaining that the pair initially got along really well, O'Neill said their relationship began to sour, which he (rather dubiously) attributed to her transforming from "feminine and cute" to increasingly masculine as the series went on. "As she became more masculine, she became a little more snarky," he claimed. Subsequently, the pair got into heated and vicious arguments. O'Neill also revealed that he and David Faustino didn't get invited to Bearse's wedding, which upset them. Bearse told the pair that they weren't invited because they would ruin the ceremony by laughing at two women getting married in tuxedos. O'Neill started laughing, proving his co-star's point.

This controversial episode was pulled after complaints

Being dissimilar to much of the sitcom fare of the '80s and '90s, "Married... With Children" was frequently met with controversy. Per The New York Times, a woman named Terry Rakolta even campaigned to boycott the show. Rakolta successfully got a number of advertisers, including the likes of McDonald's, to pull their ads from Fox. ”I care that there are advertisers out there paying the freight for this,” she said. ”They're taking my dollars and putting them into soft-core pornography.”

And the controversy didn't end there. The Season 3 episode "I'll See You in Court" ended up being cut as it was deemed too sexually provocative. The plot centered on Al and Peg (plus Marcy and her then-husband Steve) heading to a motel, and, unbeknownst to them, making sex tapes due to hidden cameras in the room, per Television Academy Foundation. It wasn't until 2004 that fans could finally watch the lost episode, when it was released on DVD, per TV Shows On DVD.

Despite Rakolta's efforts to have "Married... With Children" axed, the controversy ultimately aided the show's ratings. As Katey Sagal explained to Marc Maron on "WTF Podcast" (via The Hollywood Reporter), they thanked Rakolta for inadvertently boosting the sitcom's popularity. "We sent her flowers every year," she joked. "She tried to get us off the air and all it did was get us on the front of The New York Times. And it doubled our audience."

Katey Sagal's secret personal struggles

Peggy Bundy was the sassy antidote to every housewife stereotype on TV: Loud, brash, and unapologetically lascivious. The actor who superbly personified her, Katey Sagal, also had an unconventional life, albeit in a far more harrowing way. Ever since she was a teenager, Sagal struggled with drug use, which began after a family doctor gave her diet pills when she was just 14, per "Grace Notes."

As Sagal recalled to ABC News, it was her multiple family tragedies that exacerbated her addiction. When she was 21, her mom died of a heart attack. Then, just a few years later, her father was killed in a freak helicopter accident when he was filming a TV series. "My way of dealing [with] things in the moment was to very much check out, was to kind of anesthetize myself, numb myself," she told the outlet. Sagal hid her drug addiction, but her burgeoning acting career also motivated her to get sober. One day, she met a woman on a TV set who was going through a similar experience; her advice helped to completely transform Sagal's life. After speaking to the woman, Sagal discovered that sobriety was a pathway entirely within her grasp.

In a chat with Bustle, she revealed that within just two months of getting sober, she landed her role on "Married...With Children." Accordingly, the show aided her recovery from addiction. "I stayed sober, and watched all the people around me, and I learned how to do what I do now," she stated.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Amanda Bearse thought the show was cruel and mean-spirited

Much has been made of the absence of sentiment on "Married...With Children." Co-creator Michael Moye addressed the show's outrageously profane nature in a 1989 interview with the Los Angeles Times, explaining that he wanted to create a series that would serve as a challenge to the numerous sickly sweet sitcoms that aired at the time. But some have argued that this propelled the show toward outright callousness at times.

"It was a raunchy, mean-spirited show... It couldn't have been made today, I'm not sure it should have been made then," Amanda Bearse told the Fayetteville Observer. In an interview with news.com.au, Bearse also disclosed that she faced sexist harassment in the industry, which led to her abandoning acting. Although she did not explicitly blame her experiences on "Married... With Children" for the career change, she divulged that she was frequently bullied both in front of and behind the cameras (Bearse, it should be noted, both acted in and directed the show).

Ed O'Neill admitted that he believed the series was cruel at the best of times, but argued that this cruelty was central to the comedy. "I always thought that comedy is basically mean-spirited," he told the Los Angeles Times. Moreover, speaking with Deseret News, he argued that many people disliked the show because it exposed some unpleasant truths about marriage. "A lot of people who watch that say it's horrible: 'Why should you have to live like that?' Well, you DO live like that, probably," he bluntly suggested.