These days, the average American first-time mother is 25 years old. But, as we know, TV doesn’t always do a great job of representing real life. Over the years, we’ve squinted into our televisions, wondering how old the actors we see playing teenagers really are and why their parents seem so young and vivacious. Now that curiosity has finally gotten the better of us, we’ve done some math and figured out the real age differences between TV parents and their fictional offspring. We think you’ll be as fascinated as we are at by the results — which includes several moms who would have been in pregnant in middle school and even an actress who was older than the man who played her dad.
Karyn Parsons (Hilary Banks) and Janet Hubert (Vivian Banks), The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Poor original Aunt Viv: Not only was she kicked off the show, only to have former co-stars call her crazy years later, but she was also cast as the mother of a woman who was less than 11 years younger than she was. Only 15 years separated her from Alfonso Ribeiro, who played Hilary’s little brother, Carlton. Order returned to the universe (and, let’s face it, the character of Vivian Banks became far less interesting) when Hubert was replaced by Daphne Maxwell Reid. Although we had always assumed Reid was younger than Aunt Viv #1, it turns out she’s 12 years older — making Hubert closer in age to her TV daughter than to the woman who took over her role.
Penn Badgley (Dan Humphrey) and Matthew Settle (Rufus Humphrey), Gossip Girl
Less than 17 years separate Badgley from Settle, who plays Dan’s one-time alt-rocker dad. While it’s certainly not unheard of to become a parent at that age, what raises our eyebrows is that Rufus and his former girlfriend/ current wife/ one and only true love, Lily, actually had a child when he was already a rock star but long before he settled down with Dan and Jenny’s mom. So, when did that happen? Middle school?
Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) and Martin Crane (John Mahoney), Frasier
If Mahoney seemed a bit too spry to play Frasier’s dad, it’s because the actor — now only 71 — was only 53 when he first appeared in the role of Marty. That makes the gruff, retired cop less than 15 years older than the man who played his oldest son, with about 19 years separating him from David Hyde Pierce, who co-starred as Frasier’s younger brother, Niles.
Sabrina La Beauf (Sondra Huxtable Tibideaux) and Phylicia Rashād (Clair Huxtable), The Cosby Show
Here’s where the age differences drop into the single digits: La Beauf, a late addition to the show who didn’t appear for the first several episodes of Season 1, was born in March 1958. Rashād was born less than a decade earlier, in June of ’48. In fact, La Beauf was nearly passed over for the role precisely because she and her TV mom could have more realistically played sisters. Perhaps those concerns were behind the decision to make Sondra’s character so intelligent and mature.
Lucy Hale (Aria Montgomery) and Holly Marie Combs (Ella Montgomery), Pretty Little Liars
It doesn’t seem like too long ago that Holly Marie Combs was kicking supernatural ass as Piper on Charmed — and actually, it wasn’t. The show went off the air a mere five years ago. And yet, at only 37 years old, she’s been put out to pasture as the mother of 22-year-old Lucy Hale’s Aria. Meanwhile, Ian Harding, who plays Aria’s teacher boyfriend, Ezra Fitz, only has three years on Hale in real life.
Peter Krause (Nate Fisher) and Frances Conroy (Ruth Fisher), Six Feet Under
Although she’s much more glamorous in real life than she tends to be on the small screen, Frances Conroy has a knack for playing frumpy, repressed, and neurotic older women. (In addition to her role on Six Feet Under, she also recently played the reclusive, Christmas decoration-hoarding grandmother of teenagers on United States of Tara.) Conroy was actually seven years younger in real life than her character was supposed to be — add that to the fact that Ruth was supposed to be 18 when her eldest son, Nate, was born, and it’s easy to see how she ended up playing the mother of Peter Krause, who is only 12 years her junior.
Shirley Jones (Shirley Partridge) and David Cassidy (Keith Partridge), The Partridge Family
As all ’70s teenyboppers surely remember, David Cassidy and Shirley Jones weren’t merely co-stars on The Partridge Family — she was his real-life stepmom, having married his dad (actor Jack Cassidy) in 1956. But it turns out that, had Jones been Cassidy’s biological mother, she would have given birth to him at the fairly young age of 16.
Jason Priestley (Brandon Walsh) and James Eckhouse (Jim Walsh), Beverly Hills, 90210
We wouldn’t have guessed from watching the show that Eckhouse was seven years younger than his TV wife, Carol Potter. Although she was born over 20 years before the guy who played her son (who had a good 16 months on his “twin,” Shannen Doherty), the age difference between Priestley and Eckhouse came down to less than 15 years.
Michael J. Fox (Alex P. Keaton) and Meredith Baxter-Birney (Elise Keaton) and Michael Gross (Steven Keaton), Family Ties
To be fair, the show gave us the idea that hippie parents Elise and Steven Keaton had their first son, Alex, when they were fairly young. Even so, we don’t imagine they were two weeks shy of 14 — Fox’s date of birth is June 9, 1961, while his TV parents were both born on June 21, 1947. Maybe that’s why Alex, with his stuffy suits and Reagonomics, often seemed like the oldest person in the Keaton house.
Yvonne De Carlo (Lily Munster) and Al Lewis (Grandpa), The Munsters
Here’s a weird one: De Carlo, who played the mom to a family of monsters — er, “Munsters” — on the ’60s sitcom, was born on September 1, 1922. Lewis, who was cast as her elderly father, made his earthly debut April 30, 1923. It turns out there’s a fascinating story here: Little is known about Lewis’s early life, and it seems he may have lied and said he was born in 1910 to get the part of Grandpa. The discrepancy between his actual age and how old he claimed to be caused some confusion after his death in 2006.