Leaving ‘Full House’ was biggest regret, so he rebuilt it

Jeff Franklin is creator of the hugely popular sitcom “Full House” and the new Netflix reboot “Fuller House,” which will focus on the characters of the older Tanner daughters and neighbor Kimmy Gibbler as adults with children of their own.

In one of the valleys between the peaks of his career, Jeff Franklin had an idea for a TV series. Called “House of Comics,” it would follow three aspiring stand-ups living together in Los Angeles. “It was three single guys trying to cause trouble, and then turning it into material for their act,” Franklin explained. “That was the show I wanted to do.”

Through a combination of shrewd choices, dumb luck and network intervention, Franklin’s brainchild grew up somewhat different. It became “Full House,” the warmhearted comedy about a widower raising his young daughters with the help of two bachelors.

“Full House,” which ran on ABC from 1987 to 1995, became the cornerstone of that network’s “TGIF” lineup of family-oriented comedies and has run almost perpetually since then in syndication around the world.

The show’s popularity has proved so enduring that Friday Netflix will release “Fuller House,” a follow-up series with a deliberately retro aesthetic, which focuses on the older Tanner daughters (Candace Cameron Bure; Jodie Sweetin) and neighbor Kimmy Gibbler (Andrea Barber) as adults with children of their own.

If “House of Comics” did not turn out as planned for Franklin, a 61-year-old writer and producer who lives in Los Angeles, nor has the rest of his professional life. Though he is not a household name, he has enjoyed an estimable success with sitcoms that were long-lasting audience pleasers if not critical smashes.

Franklin may now live in a 20,000-square-foot mansion with a 15-car garage and its own Elvis Presley museum. But he is self-effacing about his accomplishments. As he said in a recent interview, “If you create one show that manages to go the distance, it’s a miracle, all by itself.”

A one-time schoolteacher, Franklin got his show-business break as an apprentice writer on “Laverne & Shirley,” and at 24 survived a purge of that show’s staff to become one of its top producers.

Recalling a subsequent meeting with a top studio executive, Franklin said, “He sat me down and said, ‘I understand you’re running ‘Laverne & Shirley’ now. Who are you? We’ve never heard of you.’”

Expecting to transition to a movie career (he contributed to screenplays for “Summer School” and “Just One of the Guys”), Franklin was steered back to television by a studio where a film deal had gone awry, and he conceived the idea for “House of Comics.” But ABC wanted a family comedy, and “Full House” was born.

The show recruited a grab bag of actors, including Bob Saget, a comedian who was working as a host at CBS’ “Morning Program.” The infants who would grow up to be the fashion moguls known as the Olsen twins were chosen by Franklin somewhat impulsively.

“They smelled good,” he said. “There were no diaper accidents. They didn’t drool on me.”

For the show’s rakish Uncle Jesse, Franklin chose someone who seemed like a kindred spirit and fellow playboy: John Stamos, who was coming off a short-lived sitcom, “You Again?” with Jack Klugman.

At their first lunch meeting, Stamos said, “We talked about Elvis. We talked about girls. We made sure we hadn’t dated the same girls.”

“When the appetizers came,” Stamos continued, “he said, ‘So you want to do this show?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’m in.’ ”

“Full House” caught on as ABC surrounded it with harmonious comedies like “Family Matters,” “Perfect Strangers” and “Mr. Belvedere.”

In 1992, Franklin created “Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper” for ABC and left “Full House,” a move he now says is “honestly the biggest regret of my life.”

“Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper” ran more than 100 episodes, and while “Full House” continued for three more seasons, Franklin said it suffered in his absence as it constantly tinkered with the romantic and professional lives of the characters.

“People didn’t like what was going on, and they abandoned the show,” he said. “It was sad to see that happen.”

(“Full House,” a Top 10 show in Franklin’s final year, slid to 25th place by its eighth season, after which it was canceled.)

Franklin continued to produce sitcoms like “Malcolm & Eddie” and “Love That Girl.” He also wrote and directed the feature “Love Stinks,” a dark romantic comedy about a marriage-averse TV producer (French Stewart) that was poorly received upon its 1999 release.

Though Franklin never withdrew from the industry outright, he said there was a period of about “eight or nine years where I just didn’t work so hard,” and focused on travel and charity work.

“My life was very out of balance,” he said. “I worked around the clock. I put everything I have into these shows. It was just time to take a break.”

Franklin has never married and has no children of his own, details that he said do not preclude him from writing about families. “I was a child at one time,” he said. “I am still part of a family.”

But he said that, over time, he had come to regard the “Full House” cast — particularly Bure, Sweetin and Barber — as a second family, and felt that it was especially important to get “Fuller House” on television for them.

“Obviously they’re not my kids,” he said of these actresses, “but I feel that attachment to them. I care about them that much.”

Still, it took several years for Franklin and Stamos, who is also an executive producer of “Fuller House,” to pitch the project around and to find a network willing to make a sizable commitment to a series that would focus principally on these women.

(Saget, Stamos, Dave Coulier and Lori Loughlin will make only occasional appearances; Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen have told the producers they have not acted in many years and will not be participating.)

Netflix, which has made revivals of dormant series like “Arrested Development” and “Gilmore Girls” a staple of its original programming, said it was not interested in “Fuller House” purely for its name recognition, calling it an ideal show for the streaming service as it looks to expand into family and young-adult programming.

“If the proposition of ‘Fuller House’ was simply a nostalgia play, I don’t think it would last beyond, probably, a reunion special,” said Cindy Holland, Netflix’s vice president for content. “What attracted us to the proposition is that Candace and Jodi and Andrea would not only be back, but they’re all grown up and they have a really compelling story to tell of their own.”

Franklin said that “Fuller House” had changed to reflect contemporary sensibilities, and was not as “saccharine” as its predecessor. “We’re not running sappy music every time somebody says ‘I’m sorry,’ ” he explained.

In particular, he said that the new show understood how children — those appearing on “Fuller House” as well as those watching it — had grown even savvier since the days of “Full House.”

“Kids today are not the same as they were in the 1990s,” he said. “Kids know a lot more.”