Behind the scenes of ‘Family Ties’
“Family Ties” wriggled its way into the hearts of audiences everywhere, thanks to its amusing characters and comical scenarios.
The comedy sitcom revolved around a suburban family made up of hippy-dippy liberal parents, their ultra-conservative son, and their other children, as they navigate their way through the Reagan era. Even if you’ve seen all seven seasons, we bet you didn’t know these fun facts about the cast and crew.
Tracy Pollan wasn’t a big fan of Michael J. Fox
When season four rolled around, producers cast Tracy Pollan to play Ellen Reed, Alex P. Keaton’s (Michael J. Fox) love interest. When James Lipton, host of Inside the Actor’s Studio asked Pollan what her first impression of Fox was, she replied, “He was feeling good about himself. I think I thought he was kind of full of himself.”
“And then we started to work together, and I got a completely different impression and how completely opposite from that he was just funny and so smart, and just all of these other things came through those first two weeks we worked together,” she added. Fox admits that he had a crush on Pollan and claims she helped him win his first Emmy.
There were rumors that Fox and Courteney Cox were an off-screen item
As soon as Courteney Cox joined the Family Ties cast as Alex’s girlfriend, stories exploded in the tabloids telling about a real-life romance between Cox and Fox. Gossip magazines fabricated that the “steamy affair” that took place after Fox apparently broke up with his former co-star, Pollan.
Fox rebutted: “People always want to read there’s romance when it’s just two actors having a good time working with each other. I’m having a great personal relationship with Tracy and a great professional relationship with Courteney.” Cox also laughed off the accusations saying, “I’ve never been to a nightclub with Michael. I’ve never even been to some of the clubs the tabloids named.”
Michael J. Fox was almost fired
Brandon Tartikoff, who was president of NBC at the time, was adamant about getting rid of Fox after the pilot aired. Fox told Parade, “He said, I love the show, you’ve just got to get rid of the kid. I can’t see that face on a lunchbox.”
He continued: “So years later, when Back to the Future hit and Family Ties was the number two show on TV, I made Brandon a lunchbox with my picture on it, and I wrote, ‘This is for you to put your crow in. Love, me.’ Brandon turned out to be a good friend and a great guy. He kept that on his desk until the day he died.”
Scott Valentine thought he was paid too much
Scott Valentine, who played Nick Moore, Mallory’s boyfriend, admitted that his role was a little too surface-level considering his background. He told Montreal radio station CJAD 800 AM, “I’m so glad I went to the [American Academy of Dramatic Arts] and to all the other fine acting institutions so I could grunt on primetime television.”
He continued: “The primal dig, the date from hell. It was a lot of fun, but literally, there were times where I only had to utter two guttural utterances in a show and they paid me a bundle of cash for it. I felt bad at times.”
Fans were confused about Meredith Baxter’s disappearance
During the third season of Family Ties, Meredith Baxter, who played Elyse Keaton, was absent from quite a few episodes. What fans didn’t know was that Baxter had given birth during her absence. Baxter had been pregnant for most of the season, but they were able to cover up her growing frame with loose-fitting clothes and smartly-placed props.
Audiences had no idea the actress was pregnant until after she gave birth. Following her separation from husband, David Birney, she married screenwriter, Michael Blodgett. Following her separation with Blodgett, she began a relationship with Nancy Locke, and they were married in 2013.
Fox saw Alex as a ‘Scared Kid’
During a segment of Inside the Actors Studio, James Lipton asked Fox, “Who is Alex Keaton?” Fox replied, “I always thought of him like a mansion made out of rice paper. He looked amazing, he felt good about what he presented to the world, but you could poke your finger through it any time you wanted to. And then the fun was watching him react to that and recover from that and hoist himself back up to that place where he thought he was.”
Fox said he saw a lot of himself in the character, and playing the role gave him a new perspective on his acting abilities. He once said: “..I thought of acting, when I was younger, as something [where] you put on a character. You’re trying to be somebody else, and really what it is, is trying to take stuff off.”
Scott Valentine got three different pilots
Nick Moore, was only supposed to appear in one episode of Family Ties, but audiences soon became enamored by the character, and he became a series regular. He became so popular that the network wanted to try giving him his own show … three different times. All three pilots were considered failures by the network standard.
The first pilot was called Taking It Home, where Nick moves to Detroit and to live with his grandfather, who is played by Herschel Bernardi. Unfortunately, Bernardi passed shortly after filming began, so the project was canceled. The second pilot revolved around Nick working at a daycare center for juvenile delinquents, to no avail. The third one was called The Art of Being Nick, and it was never picked up by the network.
Mallory Keaton wasn’t always a dim character
Justine Bateman, who played Mallory Keaton, told Variety that her character was much different in earlier episodes. She said: “In fact, they have a line in the pilot where Alex brings a girl home to have dinner with the family and she says, ‘I really love helping people, and I really love cheerleading.'”
She continued, “And I say, ‘Oh, kind of like an Albert Schweitzer with poms poms.’ What Mallory became, of course … She would never have a line like that.” The transition from cerebral to dumb came from whenever Alex made fun of Mallory. Bateman would “pretend it was a compliment, and the writers saw that and went, ‘Oh, sh**, if she thinks that’s funny, that’s so great.’ So we just started going in that direction.”
Fox almost didn’t do Back to the Future because of the show
Because Michael J. Fox committed to Family Ties, he initially wasn’t allowed to partake in Back to the Future. Originally, they had hired Eric Stoltz to play the part of Marty Mcfly, but when things fell through, the studio pursued Fox once more. Fox said: “Was I prepared to do both the show and a movie at the same time?'”
“All of a sudden, I came back from Christmas break, and I went to work on Family Ties, and then that night I was standing in the parking lot with flaming tire tracks running between my legs—and my whole world changed. I ended up getting about three hours sleep a night for the next three or four months because they had to get the movie out that summer.”
Fox’s diagnosis came after the show wrapped
Today, Fox is one of the most famous faces fronting the fight against Parkinson’s Disease. In 1991, he was privately diagnosed with the nervous system disorder and was informed he had “ten good working years left.”
With this diagnosis, he signed a three-film contract for For Love or Money, Life With Mikey, and Greedy. His show, Spin City ran from 1996 to 2002 on ABC, and it was during the third season that Fox admitted to the cast and crew that he had Parkinson’s disease. He announced his retirement during the fourth season and was replaced by Charlie Sheen.
Fox had to hitchhike to work
Look, Michael J. Fox is estimated to be worth $65 million, so that means he can afford to pay for transformation without making a huge dent in his wallet. However, back during Family Times, the actor lived a lot less glamorous than he does now.
It has been said that Fox would hitchhike to work from Brentwood in order to get to the Family Ties set in Hollywood. Obviously, this changed when Fox became a household name as his popularity grew through Family Ties and his many movie roles.
Skippy Handelman is a stand-up Comedian
Marc Price played Irwin “Skippy” Handelman of the Keatons neighbor who was hopelessly in love with Mallory. The show may have ended, but Handelman’s career continued to flourish. Price told the Sun-Sentinel in 1993, “A lot of people know me as Skippy, and that doesn’t scare me.”
“People want me to hate that, but I don’t hate that, because that’s how people know me. I accept that and I look to get recognized as Marc Price in due time.” He added that people come to his shows because of Skippy, “but I’m certainly Marc Price and they get to meet Marc Price.”
There were plenty of Family Ties references in Spin City
Spin City starred Michael J. Fox as Mike Flaherty, the Deputy Mayor of New York. He left the show in 2000 due to his increasing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. While Fox he still on the show, however, there was an endless supply of Family Ties references that only true fans would be able to point out.
There were even some guest appearances from the Family Ties cast. Meredith Baxter-Birney appeared on Spin City as a guest star to play Michael Flarety’s mom. Michael Gross, who played the father on Family Ties also appeared in the finale of Spin City.
Brian Bonsall had a rough transition into adulthood
In 1986, Brian Bonsall began playing the role of Andy Keaton, and he won three Young Artist Awards for his performance on the series. He was also nominated for a Young Artist Award for his role in the television movie Do You Know the Muffin Man?
With so much success at such a young age, Bonsall had quite a career ahead of him. Instead, Bonsall had quite a few run-ins with the law, and he never returned to acting. In 2016, Bonsall toured with rock band The Ataris, and in October 2017, he married Courtney Tuck.
Matthew Broderick could have played Alex
Matthew Broderick was offered the role of Alex Keaton, but he turned down the part because he didn’t want to relocate to LA. Gary David Goldberg, who was a producer for the show wasn’t fond of Fox for the role, but he was convinced to watch him audition.
He said: “So, [Weiner] calls him in, and I say, ‘Anything you want me to tell you?’ He goes, ‘No, just do it better, huh?’ And he gives me this little smile, and I’m thinking, ‘Matthew who?’ It was like ‘boom.’ He nailed it. He just played ho he was, he played the other side. He was Mike. And as soon as he left, I turned to Judith and I said, ‘This kid’s great. Why didn’t you tell me about him?'”
Fox was inspired by his brother
We mentioned that Michael J. Fox saw a lot of himself in Alex, but he also said that he based a lot of the character’s behavior on his brother.
Fox added: “My brother was so funny at the dinner table that you’d wait for what he had to say. He’s put his glass of milk down and from the minute he took the glass of milk from his mouth you’re waiting for what he had to say. So later, all that became a part of Alex.”
The show had quite a few famous guest stars
There are plenty of recognizable and award-winning celebs that found their way on Family Ties over seven seasons. Tom Hanks played “Uncle Ned” in multiple episodes, where he had to chug a bottle of vanilla extract in one of the episodes.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus played Susan White, a lawyer hired by the Keatons to fight the school board after Jennifer is suspended. Gina Davis appeared on the show as a Karen, the incompetent housekeeper. Late teen heartthrob River Phoenix played a tutor for Alex who ends up with an unwavering crush on Jennifer.
A song that was six years old became a number one hit
When the song, At this moment by Billy Vera and The Beaters was first released, it ended up at No. 79 on the Billboard Hot 100 at the end of 1981. In 1985 to 1986, the song was played on several episodes of Family Ties where it gained exposure to a bigger audience.
The song was used as a break-up song between Alex and Ellen. The popularity of the show caused the song to shoot up to the number one spot on both the Hot 100 and adult contemporary part. The song also went on to rise to the Billboard R & B Chart and the Billboard Hot Country Chart.
The UBU Productions logo was Gary David Goldberg’s Dog
The production company image that was shown at the end of every episode was a black lab, with the words “Ubu Productions” across the screen. Well, that famous dog’s name was Ubu Roi, and if you listened, you would hear a voiceover say, “Sit, Ubu, sit. Good dog.”
David told Emmy TV Legends: “I just don’t want a lot of distance there. So it was really nice to have that logo to always remind you who you are.” Unfortunately, Ubu died in 1984, but the logo of the beloved pooch would be seen once more in other shows like Spin City and Brooklyn Bridge.
The cast came back together in 2015
When Family Ties ended in 1989, the cast wanted to make sure that every loose end was tied up to avoid the possibility of a reboot. They even went as far as to push for a storyline for the finale where the Keaton Family dies in a plane crash.
However, the cast had a reunion in 2015 where they sat down with Entertainment Weekly to discuss their time on the show. Fox told EW, “People grew up with Family Ties. That’s a very special relationship I enjoy with people. I was there for a lot of big things in their lives. I wasn’t physically there, but I was a friend in their lives.”
Bateman graduated from UCLA in 2016
After Family Ties ended, Bateman continued to act in TV shows, with one of her more recent roles being a high-priced escort in an episode of Arrested Development called “Family Ties.” Soon after, Bateman decided to quit acting and head back to school. She enrolled in UCLA’s undergrad computer science and management program, and she graduated in 2016.
She told The Hollywood Reporter: “When I graduate, I will either run a division of a company that is tech and entertainment together, or I’ll get funding for my own company with a focus on taking current technology to film far more complicated stories.”
Family Ties and The Muppets had a mutual appreciation
You may not have thought that The Muppets and Family Ties would intertwine, but they had a mutual admiration for the other. The Winter 1985 issue of Muppet Magazine features a photoshoot with cast members Fox, Bateman, and Tina Yothers that was called, “Motor Madness: Or … How the ‘Family Ties’ Stars, Miss Piggy, and Janice Drove Sam the Eagle Crazy.”
The article talks about the Family Ties cast picking up The Muppets from the airport to see The Police in concert. There are also multiple mentions of The Muppets throughout its seven seasons.
The show was an immediate success
Family Ties ran for almost a decade, which is a considerable amount of time, especially for a sitcom. The show won multiple awards, including three Emmy Awards for Fox as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. NBC aired reruns of Family Ties weekday mornings from December 1987 until January 1987.
In the fall of 1987, the series officially went into syndication in the United States. Today, you can catch an episode on Pop and Antenna TV, but at one point, it aired on MeToo, Disney Channel, FamilyNet, WGN America, TBS, YTV, Nick at Nite, TV Land, Hallmark Channel, and The Hub.
Tina Yothers was on Celebrity Wife Swap
Tina Yothers was only nine-years-old when she received the role of Jennifer Keaton on “Family Ties.” Although she’s managed to step out of the acting spotlight for a little, she’s still in the entertainment `biz. She has shown promise in music and was in a band called Jaded with her brother Cory. The band released a single, which Yothers recorded in Family Ties episode, “Band on the Run.”
She was given the lead role in Lovelace the Musical in 2004. She appeared as herself on a TV child stars edition of The Weakest Link in 2001, and she appeared on the fourth season of the VH1 reality television show, Celebrity Fit Club. In 2012, she was featured on the ABC show Celebrity Wife Swap, where she traded places with Niecy Nash of Reno 911!.
The “J” in Michael J. Fox was made up
You probably thought that the J. in Michael J. Fox stood for his middle name, right? Well, not exactly. Fox’s real name is actually Michael Andrew Fox. He was first discovered by producer Ronald Shedlo, and he made his film debut in the television film, Letters from Frank, where he is credited as “Michael Fox.”
When Fox tried to register with the Screen Actors Guild, which requires unique registration names, he found Michael Fox was already listed. He didn’t like the idea of Michael A. Fox, so he decided to write his name as Michael J. Fox as a tribute to Michael J. Pollard.
Bateman wasn’t a fan of the stage version
It was announced in 2016 that there would be a stage version of the famous ’80s sitcom. Variety tweeted: “Earlier this week, it was announced that playwright Daniel Goldstein is adapting the sitcom for the stage, with the production debuting in Dayton, Ohio next year.”
“Justine Bateman, who played Mallory Keaton during the show’s seven-season run, found out about the news on Tuesday and had this reaction: ‘Ew, ew, ew, ew’.” It seems that Bateman wasn’t too keen on the idea of a Family Ties stage play. The play featured the original characters 20 years after the show ended.
The cast was super close
Bateman has said that she and Fox were very close off-set. They may have looked squeaky clean on the show, but they would often sneak out to smoke cigarettes together on their breaks.
Fox once asked his assistant to run to the store to buy water guns so they could have water gun fights during their off-time. He told the Today Show, “we caught the crest of a wave there. We thought we were having fun with it, but it was having fun with us. It was big, it was huge.”