The ABC sitcom Mr. Belvedere premiered on March 15, 1985, but the character's history goes back even further

By Drew Mackie
Updated March 15, 2015 08:20 AM
Credit: ABC Photo Archives/ABC/Getty

On March 15, 1985, ABC debuted Mr. Belvedere at 8:30 p.m. as a midseason replacement airing immediately after that other show about a wise-cracking butler, Benson. The show centered on a proper British butler (Christopher Hewett) adjusting to life working for the Owens family of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. And for six seasons, characters on the show and the people watching them chose not to think too much about how strange it was that a middle-class family would have a live-in butler.

The show hit that family-comedy sweet spot right along with Family Ties, Growing Pains, Full House and The Cosby Show, and kids who didn’t catch the first airing had ample opportunity to watch it in syndicated form well into the mid-’90s. That means that a certain generation grew up on the life lessons Mr. Belvedere jotted in his diary at the end of every episode.

In celebration of the show’s 30th anniversary, enjoy some trivia tidbits about the series that even some of its biggest fans might not know.

Mr. Belvedere Is Older Than You Think

Check out the above trailer for the 1948 comedy Sitting Pretty.

Yep, that’s more or less the same Lynn Aloysius Belvedere – prim, snooty but with a heart of gold, still helping a clueless American family get through life. The role was originated by Clifton Webb, who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance.

Based on Gwen Davenport’s 1947 novel Belvedere, Sitting Pretty proved successful enough that Webb reprised the role in two sequels: 1949’s Mr. Belvedere Goes to College, which costarred Shirley Temple, and Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell in 1951. And before the sitcom premiered in 1985, Hollywood had attempted Belvedere pilots in 1956, 1959 and 1965. The one we know and love was the only one to make it to series.

That Theme Song Wasn’t Written for Mr. Belvedere

What is an ’80s sitcom without a catchy, tone-setting theme song? Mr. Belvedere had one of the best, but this composition – by Gerry Portnoy and Judy Hart-Angelo, who also wrote the Cheers and Punky Brewster themes – was originally for a different show about hired help. (It starred Michael Richards and ultimately debuted in 1987 with another theme song and the title Marblehead Manor.) Portnoy eventually released the full version of the song in 2007.

The Show’s “Very Special Episodes” Hit Hard

Most of us remember Mr. Belvedere as a sort of non-magical Mary Poppins, solving the Owens family’s problems and dropping quips left and right. But the show also tackled decidedly serious topics that a lot of other sitcoms of this era didn’t. In “Wesley’s Friend,” the youngest Owens (Brice Beckham) finds out his classmate has AIDS, and in “The Counselor,” Wesley confronts a camp counselor who touched him inappropriately.

Bob Uecker Pulled Double Duty

In the pilot, patriarch George works in construction, but from the second episode on, he works as a sports journalist, which complemented Uecker’s ongoing gig as the play-by-play announcer for the Milwaukee Brewers. Uecker kept the gig throughout the run of Mr. Belvedere. In real life, Bob Uecker’s only previous major acting role was as the announcer in Major League.

But It Paid Off

Uecker’s baseball creds were put to especially good use to kick off the show’s final season. The episode features a dream team of baseball guest stars: Mickey Mantle, Reggie Jackson, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Harmon Killebrew, and Johnny Bench. It also featured Robert Goulet, who guest starred on the show four separate times as himself.

Fans Saved It from Cancellation

Though popular, Mr. Belvedere was never a ratings powerhouse, and ABC canned it at the end of the show’s third season. Long before viewer campaigns saved cult shows like Friday Night Lights and Chuck from cancellation, outcry about the loss of a well-made family show convinced execs to bring Belvedere back. It stayed on for three more seasons.

There Are “Lost” Episodes

The last regular episode aired on Dec. 30, 1989, and the show vanished until the following July, when ABC aired the two-part finale, which concludes with Mr. Belvedere ending his confirmed bachelorhood and heading off to Africa with his new wife. However, ten episodes never aired on ABC, only in syndication – meaning there may yet be episodes that Belvedere superfans haven’t seen.

Steve Urkel Killed Mr. Belvedere

Though it anchored a family-friendly Friday night block on ABC for years, Mr. Belvedere never aired as part of TGIF. When that branded, two-hour lineup debuted in the fall of 1989, Mr. Belvedere‘s final season shifted to Saturdays to make way for a new show, Family Matters. “Did I do that?” Yes, Steve. You did.

But Mr. Belvedere Lived On

And no, not just in the form of reruns. In 1997, Hewett played himself on an episode of the Debra Messing sitcom Ned & Stacey. However, true to his sitcom persona, Hewett ends up counseling the show’s characters and even concluded the episode by writing in his diary. It was Hewett’s final performance. The actor passed away on Aug. 3, 2001.