The series originally was built as a starring vehicle for Valerie Harper, whose best known role beforehand was as the title character in the 1970s sitcom Rhoda (which spun off from The Mary Tyler Moore Show). Set in Oak Park, Illinois, Valerie Hogan (Harper) was a career woman (the owner of an auction house and later, a graphic designer) whose airline pilot husband, Michael (Josh Taylor, who concurrently starred on Days of Our Lives), was frequently gone, meaning she had primary responsibility of raising the couple's three sons: 16-year-old David (Jason Bateman), and 12-year-old twins Willie and Mark (Danny Ponce and Jeremy Licht). Valerie had a couple of best friends, but the one that stuck around was the busybody (but very sweet) next-door neighbor Patricia Poole (Edie McClurg).
Things went according to form during the early years, but in the spring of 1987, Harper and producer/boyfriend Tony Cacciotti became embroiled in a bitter dispute with Miller/Boyett over a decision to shift the focus of the show's stories to a comedic focus (with teen heartthrob Bateman being the major part of the plan). Eventually, Harper was fired ... and Valerie Hogan (along with her best friend, Annie) was promptly killed in a car accident sometime during the summer of 1987.
Fall 1987. Enter Sandy Duncan, the petite actress with plenty of comedic timing, to take over... not as Valerie Hogan (as the character was McLeaned) but as Michael's kid sister, Sandy. Sandy took a job as guidance counselor at the high school David attended; the series was re-titled Valerie's Family with the subtitle The Hogans used in the main titles. The focus of several episodes during the 1987-1988 season was on Val's passing and the family coming to terms with their grief; none, however, made such a profound impact as the episode "Burned Out", in which a poorly made lamp sparks fire and engulfs much of the house. Many keepsakes and mementos of the family's were destroyed in the attic and second floor, but the piece having the greatest emotional effect was a charred framed photo of Valerie, over which David breaks down in tears upon discovering it while exploring the burned-out second floor. It was also at this point that Mrs. Poole moved up to being a regular character, even appearing in the opening credits for the first time.
In the summer of 1988, to distance the series from the now long-departed Harper, the producers dropped the name Valerie completely from the title: The series was now known as The Hogan Family. Stories shifted back to typical family situations, many with comedic bents, although some were deadly serious. Two of those stories focused on David's best buddy, Rich (Tom Hodges): One where David locks a drunken Rich in the closet during a house party to keep him from driving drunk (during the 1987-1988 season, not long after Val died), and one of the last original episodes, in which Rich does die (of AIDS). In 1990, Michael and Sandy's newly-divorced father, Lloyd (Jonathan Hillerman), moves in with the family ... at the same time the series moved to CBS. That and other changes did nothing to stop a slowly diminishing audience, and the series ended its run in the summer of 1991.
Roberta Flack provided the soulful vocals to the theme song, "Together Through the Years." In syndication, all episodes are known as The Hogan Family. Though it was one of the highest-rated series on TV during its heyday, it was rarely shown after some point during the Turn of the Millennium, until Antenna TV thankfully picked up the show and began airing it in December 2017.
This show provides examples of:
- Absentee Actor: Possibly due to the subject matter, Jeremy Licht does not appear in "Bad Timing".
- Adult Fear: The House Fire episode. Especially since they react precisely the way people have been told not to—panicking and running around, and one of the boys going back to his room for something.
- An Aesop: While most episodes had standard happily-ever-after morals, Valerie (and its successors) often twisted this trope. A prime example is the second-season episode "Leave it to Willie," which turned the standard "happy ending" on its head; Willie (an ardent fan of a Leave It to Beaver-type show, where everything always works out in the end) steals his dad's car to go for a joyride with a buddy, is involved in a hit-and-run, and keeps silent about the ordeal... even when Valerie confronts David about taking the car and causing the accident. David eventually finds evidence (a Cheeto) to incriminate Willie, who keeps quiet. Then, he sees another episode of his favorite show, where the main protagonist is involved in a similar scrape (Harper and Ponce playing out the "happy ever after ending" he envisions). When he sees that telling the truth will absolve him, he figures he has nothing to lose and comes clean with Valerie. Valerie, however, is not relieved, but very angry with Willie that he lied (by keeping quiet and not coming forward when asked earlier) and allowed David to take the blame. Willie tries to say he's sorry, but Valerie — sensing that he isn't showing true remorse, let alone realized or understood the seriousness of his actions — ultimately grounds him from going to a party, but worse, says she has lost trust in him... and that's even before his dad (who does not appear in this episode) finds out.
- Aftershow: Subverted - the original Valerie simply became Valerie's Family after the title character was killed off. After the show ended and was farmed out to syndication all but one of the episodes with the previous titles (see Content Warnings to find out which one it was) were branded The Hogan Family. (Antenna TV opted to include the appropriate series titles for the first three seasons, upon adding the show to its lineup in 2018.)
- Always Identical Twins: Averted. Willie and Mark are fraternal.
- Christmas Episode: "Ho Ho Hogans" also turned out to be the very last episode of the series.
- Christmas In July: An accidental example: the above-mentioned Christmas episode first aired in July 1991, when CBS was intent on burning off the remaining episodes.
- Content Warnings: The second-season episode "Bad Timing" — one of the first American Dom Com episodes to address "safe sex" — had these aired before the show's opening credits, as well as during commercials (either "safe sex" PSAs or birth-control products). The episode itself, where David and his girlfriend consider having sex and drop the first prime time usage of the word "condom" while doing so, was an honest, if not frank, discussion many teenage couples have about sex, and as such, got high praise from the public and was even given an official VHS release for teachers and health educators. (And yes, David and the girlfriend decide not to have sex.)
- Curiously, this was the only episode to be titled Valerie in syndication, as all other episodes with the Valerie or Valerie's Family title were titled The Hogan Family. The syndicated version of this episode also kept the content warnings from the original airing.
- Curse Cut Short: Episode 3, "The Wrong Stuff", saw young Willie begin using (mild) profanity around the house. When Valerie confronts him and threatens to wash his mouth out with soap, Willie decides to test his mother and see if she actually will. Finally, after saying a mild expletive ("crap") and getting ready to say another, Valerie made good on her promise!
- The Disease That Shall Not Be Named: Averted in "Best of Friends, Worst of Times," one of the last episodes, where a recurring character dies of AIDS.
- Also "Bad Timing", which - as noted above - was the first prime time discussion of a condom and why it's used.
- Dropped a Bridge on Him: Valerie Hogan, after her actress asked for a salary increase after the first season. Harper would later get a sizable settlement from Lorimar and the producers for their handling of the situation.
- Drunk Driver: Midway through season 3, David hosts a house party while his father Mike and aunt Sandy are gone. David's friend Rich gets very drunk and wants to take a stunning co-ed out for a ride. David (whose mother had just died in a car accident) puts his foot down and gets into a huge fight with Rich. Motivated at an earlier admonition to "do whatever you have to do" to keep someone from driving drunk, David then locks Rich in the closet overnight. When David lets a somewhat sobered-up Rich out the next morning, Rich remembers vividly what happened... and yells at David for not letting him consummate that long, sought-after relationship with the supermodel of his senior class. David then reminds him of what had happened to Valerie, and he couldn't stand the thought of now losing his best friend (not to mention the prettiest girl in high school). Rich eventually comes to his senses and realizes that nothing was worth driving drunk and possibly killing himself or anyone else.
- Why David's emotional pathos over Rich possibly driving drunk and the connection to his mother? Because, it is implied, Valerie was the innocent victim of a drunk driver.
- Easily Forgiven: Subverted in "Leave It To Willie" (see An Aesop listing above for details).
- Grand Finale: "Best of Friends, Worst of Times" or "Ho Ho Hogans", depending on who you ask. ("Best of Friends" was actually initially stated on This Very Wiki to be the last episode, while "Ho Ho Hogans," the Christmas Episode, aired in July 1991.)
- Hilarity Ensues: Played straight, then reversed in "Leave It to Willie." Again, see An Aesop for details.
- House Fire: "Burned Out", a Very Special Episode produced for Fire Prevention Week. The episode (financed and sponsored by McDonald's) was well-received by viewers and critics for beautifully presenting a reality some families face in dealing with grief: losing a loved one, and not long thereafter a fire destroying most, if not all, of the mementos of that person. The storyline is sparked (literally) by a poorly made lamp stored in the attic developing a short circuit and starting a fire, which remains small enough for several hours until the Hogans are getting ready for bed. Sandy smells smoke and alerts Michael, who upon investigation immediately evacuates the house; the fire eventually spreads through the rest of the house and causes major damage. The Hogans stay with the Pooles (Willard Scott had a guest role as Mrs. Poole's husband, Peter) while their home is repaired. A full recap of the episode (with screencaps) can be found here.
- Imagine Spot: Again, "Leave It To Willie". The moral in the Imagine Spot is supposedly, "Tell the truth and you'll be absolved." Of course, reality doesn't work out that way – he admits his deed to his mother and gets punished, learning instead that actions do have consequences that aren't always good.
- Jesus Taboo: Averted. While hardly a religious show, David freely admits to praying or calling on God for help in a handful of occasions.
- Missing Mom: Starting in the fall of 1987 (upon Harper's departure).
- Monster Clown: A hilarious subversion: David is dragooned into playing a clown at a birthday party, and the girl he's been chasing walks in on him, stares and says, "David?" He stares at her in shock, then pulls the clown suit up to cover his head and says in a squeaky voice "No, it's just me, Bobo the headless clown!" Cue the children screaming in fear and the audience howling with laughter for about a solid minute.
- Multi-Part Episode: "Paris", the three-part season 5 opener. The CBS premiere, entitled "California Dreamin'" and introducing John Hillerman to the cast, was a two-parter, as was the earlier "Boy Meets Girl"/"Boy Loses Girl" from 1989.
- Naked People Are Funny: Season 4's "The Naked Truth" centers around a nude painting of Sandy that is on display at an art gallery (where Mark and Willie are touring as part of a school trip). Viewers only see the painting from angles showing the shoulders upward, but it is very clear, by Mark and Willie's stunned reaction, that the painting shows far more. Sandy learns about the painting and demands that its painter – an old college boyfriend, who had painted another student's nude body, but then painted on Sandy's head instead – fix the situation immediately. (He does... by painting a dress on the bottom half. He admits he had fantasized about her in college and wanted to advance their relationship.)
- Playing Gertrude: Edie McClurg, who plays Mrs. Poole, is actually 11 years younger than Willard Scott, who plays her husband. Edie was born in 1945, Willard in 1934. In addition, guest actor Kathleen Freeman was born in 1919 and thus was only 15 years older than Willard, despite having played his mother (in the season 3 episode "Mother Poole's Visit").
- Happened again when John Hillerman joined the cast after the CBS move, playing Michael and Sandy's father. John was born in 1932, Josh Taylor in 1943, Sandy Duncan in 1946. You do the math.
- Promotion to Opening Titles: Zig-zagged with Edie McClurg. Though she was listed in the opening credits when she started appearing on the show in season 2, she wasn't actually shown in the opening credits until the next season (the first after Valerie left).
- Really Dead Montage: "Best of Friends, Worst of Times" featured one for Rich.
- Shoulders-Up Nudity: See Naked People Are Funny.
- Shorter Means Smarter: Willie & Mark started out about the same size, but as the actors grew up, Willie (the irresponsible one) was taller than Mark (the brainy one). Note, though, that these characterizations appeared before the split in height.
- The Show Must Go On: One of the more famous meta examples.
- Standardized Sitcom Housing: The kitchen of the Hogan house was nearly identical to that used for the Winslow's house on Family Matters, while the living room is partly similar to that within the Lambert-Foster house on Step by Step - all three were done by the same studio.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Sandy to Valerie.
- Thematic Theme Tune
- Very Special Episode: Several, most notably "Burned Out" and "Best of Friends, Worst of Times" (one of the last episodes, in which David's best friend, Rich, dies of AIDS-related complications). "Bad Timing" would count as well; it was the first time safe sex was discussed on such a show.
- Wham Episode: "Movin' On", where the death of Valerie Hogan was revealed to viewers.