The Girl Who Was The '90s: Mayim Bialik And Her TV Family Reflect On 25 Years Of 'Blossom'
By Ashley Burns and Chloe Schildause
Before she would become a role model and fashion icon for teenage girls all over America, Blossom Russo was just a kid sister and a secondary character. Blossom creator Don Reo’s original vision for a coming of age sitcom revolved around a teenage boy named Richie, with an older brother named Anthony and a kid sister named Blossom, being raised by a single dad. But since there were already several series focusing on teenage boys at the time, including The Wonder Years, an NBC executive named Leslie Lurie offered Reo a suggestion: “Why don’t you make it about the girl?”
Reo liked the idea and decided to use it, as he jokes today that it meant he “could steal all the stories The Wonder Years did and no one would ever know.” However, that wasn’t the only change that would be made to Reo’s Blossom pilot that aired on July 5, 1990. Instead of a hip single dad raising three kids — inspired by a visit to the home of legendary singer Dion DiMucci — the network requested that the family have a mom and dad in the picture, and the dad not be a cool musician. Instead, Terry Russo was an accountant and Barbara Russo worked in finance, and the young Blossom had to cope with the fact that her parents were considering a divorce.
Had the pilot worked, Blossom might have been an entirely different series when the first season began as a midseason replacement on January 3, 1991. Fortunately for everyone involved, the pilot didn’t work. To tell the story of how Blossom became a show about a rockin’ single dad raising his iconic teenage daughter, we caught up with Reo, Mayim Bialik, Ted Wass, Mike Stoyanov, and Jenna von Oÿ.
(Sadly, Joey Lawrence was unavailable. To that, we offer the saddest “Woah” imaginable.)
Chapter 1: The Real Faces of a New Generation
“The fact that it was written by a man who was that much in touch with it is even more incredible.” (Getty Image)
As soon as he met 13-year-old Mayim Bialik, Don Reo knew that he was dealing with a star. Sure, he auditioned a few other actresses for the network’s sake, but he knew Bialik had the potential and talent to shine. There was just one problem — she was also starring in the Fox series Molloy, which filmed its episodes a year earlier. Had Molloy been successful, Reo and NBC would have lost their star, but Molloy’s ratings were bad and the show was canceled. Bialik was then free to focus on Blossom, which was the script that excited her more.
At the same time, Jenna von Oÿ had been cast on the sitcom Lenny after appearing in the Blossom pilot. Legend has it that Melissa Joan Hart was first offered the role of Six, but Reo insists that von Oÿ was the one and only girl for the role. In fact, he refused to let her go because of the way that she owned the role of Blossom’s best friend. Whatever it would take, Reo would bring these young actresses together for his new show.
Don Reo, Creator: My intention was to have two girls who looked like and talked liked the girls I knew, the teenagers I knew. Not doing smart-ass jokes that came out of a writers’ room but reflected the turmoil and the insecurity of those years. And they weren’t cookie-cutter actresses. They weren’t the prettiest little blonde girls that you’d see on the Disney shows. They looked real and they had character in their faces and those people were not on television and I thought, the audience that I’m looking for will respond to these people because they are these people.
Mayim Bialik, “Blossom Russo”: I read the Blossom script and it was the first script I had ever read where I laughed out loud. You could tell in that first script, a very unusual sense of humor and it really suited my sense of humor. A lot had happened on the show Molloy. Our original creator George Beckerman had ended up leaving, and he was kind of the heart of the show for me, and they brought in a couple other people to take over but it just wasn’t the same. They changed the casting, everything changed. It became a lot of like, breast jokes — not about mine — but Blossom was a really welcome shift.
Reo: I never considered anyone else. We did read a couple of other girls we took to the network for the part. But there was never any doubt in my mind, from the moment I first laid eyes on her, that she was the character. Same thing is true of Jenna von Oÿ.
Jenna von Oÿ, “Six Lemeure”: I started doing Lenny and about halfway through the first season I got a phone call: “Blossom got picked up for a midseason replacement, we revamped the show a little bit. It’s a single father now instead of two parents and we’d still love to have you on the show. We realize you’re on this other show but we tried to recast it and we just can’t get our heads beyond this Six we already had.” Then Lenny got canceled and so I continued on with Blossom. I wasn’t even thinking about the show at the time. We all thought it ended, over and done with, and they’d given it a shot and it didn’t work. To my knowledge one of the reasons that Blossom was as successful as it was, or at least the reason that it continued on, was because Warren Littlefield, who was the president of NBC at the time , had a daughter who said, “No dad, I love this show.” He realized that it actually spoke to the audience that it needed to speak to. I really think that’s probably why we got a second life on it.
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Bialik: There wasn’t another show about girls. [Laughs.] So it was very unusual and kind of amazing for Don to be brave enough to do that show. Obviously we had plenty of male characters, but the notion that you could have a TV show about girls was not easy, and the thing that people say is that girls will watch boys and girls will watch girls but boys will only watch boys.
Reo: [Mayim] had a lot of input. From the moment I met her she was an astounding kid. She was old when she was 13. When I first met her, she was an old soul. We sort of developed this character together. I would consult with her, we would go out to dinner once a week and we would talk about music and clothing and life and all kinds of things. She was just a fascinating human being and I couldn’t say I developed this character myself. We did it together.
von Oÿ: The beauty of Blossom was that Don took these sort of normal, quirky, real-life girls and put them on television for all the world to see and said, “This is awkwardness and this is what everyone’s going through at the same time. Can you relate?” Girls our age, it really did resonate with them, it really did make sense because it was what they were in the middle of, what they were right in the throes of at that time. I was a gawky teenager with acne and I liked to dress in a really strange, funny style that not everybody else in my conservative Connecticut home was wearing.
Reo: I cast [Jenna] from a videotape, she was living in Connecticut at the time and we were trying to cast that part, and she put herself on tape, which rarely works. It’s never worked before or since in my experience. But she was on a piece of video tape wearing a silly hat and talking 48 miles a minute and I thought, “This is her, this is the kid.” So we cast her.
von Oÿ: I wore a wide-brim purple hat to the initial audition of Blossom and when I got the callback they said, “And bring the hat.” I think the coolest thing for me from that whole process, and it will probably never in my career happen again so I felt really blessed to have had it happen even that once, was that I went to the callback and I got a call that they were flying me out to L.A. for the screen test, and I was the only girl at the screen test, just me. They introduced me to Mayim before I actually went in front of NBC, and it was me because Don said I was his one and only choice, and he wholeheartedly believed that I was Six and Six was me. The fact that it was written by a man who was that much in touch with it is even more incredible. Don did such an incredible job of bringing funny and reality to being a 13-year-old girl.
Reo: I don’t think they were as close and Blossom and Six, because Blossom and Six were fictional characters who were attached to each other at the hip. These were professional actresses that worked together. They liked each other, but they weren’t Blossom and Six. No, Blossom and Six were these friends of an epic proportion.
von Oÿ: The chemistry was immediate, there’s no question. When I met her before I screen-tested they introduced us ahead of time and had her read with me in the room because, if we’re being honest, what casting director can really play the best friend to a 12-year-old girl and have it be believable in front of a network? That would be a tough scene to pull off and so they thought, what better way to prove that these kids are meant to be on screen together than to have them in the room together? I’m so appreciative that they saw that, that they understood the camaraderie needed to be there for us. It was neat to have someone else my age on the set and I think that’s only grown over time, that friendship.
Bialik: I was a very, very moody, dark person. All the fun that we had that you see on screen we had in real life. We learned to dance together, we took tap dancing, for a couple years of the time there we would take tap dancing at lunch time, we had a teacher come and teach both of us. We had a great time. I’m sure you can fake that kind of chemistry but we happened to really enjoy what we did.
von Oÿ: [Mayim] would sit on the set and listen to Elvis Costello and do the New York Times crossword in pen, it was awesome. She was not afraid of being unique and she still isn’t. That’s one of the things I love most about her and it’s the reason we’re still friends, honestly. I respect that.
Chapter 2: You Can Pick Your Family
“I had brothers but I never had a sister so it was fun to have a baby sister, even if it was a TV baby sister.” (Getty Image)
“I was not business savvy at all,” Bialik says of her mindset as a child actress, but she has to acknowledge that she had a heck of an eye for talent. Once Reo convinced NBC President Brandon Tartikoff, who preceded Littlefield, to let him go with the original idea for a hip, divorced musician father of three, the showrunner and producers Paul Junger Witt and Tony Thomas had to choose a new actor to replace Richard Masur. Witt and Thomas immediately thought of Ted Wass, who starred on their previous comedy Soap. He took a little convincing, but once Bialik read with him, she was convinced they’d found her dad — even if they looked nothing alike — and she urged Reo to make it happen. And she knew a thing or two about finding the right actors.
Reo: She saw Michael Stoyanov on some show and said, “This guy looks like me. We should have him in to read for the part,” and he read for the part and got the part. I don’t remember any other serious contenders.
Bialik: It’s an interesting thing that Witt/Thomas used to do. They often would cast people in smaller roles then end up using them in larger roles. My first television job ever was for Witt/Thomas/[Susan] Harris. I had one scene in Beauty and the Beast with Ron Perlman. Then I ended up doing an episode of Empty Nest. One night I was watching Empty Nest — my idea of a great Saturday night was watching Empty Nest with my mom — and this guy came on and he literally looked more like me than my own brother. I was hired to be on this show and of course it was special to be the star of a show, but it’s not like they were saying to me, “What actors do you want?” But I remember, and I’ve never done this, I called my agent and I said, “I just saw this guy on Empty Nest and he needs to play my brother because he looks more like me than my real brother.” He put a call in and apparently they had already called Michael [Stoyanov] in and he was so perfect in every way for that role.
Michael Stoyanov, “Anthony Russo”: They were very happy with what I was doing and they certainly recognized that there was maybe more than a passing resemblance between me and this young star that they were building a show around, Mayim Bialik. I read the whole script so the character was pretty intact at the pilot stage. He was just coming out of rehab and had a rough time in his late teens in regards to partying and drugs and alcohol and things like that, and was sort of a recluse. I have one scene in the pilot and it’s late at night and I’m making myself coffee and I’m the mysterious brother that she hadn’t seen much of in a while, and we reconnect and we have a strong affinity for each other. I become her pillar of advice or sage wisdom, an older sibling type and her to me as well. Mayim and her mom and dad were like, “Oh you look just like Isaac,” her brother, which I always thought was funny. We definitely had a sibling-type relationship. I had brothers but I never had a sister so it was fun to have a baby sister, even if it was a TV baby sister.
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Bialik: Michael and I had the same taste in music and we dressed the same. That was like a joke. I had a huge crush on Michael and since we had a lot of funny things that he and Joey and I would do, little bits we would do to make ourselves laugh mostly. But yeah, I was much closer to Michael and much more attached to him.
Stoyanov: I thought, this girl is really, really talented and really fun. I might have seen her on Johnny Carson going way back, so I had an awareness of her and I thought she was super-talented and had a really magnetic presence that you wanted to watch more and more. I was very excited to be on a show that she was going to be the center of because I felt like it gave us a really good chance for success, because she was young and smart and interesting and funny.
Reo: Ted Wass read with some other people and it was just an instant connection between he and Mayim, and Mayim really liked him and Ted really liked her, so that was natural.
Ted Wass, “Nick Russo”: Even though I loved the script and thought the role was really cool, my first reaction was, “I don’t want to be an actor anymore.” So, I turned it down. The guys that were producing it, Paul Witt and Tony Thomas, had produced Soap, the television series that I had done when I first came to Los Angeles. I remember they called me up and they were like, “Hey, look, we’re friends. You can’t just pass on us. You have to come in and talk to us.” I was like, “Okay.” That’s when I first met Don Reo, who’s become one of my closest friends. And I’m sitting there with these three guys and they’re like, “What’s the problem? Why don’t you want to do this?” And I was like, “Guys, I want to be a director.” And all three of them burst into laughter, like belly laughing right in my face. I’m like, “Guys, I’m not really sure why you’re laughing so hard about all this.” It was Tony Thomas who said, “Hey man, that’s fine. Play the part and we’ll let you direct.” I was like, “Are you kidding?” And they’re like, “No!” Great, I’m in. Because I love the project and I know it will be fun and I know how great you guys are and that was it. Once they said they would give me an opportunity I was in.
Bialik: Ted looks as far from my biological parents as possible. I come from an Eastern European Jewish blend of very prominent features and Ted didn’t look like me that way, but his vibe was so great and he had such a great feel for the character and we wanted this to be a young, hip dad. He almost seemed too young to be my dad. But it was just so perfect and I said to Don, “I really want Ted to be the one they pick.” And Don said, “Yeah, me too.” But it wasn’t like, if Mayim Bialik says so. It wasn’t like that with teen actors then. [Laughs.]
Wass: We had a reading in front of the network and it went so well. Mayim and I had an instant chemistry. We had a wonderful rapport with each other. We fit, we looked like a daddy and a daughter. I think we all kind of felt like I was the guy. I don’t know any more specifically how she may have felt about it other than both of us just agreeing that, from the very beginning when we first met and started working on it together, that we were a terrific fit together for that.
Stoyanov: Ted and I had a quasi-father/son, buddy-buddy relationship. We were both fans of boxing at the time and we’d go and watch big fights either here in L.A. or in Vegas and we had a lot of fun. He was one of the hardest people to say goodbye to and I miss him a ton, and you tell him that his wayward son will definitely be looking to give him a call. But at this point I don’t even think I have his number, I’ll have to call his people.
Reo: I was totally confident from day one they were great. That was a great cast that just meshed and they were the characters that I saw in my head and more. They brought other things to those characters and made them come to life.
Chapter 3: “Woah”
“There were girls in the front row throwing undergarments at him and he didn’t even know what they were.” (Getty Image)
Every sitcom typically has its “dumb” character, or the person whose sole purpose on the show is to crack us up. Blossom had a much more serious side than most of the teen-oriented comedies before it, so it would need a truly dumb character to elicit the strongest laughs from the audience. Joey Lawrence’s portrayal of Joey Russo was so good that he often stole scenes from his TV family, and it certainly didn’t hurt that he was quite the heartthrob. In the middle of Season three (Feb. 1993), Lawrence released his self-titled album, featuring the hit single, “Nothin’ My Love Can’t Fix.” At age 16, he was a full-blown star and on the cover of every teen magazine on the planet. On any other show, that might have caused a problem or two, but not Blossom, even if the girls in the studio audience were throwing their underwear at him.
Reo: Joey had been a child star [on Gimme a Break!], so he was sort of a known commodity. He was the most famous of all the people in the cast at the time, and he was so charming and so handsome, he had a very funny spirit. The other characters were darker. Blossom was a very dark character in my mind, and by that I mean she was cynical and so was Anthony, in a way. But the character Joey, originally called Donnie, was this kind of different color. Again, he was the dumb character but he had a kind of intelligence to his dumbness that I found was a lot of fun to write.
Bialik: It’s hard to remember because there was no social media then. He was highly recognizable, obviously, but it’s not like we were all going to parties or living a party life. He and I spent more than one Halloween together just watching TV when we were working together because we didn’t have active social lives. So we just still thought he was the same goofy Joey that he always was. He liked fancy cars and jewelry and those sorts of things, but he’s an immensely talented comedian and just a really skilled performer. To me that was always his strength, not his rock hard abs.
Stoyanov: Joey and Mayim, they were so funny. It was the contrast of her more cerebral, erudite take on life and his sort of hunky, funny… there’s a long lineage of that sort of character going back to Tony Danza on Taxi and the other Joey from Friends. I definitely picked up on that and then I would play scenes like that, too, like you’re dealing with a pet almost. We’d have scenes where at the end I’d be like, “Go to college, Joe. For the love of God, go to college.” And that dynamic was great because Joey was amazing at inhabiting that role. It was so fun to be the more learned one, like this kid is so beautiful but so dumb. It worked so well. Again, I’m talking about the character. I don’t want to see a headline splash that says, “Blossom Feud: Stoyanov Calls Lawrence So Beautiful But So Dumb.” I’m talking about Joey Russo, not Joey Lawrence. Joey Lawrence is a very bright guy and was a very bright kid, really sweet.
von Oÿ: I was completely head over heels for that guy for a long time. Even maybe into his, “Nothin’ my love can’t fix for you baby” days. I was all about the giant lion’s mane hair and him looking in the mirror and fixing it. I was all about it. [Laughs.] I think, like every other girl across America in the ’90s, I had a very extreme crush on Joey Lawrence. He knows that so it’s fine. I’m happy to announce that. And he was really so gracious and kind to a smitten and starry-eyed little girl.
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Wass: Back in that day you always hoped that you had a young, good-looking kid on your show that would become a heartthrob. And if the kid became a heartthrob it really helped with the success of the series and I know we were, Joey was so young when we started and so naïve. I’ve told this story before but I think it was very early in the second season we came out for introductions and Joey came out before me and some girls in the front row threw undergarments at him. They were lying on the floor right in front of us and I came out, take a bow, and I notice them. Joey turned to me and he said, “What is that? What is that?” He wasn’t even sure what it was. I remember jokingly saying to him, “That’s a house at the beach, man. We’re going to be on the air for a long time” [Laughs.] Because they were crazy for him. There were girls in the front row throwing undergarments at him and he didn’t even know what they were. He was so sweet. So sweet.
von Oÿ: I think there was no way for him to ignore that girls would throw panties. They’d sit in the audience and throw panties at the stage, at him, so when it gets to the point where panties are hitting you in the head, it’s kind of hard to ignore. [Laughs.] I can only imagine when I read some of the fan letters I received back then, what kind of fan letters he was receiving.
Stoyanov: It was great and so welcome because all it meant was that the show was going to be more popular and we were going to be able to on the air more and I was going to be able to play Anthony longer. I definitely had an awareness of how that could happen and I worked on 90210 afterward and I had worked on some shows with people who were enjoying the same level of teen sensation stardom. It was nice to see someone like Joey, who is really ultimately at a fundamental level just such a sweet guy, get that sort of thing he wanted. Then it enabled him, he was always very interested in music and his popularity on the show allowed for him to explore that side of his palette. It was great, it was really gratifying. It worked out in a really fortunate way for me and for the show.
Reo: It came out of nowhere. It was all of sudden he blew up, he became a teen idol. It was certainly fortuitous but it was not something we expected. You can’t plan on that kind of thing, it just happens. And it just happened. He had all the right stuff and he was in the right place at the right time and boom, there it was. Whoa, I should say.
Chapter 4: Growing Up on Camera
“There are a lot of horror stories from the ’80s and ’90s, a lot of sets where there were drinking and drugs, and we had none of that.” (Getty Image)
Lawrence wasn’t the only cast member that achieved teen superstardom because of Blossom. As the series gained popularity, with more and more celebrities, including Will Smith and ALF, making cameos, Bialik and von Oÿ became legitimate teen icons, and the actresses were receiving thousands of fan letters a week. Their creative and often unusual wardrobes (created by costume designer Sherry Thompson) borrowed from some already popular trends, but eventually they became the inspirations for a massive spike in the sale of floppy hats. Bialik also wound up on the cover of a magazine, and for her it was about way more than being a dream crush or teen queen. But what made all of it so incredible was how grounded these actors remained in the process.
Bialik: To me Sassy magazine was the magazine that epitomized strong, feminist women. A lot of people don’t know about Sassy magazine. It was set to really turn the advertising world on its head and say, “What if we stop taking your crappy ads and we make a magazine that’s empowering and only buy ad space with people we believe in?” It was the only teen magazine at the time that actually reported what the celebrities were like that they interviewed. I remember reading an article, I won’t say who it’s about, but it was a very young, famous, hot celebrity guy and he showed up an hour late for the interview and was a total jerk. The writer basically wrote, “He showed up an hour late and he was a total jerk.” [Laughs.] I remember thinking, this is the magazine that is me. I don’t want to read fake articles about what we want people to be like. That never sat well with me. So being interviewed for Sassy magazine was a highlight of my teen life because it was the magazine that I believed in who wanted to believe in me.
Reo: They all seemed to handle it really well. It was interesting because when we first met Mayim she had done Beaches and so some people knew who she was, and she had done a few episodes of a series at Fox, but she wasn’t famous. Then, as the years went by and we would keep going out to dinner, because we did that once a week, all of the sudden everybody knew who she was. I watched that happen, but these kids all had really strong parents and they all seemed to survive that transition which causes enormous problems for a lot of people, from child star to adult. It’s not a transition that is the easiest thing in the world.
Wass: A lot of how well that went for them was heavily influenced by the leadership of Paul Witt and Tony Thomas and Don. I think they are such experienced producers that once they sensed that Blossom was going to be successful and that the kids’ careers were going to take off, I just felt like they created a climate. I would really have to give a big nod to Paul and Tony and Don for managing it as well as they did. Something like that could go sideways really fast. I don’t think it ever really did.
Bialik: Joey is a year younger than me and Jenna is two years younger than me, so we were happy to have other kids around. I think it was really good chemistry from the start. Paul and Tony were very easygoing. It was a really nice set, there are a lot of horror stories from the ’80s and ’90s, there were a lot of sets where there were drinking and drugs, and we had none of that. We had a completely sober set, our crew was really great. It was really smooth.
von Oÿ: At some point, obviously, we had to have some concept of the fact that people liked the show and that it was doing well, because we went from anonymity to going to a concert and people were suddenly asking us for autographs. Meanwhile, we were there to see the performers and thought, “Oh that’s weird, suddenly I’m on the other side of this and didn’t expect to be.” But it really was that sudden.
Stoyanov: Of course I got the thousands of letters from young females who adored me. No, wait, that was Joey. Sorry, I get confused between the two of us.
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von Oÿ: I think it was Ian Ziering, many, many years ago when he was still on 90210, who said, “I get letters in crayon and I get letters in lipstick,” and I’ve never forgotten that phrase. I hope I’m attributing it to the right person but that’s always stuck with me because it’s true, you would actually get letters written by little kids whose class watched an episode of your show because the teacher brought it in to teach them a lesson that she couldn’t figure out any other way to teach them. I would get letters from girls who said, “My parents are going through a divorce and I feel like it’s my fault, and I watched an episode of Blossom where your parents got divorced and you felt the same way and I realized I wasn’t alone.” What a neat way to reach out to people.
Stoyanov: In all honesty, and all joking aside, I did get lots of touching mail and correspondence from people who cited the fact that they’ve had similar problems and they were surprised and happy to see a character that they identified with, that reminded them of themselves on mainstream network TV. I’m sure getting letters from thousands of adoring female fans would be great, too, but you’d have to ask Joey about that one.
Bialik: Joey spent a lot of his teenage years being like Mr. Joe Cool but he was also really goofy and we just had a good time. Michael was my main source of entertainment and inspiration for those years. He and I still talk and get together. He was a major influence in my life. Like a big brother right there at work. When he left it was very hard for me. That was my hardest year, was when he wasn’t there.
Stoyanov: That was a tough one. I think we had all wanted the pop-in, pop-out recurring aspect, that would have been the best. But I was offered a job to write for Conan O’Brien, who was still in New York at the time, so it was sort of an either/or situation. Again, that was a very hard decision and one, if you look at my Wiki page or IMDb, it’s one of the first things it says. I may have not regretted leaving the show, but definitely from time to time think I would have been maybe better served by staying on the show. It was so hard to leave, it really was.
von Oÿ: I really felt like I went from being your average kid from a small town in Connecticut who had been doing commercials and guest spots and small movie roles and what not for six years to suddenly people knew my name. It was kind of a very humbling, and yet really neat experience. I certainly would never complain about that. I’m thrilled that I got a chance to be on a show like that. I think it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Some people, like Mayim, are blessed to have it happen multiple times.
Wass: They all became so popular and such role models. Second season, girls are throwing underwear at Joey and in that same season girls are showing up to see the show dressed exactly like Blossom with hats on and her kind of wardrobe. It was like, “Oh my God, kids are in love with these characters. They love them.” That’s the kind of thing I didn’t have a perception of. I wasn’t thinking, wow, wait until these kids become really popular and they become role models. But they sure did.
The Darker Side of Life
“This wasn’t some perfect family without any flaws. This was a really flawed, broken family that was fighting back.” (Getty Image)
Beyond the floppy hats, the funky dancing, and especially WOAH, Blossom did something that very few sitcoms had the courage to do: it showed us what it was really like to be a teenage girl growing up in the ‘90s. For starters, Blossom’s older brother Anthony was a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. But as the series progressed and the characters got a little older, they tackled some very serious subjects. Von Oÿ’s Six didn’t learn from Anthony and almost had her own substance abuse issues, while Blossom dealt with the terror of sexual assault and domestic violence. Again, this wasn’t your grandfather’s family sitcom.
Bialik: Looking back I think what made our show so unusual was that it was about a divorced dad. People didn’t really talk about divorce in 1990. [Laughs.] Especially on network television and in particular the story of a woman who didn’t want to be a mom anymore and leave her family is unfortunately one we hear a lot now. [Laughs.] That can be very rough on families. But back then it was very strange to do a show about that, but I think that’s what gave our show some of that interesting flair, that we weren’t afraid to tackle things that other people weren’t.
Reo: We wanted to make it real or as real as we could. That was a big part of our conversations. We would talk about what real things were going on in her life and all the stuff that were the stories, that became the stories, were reflective either of things that were happening in my kids’ lives or in Mayim’s life or Jenna’s life. It’s easier to write those because you’re not making up some silly story about how a monkey stole a lottery ticket. You’re writing about the fear of going to school on the first day, or what did we start out with, her first period.
Bialik: Don felt it was really important to paint an accurate picture of what these teenagers’ lives were like, and in particular Blossom since we were trying to show it from her perspective. When Don and I first met he said he wanted to do Catcher in the Rye for a girl and that really appealed to me, because I was the kind of girl interested in telling that kind of story. Don and I would go out socially and we would have dinner and just talk. He was like my weird, older best friend. He would tell me stories and I would tell him stories. I guess he got a lot of ideas about how I talked and how I thought about things, but a lot of that stuff was also things that our writers thought were important or things they were dealing with in their lives or their kids’ lives. We just became the receptacle for that.
von Oÿ: I’m sure some of them were bugging our dressing room to try to figure out what we were really going through at that time. [Laughs.] I’m just joking, they weren’t actually bugging our dressing rooms, but if I were them that might have been a thought in my mind. Just to try and make sure they really truly had a handle on typical teenage angst, and I feel like they channeled that very well. I’m sure they listened to conversations that we had in passing and tried to use some of the things they knew we were going through in our lives and work them in, or things they had all gone through when they were in the throes of their childhood and sort of put it to paper.
Bialik: I think every time we mentioned a condom they threatened to fine us. A lot of that stuff was with Joey. I was not as familiar with condoms at the time, personally. [Laughs.] But I remember there being a lot of talk about what we were allowed to do and when the network would come for run-through it was like, how many times can we mention this? Mind you, you can have as many Playboy bunnies in bikinis as the network wanted. [Laughs.]
Wass: Don Reo has a great dark sensibility. He is so funny and he’s got such a great sense of humor. But he does run deep. I thought it was one of the real stronger points of our show. While we did fun, lighthearted stuff about teens growing up and fighting over milk and who got what seat in the car, all the kind of silly stuff that kids fight for in households and stuff, there were really great, deep episodes that we did that started pretty much in the pilot with Mike Stoyanov’s drug addiction and alcoholism. That kind of set a tone right off the bat that this wasn’t some perfect family without any flaws. This was a really flawed, broken family that was fighting back. I thought it something that really set us apart from a lot of other shows.
Stoyanov: When the show needed some more edge, it was my character that usually got involved in that storyline, because it started with rehab and AA and real serious talks about drugs and alcohol and teenage use of those things. We did an episode where I relapsed, which was definitely a tough one. Then I became an EMT and we did a bunch of stuff dealing with death, because as a paramedic you’re going to see some things. And again this was the early ’90s, but at that point there hadn’t been a lot of exploration in terms of interracial couples. My character ultimately married a black woman, a lovely black actress named Samaria Graham. Now that’s sort of ho-hum, so what? We see that all the time. But at that time, on a sitcom and with a character as young as mine, it was very, very uncommon. I think we handled it all with aplomb. We treated every topic, especially the sensitive ones, with respect and we brought humor to the moment, but also had something intelligent and worthwhile to say on these topics of addiction and relapse, society, interracial couples, things like that.
Bialik: What we tried to show was the full range of emotions that human beings can have, but in particular that young women can have. The images of women that most of us raised in the ’70s and ’80s, and even the ’60s, saw of women wasn’t always appropriately complicated. A lot of times it was the bimbo or the nerd, you were either pretty or you were ugly and that’s sort of how characters were written. With Blossom we were trying to show someone who had ups and downs. Some days she felt good, some days she didn’t. We did a great episode called “Blue Blossom,” which was about her being depressed and those were things we were trying to normalize. Honestly, with how much more materialistic and superficial a lot of our culture has gotten for young men and young women, I think it’s especially refreshing to realize that we did a show about someone that wasn’t always feeling great and looking great. The character did not look like a runway model. She wore normal clothes. Some days we had flannel shirts and jeans days. And the actress playing her, me, was not a traditionally attractive female that people were used to seeing on TV, especially for lead women. The fact that it is so commonplace now… I don’t know that we’re uniquely responsible for that, but we definitely were the first network show I knew about at that time that was about a girl.
Chapter 5: Where Have You Gone, Blossom Russo?
“I don’t understand why the powers that be picked Full House to make 13 new ones and not us.” (via Jenna von Oÿ)
Don Reo’s newest series — The Ranch, starring Ashton Kutcher and Debra Winger — will soon debut on Netflix. Jenna von Oÿ’s book, Situation Momedy, is due out in 2017 and merges her love of comedy with advice for pregnant women and new moms. Michael Stoyanov plans to star in his friend and TV writer David Lally’s off-Broadway play. Ted Wass has continued his directing career with sitcoms like Mom and Cristela. Joey Lawrence, with Melissa and Joey behind him, has a number of movie projects in the works. And of course Mayim Bialik is currently starring in the hit CBS series The Big Bang Theory, which is why, even though they admit that it has been discussed, we will not see a Blossom revival any time soon. But even without the Fuller House treatment, one interesting question lingers: Why isn’t the original Blossom anywhere today?
Bialik: We’ve never been in proper syndication, that’s bizarre. We’ve been told a lot of different things. We have a lot of music and we were told there might be a rights issue with all the different music we used and guest stars. I have no idea. No one’s ever explained it. I’ve run into Don and we don’t really understand it. I don’t know. It really makes no sense to me.
von Oÿ: Joey, Mayim, Michael, and I all got to get together for a reunion (above) when Blossom came back to syndication about a year and a half, maybe two years ago, on the Hub Network. Unfortunately, the whole series ran once in its entirety and then the Hub Network dissolved into Discovery Family, so it sort of just went into the television oblivion at that point. But it still allowed all of us to get together and have a blast joking around.
Reo: I run into people all the time. There are women of a certain age where I’m talking to them and ask them if they were fans of Blossom, because there’s a whole generation who are now grown up, I can sort of pinpoint who was influenced by Blossom and who wasn’t. It’s kind of fun, including Mayim Bialik. She’s in the building right next to me right now shooting The Big Bang Theory, so I see her a lot.
Stoyanov: I don’t understand why the powers-that-be picked Full House to make 13 new ones and not us. I think we’re just as viable and someone should definitely investigate that idea.
von Oÿ: We have actually sort of tried to take baby steps towards reunions. Michael, Mayim, and I did an episode of ’Til Death together a couple of years ago and that was sort of a very mini-reunion, and it was written by Don so he brought us all in. It was kind of neat to get a chance to see everybody. It had been a long time at that point since we had all been in the same room.
Reo: I actually had this idea before they started doing this. Mayim and I were talking when she did her first guest spot on The Big Bang Theory. I was working in the same building. She came up to say hello and I said, “What do you think about finding out what Blossom’s doing nowadays?” We basically started talking about it, but then she became such an integral part of that show and I moved on to something else and it just went away. But it was a discussion that we had. There was a brief window there were it was possible but it closed pretty quickly.
Bialik: I’ve heard people talk about it but honestly I’m contracted with CBS and Big Bang Theory. I feel like it’s more of a legal question than a personality one. I think it would be amazing and fascinating for people to see us together, totally, but I think it’s more of like, I don’t know if that will happen.
Wass: Right now Don is creating a new television series for Netflix, so he’s busy and Mayim’s busy and I’m usually pretty busy directing stuff, so I don’t know how possible it would be to get it all together, but it could be fun. It could be fun to see Blossom, the Russos, 25 years later. Twenty-five years since we started it! It’s a lovely feeling that work that we started in 1990, we’re talking about it today! You called me to interview me about this. I’m like, wow, how great is that?
Stoyanov: Again, it’s a testament to Mayim and the character Blossom and how formative it was. It transcends the show itself. It’s like Seinfeld. The character Seinfeld, it goes beyond that it was just a TV show. It means something, it’s very Seinfeldian. That’s literally a term. And I think Blossom is the same way. Like, “What are you doing? Who do you think you are? Blossom?” It’s a reference point culturally and I think that’s because the show was strong and memorable and we had someone amazing at the center. It lives on to this day for that reason.
von Oÿ: When people say that a show is like family I feel like it’s cliché and it sounds cheesy and silly and stupid and everybody says it, whether it really happened or not. But when you get a group of people who worked together 20 to 25 years ago back in the same room and they haven’t been in the same room within that 20 to 25 years and they’re laughing a second later, to me that is the definition of family. To pick right up where you left off. That is family to me.