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Family Ties aired from September 1982 until September 1989 on NBC.
One of the most popular family sitcoms of the 1980's, Family Ties was created by Gary David Goldberg. It was originally intended to focus on the generation gap between the parents and their children: mom and dad were caring liberals who traced their ideology to the turbulent sixties ( the original opening title sequence, with it's flashback photos, illustrated the point), while the kids were either conservative or apathetically materialistic. The dichotomy was downplayed, however, after network research indicated that viewers were more interested in the children. The result was that one of the kids, Michael J. Fox, became a superstar; ironically, NBC executives had originally balked at Goldberg's suggestion of Fox for the role.
The series was set in the heartland of America, or in this case Columbus, Ohio. Appearing as the Keaton family were : Meredith Baxter-Birney as Elyse, an architect; Michael Gross as Steven, manager of WKS-TV, the local public TV station; Michael J. Fox as eldest child Alex, a whiz kid who worshiped Richard Nixon, William Buckley, and The Wall Street Journal; Justine Bateman as elder daughter Mallory, an unsophisticated teen who loved shopping; and Tina Yothers as younger daughter Jennifer. On January 31, 1985 a fourth Keaton kid appeared ,as Elyse gave birth to baby Andrew, who grew up to worship his older brother ( in real life Meredith Baxter-Birney had had twins the previous fall); Tyler and Grant Merriman appeared as baby Andrew, but Brian Bonsall took over the role in the fall of 1986 ( this meant that Andy grew from baby to preschooler virtually over the summer). Goldberg revealed in 1987 that his inspiration for the Alex character came from the stepson of a newspaper editor friend, while that of Jennifer came from his own daughter, Shana. Marc Price was featured as neighbor Irwin " Skippy" Handleman, a hopeless nerd who had a crush on Mallory.
In the fall of 1984, Alex left Harding High for Leland College, where a year later he met his first regular girlfriend, Ellen Reed ( played by Tracy Pollan). Ellen left for Paris at the beginning of the 1986-1987 season. The following year Alex met Lauren Miller ( played by a pre-Friends Courtney Cox). In real life, however, Michael J. Fox married Tracy Pollan ( if you ever saw the show you can see they had a lot of chemistry together). Meanwhile , Mallory began dating junk sculpter Nick Moore ( played by Scott Valentine), much to the chagrin of her parents and her older brother.
Though most episodes were played for laughs, Family Ties also had its share of serious programs, including a three-parter dealing with Steven's heart attack and a poignant one-man show starring Fox, on which Alex comes to grips with the death of a friend. The series was also paid an unusual tribute by PBS, which on October 15, 1988 broadcast a one hour special about the preparation of a single episode.
Family Ties enjoyed its peak popularity between 1984-1987 when it followed The Cosby Show on NBC's Thursday night schedule. In the fall of 1987 it was moved to Sunday opposite Murder She Wrote and ratings began to slip. The last first run episode, in which Alex left home, was aired on May 14, 1989. The episode finished No. 1 for the week, a fitting finale for the Keatons, one of America's most beloved TV families of the 1980's.
For more on Family Ties go to Family Ties Online right here at Sitcoms Online.
A Review from The New York Times
NBC Has Family Comedy
By John J. O'Connor
Published : September 22, 1982
The basic situation in NBC's ''Family Ties'' revolves around a couple of former ''flower children'' who got married in the 1960's and who now find themselves with three children whose tastes are decidedly conservative. For the Keaton children, especially 17-yearold Alex (Michael J. Fox), the inevitable buzzwords are Ronald Reagan, William F. Buckley, Eliot Janeway, The Wall Street Journal and, curiously, Robert M. Vesco.
The parents (Meredith Baxter Birney and Michael Gross) are more comfortable with old Bob Dylan records and fresh bean sprouts. All of which adds up to still another variation on the generation gap, a favorite sit-com subject.
This evening, Alex begins courting the daughter of one of the wealthiest families in town. The young girl comes to dinner and announces her desire to help others. She explains, ''I really want to be a cheerleader.'' When she learns that Mr. Keaton is the manager of the local public-television station, she sincerely exclaims, ''Oh, how cute!'' Alex is charmed. Dad is distressed, especially when he discovers that the young couple's first date will be at a posh country club with notorious restriction policies. Alex protests, ''I just want to go to a party, I don't want to change the world.''
And the situation unfolds, already along terribly predictable lines. Needless to say, despite the tensions, this is a loving family, and the final five minutes of each episode will abound in little reconciliations. Dad will worry about possible blurrings of the line between protecting his children and simply interfering. Well-meaning father and exasperated son will realize that ''one of us is bound to grow up, sooner or later?''
The cast is pleasant enough. The rest depends on how cleverly Gary David Goldberg, the creator and producer of the series, can bring a sense of freshness to an overworked device.
President Reagan, saying the sitcom 'Family ties' is his...
June 23, 1986
WASHINGTON -- President Reagan, saying the sitcom 'Family ties' is his favorite TV show, said Monday a White House report in November will recommend ways to strengthen the federal government's own ties to the family.
Reagan made his remarks at a ceremony honoring 141 presidential scholars, high school boys and girls who have achieved recognition for academic, artistic and leadership endeavors.
The president said men and women of influence, including teachers, ministers, actors and rock stars 'need to demonstrate respect for family life.'
With Education Secretary William Bennett standing by his side, Reagan told the students 'the inspiration you provide to all young Americans is important.'
'I draw even greater encouragement from the signs that the wider culture is once again beginning to respect, even to celebrate family life. It is no accident that Family Ties is my favorite TV show,' Reagan said.
'We in government have a special responsibility to see that government programs are structured to see family life is made easier, not harder,' he added. 'Here at the federal level I have established a working group on the family to study the relationship between federal programs and family life.
'The working group will give me its report in November and I expect it to recommend a number of important changes,' he said. 'This will represent only a first step in the effort to make the federal government more responsive to the family. I'm convinced no effort in this second term will carry greater import.'
Here's an article from The New York Times talking about one of the most famous Family Ties episodes of all time.
TV REVIEWS; HOURLONG 'FAMILY TIES'
By JOHN J. O'CONNOR
Published: March 12, 1987
OVER the years since it was created in 1980 by Gary David Goldberg, NBC's ''Family Ties'' has evolved from a series about a once ultra-liberal couple coping with the demands of a middle-class marriage to a show about their brash yuppie son celebrating the joys of making money. It helps enormously, of course, that young Alex P. Keaton is played by Michael J. Fox, an ingratiating 25-year-old actor who, between TV seasons, has won deserved attention in films like ''Back to the Future.''
No doubt as a token of gratitude, the show's executive producer, Mr. Goldberg, and the supervising producer, Alan Uger, have written an hourlong tour de force for Mr. Fox. ''A, My Name is Alex'' is being broadcast at 8:30 this evening. With a bow of staging homage to Thornton Wilder's ''Our Town,'' the confident Alex is profoundly shaken by the death of a friend and, wandering between past and present, begins to question the meaning of living.
Alex is one of the more curious characters devised for the special world of situation comedy. Basically he is obnoxious, a bright know-it-all with a talent for amusing himself at the expense of others. The show's writers spend much of their time and best lines attempting to show that nasty Alex really doesn't mean most of what he says. It is a tricky balancing act, pulled off superbly by Mr. Fox.
In this evening's special, Alex is especially upset because if he had not refused a favor to his friend Greg (Brian McNamara), he, too, might have been in a fatal car accident. ''I was lazy, small, I couldn't be bothered,'' Alex remembers bitterly. Then he gets to the key question: ''Why am I alive?'' Searching for an answer he reaches out to science and religion, meeting separately with a monk and a psychiatrist. He talks with his parents, sister and baby brother. He even argues with his dead friend.
This is a masterfully constructed playlet, a miniature portrait of the bright young person who, even in childhood, was singled out for being above the ordinary herd. A note from one teacher conceded, ''I'm assuming this paper deserves an A - I don't fully understand it.'' Trapped in the middle of this extraordinary attention is poor Alex, rather lonely for all of his bluster, decidedly sad for all of his wisecracks. While the other kids were fingerpainting, Alex was learning the stock market. In sitcom isolation, he cuts a sympathetic figure. In a world of Ivan Boeskys, however, Alex is a worry, no matter how cleverly he is presented. Thornton Wilder, for one, would have been appalled by such a young man.
But the script by Mr. Goldberg and Mr. Uger is a marvel of ''on the one hand but on the other'' sculpting. Will MacKenzie's direction offers a textbook illustration of the importance of timing. And Mr. Fox proves once again that he is far more than merely an appealing performer. He is a formidable actor, firmly in control. That still leaves the problematic Alex who, after everything, concludes: ''God wouldn't have made me so smart if He didn't want me to make money.'' But these days, apparently, obnoxiousness sells.
Here's another article about that episode from USA TODAY
TV PREVIEW/BY MATT ROUSH
Published: March 12, 1987
A heart-tugging 'Family Ties'
Alex P. Keaton, the kid you hate to love. Wall Street is his religion, smug sarcasm his tool. What makes him tick?
Family Ties, of course. Despite his boorish bravado, he's really a softie.
Tonight's hour long episode in which Alex faces death and doesn't like what he sees, gives Michael J. Fox an acting workout like he's never had.
Don't worry that the younger kids will get upset by the difficult subject matter. Watch this emotional show with your family. You'll want to hug them afterward.
Aside from the theme, the episode is unprecedented in presenting the last half-hour commercial free-the ads are bunched up in the first 30 minutes. This uninterrupted segmant gives Fox the unusual vehicle of a mini-play of self-exploration. It works.
The show opens after the funeral of Alex's pal Greg, killed in an auto accident. If Alex hadn't backed out of helping his friend, he also could have died. " My life was saved out of smallness," he says unforgivingly.
You know it's no ordinary show when Greg's ghost appears, forcing Alex to drop his brave front and weep in his parents' arms. The second half goes further, a seriocomic tour de force with Alex spilling his guts to an off-camera shrink.
You might think you've stumbled across an old Playhouse 90 during this rambling character study. Its surreal and stark, with actors fading in and out of memory, and Alex always center stage.
Brought up short by intimations of mortality, Alex wonders about God and examines his strong family ties.
Regressing to a second-grader with a Nixon lunch box, he recalls the pressure of being a " special" teacher's pet. And he yearns for the " security and safety" of home sweet home.
Most affecting is Alex's re-appreciation of his good-guy dad. An awakened Alex muses, " I can be gentle, forgiving, thoughtful... and I can make a lot of money." Some things never change.
Laughs and tears mingle freely here. It's not exactly profound television, but it's a welcome stretch for a show that, over time, has become part of our own families.
Here is an Article from The LA Times
Cutting the 'Family Ties'
May 02, 1989|DANIEL CERONE
When NBC's "Family Ties" were severed last weekend after seven successful years of TV bonding, an end-of-the-series party gave cast members the perfect opportunity to let their hair down.
Or dye it.
Or even cut it off.
Courteney Cox, Bruce Springsteen's partner in his video "Dancing in the Dark" and Alex Keaton's honey-with-the-dark-brown-hair, arrived at the Gene Autry Western Museum Sunday night with her locks colored deep red. Justine Bateman, who plays Mallory Keaton, bobbed hers; Michael Gross, head of the household as Steven Keaton, again shaved his familiar beard; and the youngest cast member, 6-year-old Brian Bonsall (who plays Andrew), wore a spiked punk-rock hairdo and earrings.
The night before, "Family Ties," the Emmy Award-winning sitcom that helped revive family-oriented programming, had completed an emotional taping of a special one-hour finale (which will air at 8 p.m. on May 14), giving the cast just enough time to stop off at a hair salon before the party.
"We taped the last episode in front of an audience of family and friends," said 27-year-old Michael J. Fox, who joined the show in 1982 as an unknown Canadian-born actor and parlayed his role as the conservative, wise-cracking Alex Keaton into a flourishing film career. "I was fine until the curtain call, then I started weeping. I felt like an idiot, until I looked around and realized I had company."
"This week has been so much more grueling than anyone expected," said Meredith Baxter Birney, who plays Alex's mother, Elyse Keaton. "Everyone involved thought the show would just sort of take care of itself. No one was prepared for what we went through. It was awful."
Approaching the taping, the script had not yet received final approval. In "Alex Doesn't Live Here Anymore," Alex realizes his lifelong dream and is offered a $75,000-a-year executive position with a Wall Street investment banking firm, but Elyse cannot come to grips with him leaving.
"Everybody wanted to get it right, and there were rewrites up until the last minute," Gross said. "Maybe some perverse part of our writers never wanted the show to end."
"Last night was extraordinarily emotional," agreed 44-year-old Gary David Goldberg, whose UBU Productions produces "Family Ties" in association with Paramount Network Television. "It was a very surreal feeling. We started a half-hour late because everyone was crying and we had to redo their makeup.
"The sadness is overwhelming. It's like raising a great kid who you love to have around, and then he has to leave you and go to college."
Goldberg created the concept for the show--about two hip parents who grew up in the idealism of the 1960s and are raising children whose political conservatism and materialistic concerns are firmly rooted in the 1980s--as a semi-autobiography of his own turbulent, rebellious life. When the show debuted on Sept. 22, 1982, family-oriented television was virtually a wasteland, occupied by the lone outpost, "Little House on the Prairie."
"We stumbled into an area no one else was dealing with," said Goldberg, who is now directing "Dad," a feature film he wrote, starring Jack Lemmon and Ted Danson. "We were the only nuclear family on television, and we accidentally discovered a gold mine."
Although the show initially focused on the plight of the parents, Goldberg made the children the heart and soul of "Family Ties" once he and network executives saw the immense popularity of his young cast, particularly Fox, who went on to achieve superstardom in "Back to the Future."
"I'm nothing like Alex, which surprises a lot of people," said three-time Emmy winner Fox, who last year married Tracy Pollan (he met her as Ellen Reed, Alex's first "serious" girlfriend on "Family Ties"). "Alex and I share the same body and the same face, but that's about it. Because of my character, some Republicans loved me, some Democrats loved to hate me. Some people never got it at all--I'm a card-carrying member of the Canadian liberal party."
"The hardest thing is realizing 'Family Ties' is over," 23-year-old Bateman said. "I'll never be in that kitchen again. I'll never be with the whole cast again. And we are a family. Being around them is like falling into a down comforter and having it fluffed every day."
"What the show meant to America--if I can presume to speak for the country--is that it came along at a time when America needed a strong family," Gross said. "Our success was directly proportional to how poorly the American family was actually doing, at a time when the country was beset by economic and social hardship, child abuse, divorce, drugs, you name it. I think the Reagan Era helped the show a lot."
Goldberg firmly stated there will be no Keaton family reunions at Christmastime. And don't expect to see nice, neat resolutions to the ongoing story lines in "Family Ties" when the final episode airs. Whether Mallory ends up with Nick or Alex stays with Lauren are left for viewer speculation. The series will end as it began, with life going on as usual in the Keaton household.
"We completed what we set out to do--put family life front and center," Goldberg said. "We're in top form now. We're enraptured by the show, and we love the Keatons. But you can only sustain that energy for so long. We don't want to become a pale reflection of what we were. Our cast is young and talented with a lifetime ahead of them. It's time to turn them loose."
Here's an article from the May 13-19 Edition of TV Guide.
Our Final Season: A Journal
Join the family
Witness the problems, jokes , deals, fears as the Family Ties gang wraps up seven years together
By Michael Gross
(aka Steven Keaton)
NBC has scheduled the final episode of Family Ties for Sunday, May 14, at 8 P.M.( ET)
Sept. 12 It is the first rehearsal day of our final season, and there is already a feeling of nostalgia. The sound stage resounds with greetings: cast, crew, writers, production staff, everyone connected with the show. It has been a long vacation due to the writers guild strike, and we've all got a lot of catching up to do. The dressing rooms have been freshened up with a coat of paint, but the old, familiar bowls of trail mix and fruit are in place as we sit down to read our first two scripts. Parts 1 and 2 of an episode dealing with a massive coronary by my character, Steven Keaton.
Sept. 30. Our two-part heart-attack episode turned into three, and I am glad they are coming to an end. I seem to be experiencing strange psychosomatic symptons. I have numb odd feelings in my right leg and arm. My right hand and foot don't seem to work properly. Called the doctor, but he'll be out of town 'til next week. I'm worried but perhaps I am taking this work too seriously.
Oct. 3. Symptons disappear as we begin a less intense episode. I am not the only one to have misgivings about my health stirred up. Executive producer Gary David Goldberg tells me he went to get a stress test! He's in perfect health, but it shows what a toll such subject matter can take on our minds.
Nov. 1. One occasionally hears stories about actors who sabotage other performers, but on our stage , we do as much as we can to help each other out. When one of us is responsible for things not going quite right, there is a tendency to feel more remorseful then is warranted. Recently Michael J. Fox and I were exiting a scene that had been extensively rewritten in the course of rehearsal. Fox had the exit line, but we had decided to do a version in which I had a joke just prior to being hustled out the door by him. This was to be the way we'd do it for our studio audience but, in a moment of forgetfulness, Fox said his exit line, eliminating my line, and walked to the door. We exited, but no sooner were we out the door when Michael J., realizing his mistake, turned around, bent over and, in a great illustration of caring for a fellow performer, said, " Give me a swift kick, Michael." Though the target was tempting, I declined.
Nov. 4. We had a narrow escape this week: the night before taping I had a household accident and opened a large gash in my head that required the services of a plastic surgeon and a visit to an emergency room. There I was, about 12 hours from taping, with 18 stitches in my head! I called the makeup man to warn him, then called one of our producers to discuss our options. I couldn't get the wound wet, so that eliminated dabbing makeup on its surface. We even discussed wearing a series of hats in the episode-caps, fedoras, sweatbands, whatever, to hide the wound-but our makeup man, Bron Roylance, rose to the occasion and concealed my bandage perfectly with a large swatch of latex, spirt gum, surgical adhesive and oil-based makeup. It was all but invisible to the camera and, in fact many of the crew were unaware of the injury.
Nov. 11. Brian Bonsall, who plays little Andrew has just walked into my dressing room, carrying a pail full of rocks. " Do you want to buy a rock?" says he. Thinking I may be able to save myself some shopping on my way home, I ask, " How much are they?" Well it turns out the small ones are 25 cents, slightly larger ones are 50 cents or a dollar, and the largest are five dollars. I wonder if this isn't a subtle form of " protection racket" ( buy a rock so your window won't be broken by it). We part friends with my deal for a 25 cent rock. I should have asked if it comes with a guarantee.
Nov. 16. Meredith Baxter-Birney's image is to some extent, that of the self-possessed , rather elegant woman, but I can never again look at a dish of chocolate pudding without thinking of a different Meredith. At the Paramount commissary one day, she invented a new use for this dessert. She began taking mouthfuls of the pudding, running outside and, whipping her head around, seeing how far she could fling the dessert out of her mouth. It was reminiscent of a shot-put or discus-throw competition, so I joined her, giving rise, perhaps, to a new event for the Battle of the Network Stars: " The celebrity-Doubles Pudding Toss."
Dec. 2. This episode concerns Mallory's boyfriend, Nick, and his little dog, Scrapper, that has been a part of his family for many years. Scrapper is hit by a car, and Nick is forced to put the dog to sleep.
Shows with animals always verge on anarchy because, well-trained as animals might be, one never knows what they will do next. They always seem to go through their paces well during the day, but when the producers walk through the door and the run-through begins, all hell breaks lose.
This week is no exception. In the course of the episode, Nick decides it would be best for his little dog if it were put to sleep, but before handing it over to the veterinarian, he wants to have a few moments alone with his beloved dog. The nearly comatose animal is wrapped in a blanket in his arms, and Nick is somewhere in the middle of his farewell-a tender speech wherein he expresses his great love for the dog and his assurance that doggy heaven will be a wonderful place-when the dog begins to growl. Small chuckles from the audience. Scott Valentine as Nick bravely continues, " I love you, and I'll miss you so,..." Another growl, and suddenly the dog attempts to fight its way out of Scott Valentine's arms and the blanket. Then at the following day's run-through, the dog jumps not into one of the cast member's arms as it is supposed to, but right into the lap of one of our producers, watching from the sidelines. The dog is probably, like any smart actor, trying to butter one of the men at the top.
Dec. 16. Very unfortunate, this week, to see one of our guest actors disappear. We worked all day Tuesday, finished the run-through and signed out for the day. The next morning we discovered the actor missing, replaced by another. Cruel business. Crueler still because the decision to replace him had very little to do with talent. He was perfectly capable, a fine actor, but the producers simply wanted a slightly different " type." In many cases, there is just not time in our 22 minute, 30 second format to develop subtle characterizations or complex life histories. Characterizations are often enhanced by their recognizability, and a " look" can be as important a consideration as talent in casting a show like ours.
Feb. 10. Friday morning as we gather in the makeup room, we discuss the strange phenomenon of the fan who suddenly goes overboard. The conversation was prompted by the arrest, reported in yesterday's paper, of a woman accused of sending more than 5000 threatening letters to Michael J. Fox in the last year. Assuming she wrote every single day for a year, it works out to some 13 letters a day! Clearly , such a person needs help and/or confinement. The vast majority of the mail we receive is, of course, from warm, wonderful people who just want to share their thoughts about our show and be sent an autographed picture. But there are those interesting few: there's a guy who has sent me more than a hundred letters in the past six months asking me to send him an airline ticket so he can fly to Los Angeles to see a taping, promising, " I'll pay you back when I get there."
March 13. A pleasant two weeks off for most of us. Justine Bateman surely had the most exotic vacation as she spent part of her break in Rio de Janeiro, hang-gliding. Meredith took a bad fall on the slopes of a celebrity ski tournament, but the biggest news by far, was the public revelation of her decision to divorce David Birney. The scandal journalists have had themselves a time over the past few weeks. I gave my family specific instructions not to purchase any of the publications featuring the story because paying the cover price is a way of financing such invasions of privacy.
I knew Meredith had been wounded by this nonsense over the past few weeks, and I also knew the best way to deal with her was to get her laughing, so I started the day with a salvo of jokes directed at the publications as well as at the entire situation, and we all relaxed . She has a lot on her mind: David, the children, finances, but there also seems to be some sense of relief at having made a decision.
We discussed some of the nonsense written about us over the past seven years. In some cases the stories had been laughable ; in others distressing. But I can say categorically that the stories that surface from time to time of this, or that cast member being "jealous" of Michael J. Fox, for example, are patently untrue. I think the lies about our dislike for each other cause the most damage to the public at large who, I think, read us quite accurately as a group of people inordinately fond of each other.
April 10. For some years now, Tina Yothers and I have been involved in something approaching a continuing free-for-all: we can occasionally be observed running through the sound stage at full-tilt, barracading ourselves in our dressing rooms or loudly protesting about who is or isn't " it." These episodes usually conclude with one or both of us slamming into a wall, breaking an on-stage lamp or simply making to much noise for the rehearsal to continue. It's a game called " Last Tag." The player most recently tagged is " it" and remains so until he or she successfully tags the other. Certain areas of the stage have been designated as " in or out of bounds," so it is possible for one of us to tag the other, run to a place of safety and be unable to be tagged in return. It is, therefore, theoretically possible to be " it" for several minutes, several hours, or even longer. I am looking forward to the final episode of Family Ties if for no other reason than if I tag Tina as she exits our final season's wrap party, she will be " it" FOR THE REST OF HER LIFE!
Here's an Article from People Magazine
May 15, 1989
Going Out on Top
It might have been a made-for-TV Hollywood funeral. Under a blazing sunset sky outside Paramount’s Stage 24, a throng of long-faced mourners was congregating. But the grievers weren’t costumed in black, no one was in makeup, and these people weren’t acting. Instead, the subdued crowd of 250 or so were the friends and relatives of the Family Ties cast and crew members, assembled to bear solemn witness to the final taping of one of the most popular comedies in television history.
With such an enviable record in a medium that almost seems to enjoy chewing up and spitting out sitcoms, why would a huge hit like Ties walk away from success? The only answer being offered is that it is best to quit while you’re ahead and to pull the plug after seven successful seasons of sky-high Nielsens before somebody pulls it for you. “It’s certainly better to choose to leave the game than to be benched,” says Michael J. Fox, who, contrary to suspicion, was not threatening to leave the show. His and the other cast members’ attachment to Family Ties was evident just before the taping. As they were introduced to the audience, each actor wore a grim, wavering smile—except for Meredith Baxter Birney, who simply broke into sobs.
After the airing of Family Ties‘ 176th—and last—episode this Sunday (May 14), the lights will go out permanently in a quaint Columbus, Ohio, house whose exterior was never seen, whose front lawn was never mowed. And when the Family Ties contingent, lugging five Emmys, finally wave goodbye to their fans, they’ll leave behind an empty niche—and fond memories as one of television’s best-loved nuclear families.
If the Cleavers agonized over bad report cards in the ’50s, the Keaton clan provided Leave It to Beaver’s ’80s update. After its debut on Sept. 22, 1982, this sentimental NBC sitcom about a pair of grown-up flower children trying to cope with kids today aired episodes on teen suicide, premarital sex, Alzheimer’s disease and divorce, but always retained an optimism about the healing powers of home and hearth. The program was even in perfect harmony with the politics of the times. According to the White House, Family Ties was Ronald Reagan’s favorite show.
If the sitcom provided a prime-time touchstone for fans, it also did the same for its cast. “It wasn’t just a show for us,” says the series’ creator, Gary David Goldberg, 44, who admits that at times his own family served as script fodder. “It was intertwined creatively with our own lives.”
No one experienced Family’s blessings with more force than a young Canadian-born, previously unknown actor who burst to stratospheric fame as the Keaton family’s firstborn (presumably in pinstripes).
Before Ties, “I was doing basically nothing,” says Michael J. Fox, 27, who for the last three months has been sandwiching series work around the filming of two—yes, two—sequels to his 1985 hit, Back to the Future. “Without this show, I’d be digging ditches in Vancouver. It was a complete economic and emotional godsend.”
Ruminating about the show’s long run, Fox confesses to a case of the seven-year itch. “If you were in the fifth grade and someone started to tell you about graduation, you couldn’t even imagine it,” he says. “But that scenario is exactly what we’ve lived out here. We love each other like classmates, but we’re looking out the window a lot these days.”
Perhaps the biggest Ties-related life change for Fox came in 1985, when actress Tracy Pollan was introduced as Alex Keaton’s first “serious girlfriend.” Though the romance lasted just one season onscreen, it flourished in real life. Pollan married Fox last summer, and the two are expecting their first child next month. Impending fatherhood, says Fox, leaves him “very pumped. I don’t know what to expect, really. But I’ve been getting a lot of books on it. There’s a really wonderful timing in that the end of the show will just precede the birth of our baby. That’s a really nice transition.”
As the show’s most stellar by-product, Fox has film projects lined up that will keep him busy until 1992. Next out for him is Casualties of War, a film co-starring Sean Penn that’s due for release in August. “Doing a movie right now is a very good anesthetic,” he says. “It means I don’t have a whole lot of time to sit and deal with the impending end of this part of my life.”
Fox admits he seldom catches old Ties episodes, although his wife does. “She’ll say, ‘Family Ties is on.’ My standard line is, ‘I was there at the time.’ But the thing about this show is that it is immensely watchable. We’re all really proud of that.” But Fox, like other cast members, says that the show will always represent something more than a résumé entry. “In terms of marking periods of your life, it’s a really flashy home movie. You can look at it and immediately know exactly where you were at that time in your life. Family Ties is a section of my life that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.”
If Ties served as rocket fuel for Fox’s career, it left Justine Bateman’s fizzling on the launchpad. After seven years of playing the vapor-brained Mallory, a fashion-conscious teen with a shop-till-you-drop mentality, Bateman, 23, has yet to capitalize on her Ties fame. Her one film, last year’s insipid teen flick titled Satisfaction, produced little in the way of box office cash or critical contentment. So far, says the actress, there have been no other offers.
Ties’ demise “feels like moving out of your parents’ house,” says Bateman, who racked up a reputation as the show’s most temperamental cast member. “It’s like graduating from school. Like moving after you’ve lived somewhere for seven years to a town where you don’t know anyone. It’s like any new upheaval in your life.”
There is a sense that, for her, cutting Ties is not such a happy endeavor. “I’m not crazy about talking about it to begin with,” she says grumpily. “It’s something that’s far more private. But it’s not the end of my book. It’s simply the end of a chapter. How I feel is probably not what I’m going to tell America. I didn’t when I had a fight with my parents or broke up with my boyfriend. It’s something you try not to think about. It’s something that’s just going to happen. I don’t know what I’m going to do next. I really haven’t planned anything. I don’t know at all.”
That kind of downcast brat-talk would have rankled Elyse Keaton, the perennially chipper architect played by Meredith Baxter Birney, who at the series’ inception was its best-known player. Ties‘ highly rated 1984 two-parter about the birth of baby Andrew paralleled Baxter Birney’s own pregnancy with her now 4-year-old twins, Peter and Mollie. The series’ conclusion coincides with the collapse of her 15-year marriage to husband David Birney.
At 41, Baxter Birney is experiencing video empty-nest syndrome. “I have such mixed emotions about the show ending,” she says. “I’m excited about the prospect of being a free agent again, but I can’t imagine what the future is going to be like. For seven years, it’s been such a constant. There’s always been a security in having a job, and I cannot imagine what it will be like not to be doing it. But I’m really excited to find out.”
One easy call is that she’ll spend time with the twins. “I want to lie facedown in the sand, be free to play with the kids and go to the theater,” she says. “I have friends I haven’t seen in 10 years. People are coming out of the woodwork. It’s one of the most exciting things in my life. It’s a renaissance, and I want to enjoy it. And then I’ll go back and lie down again.”
As Steven, the Keaton family’s hand-wringing patriarch, Michael Gross was a highly regarded but basically unknown stage actor at the time of his Ties debut. “This is definitely the closing of a chapter in my life—almost my mid-life crisis,” says Gross, now 41. Crediting the show with his marriage to Elza Bergeron, one of the program’s casting directors, Gross says the end of Ties is either “a crisis or a great opportunity, depending on what day of the week you catch me. I don’t know what the rest of my career is going to be like. I have no crystal ball. I thought Dukakis was going to be President. What do I know?”
Gross recently did some breakout work as a bad guy in the made-for-TV movie The F.B.I. Murders. But for now, his self-described role as “Dudley Do-Dad” will admittedly be hard to shake. “I just began an oil-painting class,” he says. “I felt like doing something totally different. But my car goes the same route every morning; I’m on automatic pilot. I’m sure I’ll have dreams about coming to the studio.”
For Tina Yothers, who debuted in the show at age 9, parting too will be sweet sorrow. “This is the last one,” she says, “and it’s going to be sad. It’s hard to think that it’s ending. But it’ll never leave my heart.” Focusing on a singing career (her rock band, It’s Magic, recently opened for Menudo), Yothers confesses to another ambition. Throughout the seven-year run, cast members have been scrawling graffiti behind the wall of the kitchen set. “When they’re knocking down the set, I might sneak in here and take the wall home,” she says. “I think everyone wants it.”
Despite their obvious affection for the series, it seems that no one—including the show’s other regulars, Brian Bonsall, Scott Valentine and Courteney Cox Arquette—wants the promise of a Family Ties reunion. But not, they insist, because anyone is sick of the show. “I don’t think you’ll see a sequel,” says Michael Gross. “Gary Goldberg said we won’t age as well as the Bradys. And I don’t want to do that. It’s a moment in time, these seven years, and I don’t want to resurrect them for a two-hour special. I don’t want to touch it. When it’s been this good, leave it alone.”
That tune may change in a few years, but for now it remains a bittersweet eulogy. Grieving fans will have to content themselves with reruns in syndication.
After the final taping of Family Ties, an episode about Alex’s wrenching decision to leave the nest, the actors reappeared before the audience for their last bows, and emotion kicked in with full force. Fox and Baxter Birney broke down and embraced. Gross wiped tears from his eyes and hugged Bateman. Every cast and crew member was crying, and friends and relatives soon joined in.
An audience member asked Gary Goldberg why, after seven radiant years, Family Ties was pulling its own plug. “We don’t want to abuse our moment in the sun,” he replied mistily. “But tonight it does seem like a mistake.”
—Susan Schindehette, Michael Alexander in Los Angeles
An Article from The New York Times
3 TV Shows That Captured a Decade
By STEPHANIE BRUSH; STEPHANIE BRUSH IS A SYNDICATED COLUMNIST FOR THE WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP.
Published: June 4, 1989
Suddenly, it's the end of three eras: ''Moonlighting'' is television history, and ''Family Ties'' and ''Miami Vice'' have aired their (respectively, tearful and explosive) all- time finales.
These were shows (more than shows, really) that we once arranged our lives around, canceled dates for, argued about, chewed on - and, yes, bought the wardrobe and soundtrack of. It feels particularly cataclysmic if you include the demise this spring of the long-run ning ''Dynasty'' and ''Kate & Allie'' - almost as if the 80's have been purged from television in one fell swoop.
But ''Moonlighting,'' ''Miami Vice'' and ''Family Ties'' are likely the ones that future TV historians will dissect most lovingly, even though on the sur face the three had little in common, except for, arguably, a male star you somehow couldn't take your eyes off: They made household words out of Bruce Willis, Don Johnson and Michael J. Fox.
Looking back and calling them ground-breaking originals now, we forget that ''Miami Vice'' was once just another cop show, with maybe an updated designer-loafer budget. ''Moonlight ing'' started life as a poor man's ''Remington Steele.'' ''Family Ties'' was ''Father Knows Best'' with granola.
But they were shows that were inextricably of their time; they somehow became that way, through writing, or ''style'' or luck or all three. You could even argue that ''Miami Vice,'' wholly of south Florida, and ''Family Ties,'' wholly of Columbus, Ohio, were distant reflections of the same 80's syndrome: ''Miami Vice'' was rampant greed and acquisitiveness, with a drug dealer's hooves and horns. Alex P. Keaton of ''Family Ties'' was greed with the face of an angel.
''Family Ties'' was a show about a wholesome, decent, liberal household that had somehow hatched a comical but morally repellent life form. (At first, the idea seemed a schematic gimmick: ''Ha! Ha! A switcheroo - hippie parents with a son who likes wearing neckties!'') Then it turned out that the creators were a little too prescient, and Alex-like characters were popping up all over the 80's, although Alex's deep-down venality always seemed to do them one better.
But the writers and the actors continued to add dimension to the show during its seven years, and through the central cartoon of Alex (who became less cartoonlike) the issues of alcoholism, teen-age suicide and the endangered nuclear family were explored. It's easy to forget, looking back, that the essential monstrousness of Alex Keaton's proclaimed values would have made him impossible to watch if Michael J. Fox had not been so, miraculously, cuddly. .
All of these shows did things for us that we needed to have done at a precise notch in history.
''Miami Vice'' supposedly was the product of a single high-concept two-word phrase generated by NBC's president of entertainment, Brandon Tartikoff: ''MTV cops.'' And there was never so much as a single comprehensible plot to mar the series' five-year run. It was the ultimate triumph of style over (controlled) substance. But that style was seductive; it had an emotional life of its own. Dead bodies always fell into pools, in perfect red blossoms of blood, like begonias in David Hockney paintings. The screams of the dying drug warriors in gun-battle scenes were muffled by throbbing synthesizers or the gorgeous, sad wailing of Peter Gabriel or Phil Collins or Godley and Creme.
The episode where rocker Ted Nugent blows up Sonny Crockett's Testarossa in a deserted sand pit had a sort of existential Samuel Beckett-hits-Dade-County quality. And who can forget that episode about the achingly vulnerable hooker who falls in love with Rico Tubbs, ties him to a bed between stabbings and then shoots herself in the head? (''This is what you want,'' the soundtrack chanted over and over. ''This is what you get.'')
This was what we got. This was what we wanted.
Still, arguments remained: Was ''Miami Vice'' a ''moral'' show? Specifically, it was a show about immorality but with a moral center: Lieut. Martin Castillo, played by Edward James Olmos with a pained, nearly Christlike stoicism. (''Family Ties,'' in contrast, was a show about morality, with an ostensibily immoral center: young Alex Keaton, who, in the last season, was training his tiny younger brother in the fine art of evicting widows and orphans from real estate holdings. But we laughed and laughed. Cuddle, cuddle.) Before ''Miami Vice,'' south Florida had no reputation at all, other than as a gray-headed Geritol-and-Ex-Lax capital. Then, in the space of a single television season, south Florida got young. The summer that ''Miami Vice'' was at its peak, I remember traveling in Oslo, Norway, and everyone in sight was dressed like Sonny Crockett. And they didn't even know who Sonny Crockett was. More importantly, it didn't matter.
If ''Miami Vice'' succeeded in making the war on drugs something you could hum to, ''Moonlighting'' made the war between the sexes something you could healthily giggle at. It was based on a million Hollywood ''screwball'' movies about two people who belonged together, by virtue of despising everything each other stood for. Except that all those movies conveniently ended; they remained movies. But, if television is only a box, ''Moonlighting'' climbed out of the box. Not only did Bruce Willis's Dave and Cybill Shepherd's Maddie address us personally, we believed Dave/Bruce's and Maddie/Cybill's feelings were real. For a brief while, it was like watching a great Tracy-and-Hepburn movie, knowing that the sparks flying on screen were absolutely genuine. And the supermarket tabloids gleefully perpetuated this. (We wanted no part of the news that Cybill Shepherd wasn't really in love with the smirking David Addison - and was in fact pregnant with twins by her real-life chiropractor. It wasn't a well-written situation.) On some level, we knew that the fireworks set off by Dave and Maddie were generated precisely by their spectacular wrongness for one another. It was like watching a car accident, addictively, week after week. ''Moonlighting'' was an ode to better (if tenser) living through sexual chemistry, and we were just as happy to watch, rather than participate. You only wanted to know: ''Are they going to kiss?'' We wanted to balance on that tense pinnacle forever. We wanted to hold our breath. We didn't want to see the messy stuff. The moment the tension was gone, the show was gone, was essentially over. We didn't want to witness the ugly trench warfare that ensues when real sex gums things up - the ''Did you call me?/Did I call you?'' business.
During its four-season life, the Blue Moon Detective Agency, with its background scrim of faceless employees, was a wonderful boxing ringof the sexes: Dave and Maddie would emerge from their respective corners, go a few rounds and retreat, gasping, behind their respective office doors. You watched it with your boyfriend or husband, you cheered for your ''team.''
In a way, for the same reason that all these shows needed to exist, they needed to eventually trundle off.
''Miami Vice'' probably had to go because the reality of the drug problem became more grotesque and theatrical than anything television could dream up. The series' final episode, about a drug-dealing Central American megalomaniac, was upstaged by the real-life elections in Panama.
And Alex Keaton, right on Inauguration Day cue, was becoming noticeably kinder and gentler, which is death to comedy. Besides, all the siblings on ''Family Ties'' looked a bit creaky to still be living at home with the folks. Michael J. Fox was developing forehead creases. The female stars' hairstyles and wardrobes were becoming suspiciously more Melrose Avenue than Columbus.
''Family Ties'' ended on the classiest note, beautifully written and played until the end. Everyone cried freely at the closing curtain call. In the eternity of rerun-land, the theme song will probably take on a whole new meaning: ''What'll we do, baby/ Without us?''
Probably watch ''Roseanne.'' But it won't be the same.
To watch some clips from Family Ties go to http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=family+ties&aq=f
For a Website dedicated to Family Ties go to http://web.archive.org/web/20051226103151/www.familyties-tv.com/
For Tim's TV Showcase go to https://web.archive.org/web/20130103152640/http://www.timstvshowcase.com/famties.html
To read a transcript of The Family Ties Today Show Reunion in 2008 go to https://web.archive.org/web/20080210095452/%20http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/23048314/
For an Article on the A My name is Alex episode of family Ties go to https://tv.avclub.com/family-ties-a-my-name-is-alex-1798226185
For an Article on Family Ties go to https://www.closerweekly.com/posts/michael-j-fox-family-ties-155645
For a look at the book Family Ties-Alex Gets the Business go to https://www.tvobscurities.com/2009/08/bookshelf-family-ties-alex-gets-the-business/
For some Family Ties-related interview videos at the Archive of American Television go to https://interviews.televisionacademy.com/shows/family-ties
For two Reviews of Family Ties go to http://www.museum.tv/eotv/familyties.htm and https://web.archive.org/web/20080215232702/http://www.televisionheaven.co.uk/familyties.htm
� Date: Sun June 17, 2007 � Filesize: 36.8kb � Dimensions: 500 x 500 �
Keywords: Family Ties: Season 1 DVD (Links Updated 7/17/18)