It launched the career of Michael J. Fox and reflected the cultural divide between the hippies of the ’60s and the yuppies of the ’80s. Apparently it was also a favorite of none other than Ronald Reagan. These and the following 40 other factoids will definitely leave you feeling nostalgic for the classic sitcom Family Ties.
40. Alex was loved by Republicans and Democrats alike
There are few things that appear to unite staunch Republicans and die-hard Democrats. However, Family Ties’ Alex P. Keaton somehow had the power to appeal to both ends of the political spectrum. The young conservative was taken at face value by those who favored Ronald Reagan at the time. But he was also admired by liberals who believed he was skewering the opposition.
39. Michael Gross made a crossover appearance
Shared on-screen universes were a thing long before all those Marvel films came along. In 1988 Michael Gross rocked up on an episode of Day by Day playing who else but the Keaton family patriarch, Steven. The NBC one-season wonder was also the brainchild of Family Ties creator Gary David Goldberg.
38. Alex was nearly played by Matthew Broderick
Matthew Broderick played one of the defining on-screen teens of the 1980s, the titular truant in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. But he very nearly landed the part of another iconic, if very different, fictional youth. Yes, before Michael J. Fox made Alex P. Keaton his own, Broderick was reportedly in the frame to portray the young conservative.
37. Mallory wasn’t always so dumb
Eldest daughter Mallory Keaton wasn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the box. But according to the actor who played her, the character was initially written as more intelligent. In a 2015 interview with Variety, Justine Bateman referenced a joke about a helpful cheerleader Mallory made in the pilot episode. “Oh, kind of like an Albert Schweitzer with pom poms,” was the punchline. Bateman argued, “What Mallory became, of course… She would never have a line like that.”
36. The show had three failed spin-offs
Network execs sure seemed keen to give Nick Moore a spin-off. In fact, they piloted three different shows revolving around the character, but each one failed to get a season order. Production on Taking It Home stopped when co-star Herschel Bernardi died. The second attempt, which saw Nick working at a juvenile delinquent center, just didn’t pass muster. And actor Scott Valentine bailed on The Art of Being Nick after realizing he didn’t want to be forever associated with the same character.
35. There were rumors about Fox and Courteney Cox
Long before Courteney Cox became Monica Geller in Friends, she played Alex’s love interest Lauren Miller in Family Ties. And according to reports, this was a case of fiction mirroring reality. However, in a 1987 interview with People magazine, Fox claimed that he’d been nothing but faithful to his then-girlfriend Tracy Pollan. He said, “People always want to read there’s romance when it’s just two actors having a good time working with each other.”
34. Bateman graduated from UCLA
Justine Bateman may have played dumb during her Family Ties stint, but she’s certainly no airhead in real life. In 2016 she graduated from UCLA with a degree in computer science and management. Shortly before, the actor told the Hollywood Reporter that she planned to launch her own tech and entertainment company that would focus on making complex stories.
33. Fox believes Alex was just a scared kid
Audiences may have viewed Alex P. Keaton as cocksure, but the man who played him believes the character was nothing more than a scared kid. While appearing on Inside the Actors Studio in 2005, Fox told host James Lipton, “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.”
32. Meredith Baxter came out as gay
Best known for starring as Elyse Keaton, the matriarch of the Keaton household in Family Ties, Meredith Baxter surprised everyone in 2009 when she came out as gay. The actor told NBC’s Today show that she was “extraordinarily happy” about being able to reveal her true self. She went on to walk down the aisle with Nancy Locke, a contractor, four years later.
31. Bateman starred in an Arrested Development episode named Family Ties
For those of you who don’t already know, Justine Bateman is the sister of Ozark, Horrible Bosses and Teen Wolf Too star Jason. In 2006 the pair briefly shared the screen together playing twin siblings who’d lost touch with each other in Arrested Development. And the episode’s name was none other than “Family Ties.”
30. Brian Bonsall is now in a punk band
Andy, the youngest member of the Keaton family, was played by Brian Bonsall. The child star went on to land roles in Star Trek: The Next Generation and big screen comedy Blank Check. These days, though, he seems more interested in music than acting. Having formed Sunset Silhouette, an indie-punk outfit, they dropped their debut LP, Far Beyond Suburbia, in 2019.
29. The cast wanted to kill off all the Keatons
The cast of Family Ties appeared to be relieved when the show finally came to an end in 1989. In fact, in order to ensure that the Keatons could never return to our screens again, they came up with a drastic solution. The likes of Fox, Bateman and Baxter proposed killing off the entire family in an airplane crash. Perhaps unsurprisingly, studio bosses didn’t take up the idea.
28. The 1988 Presidential election affected one episode
To avoid accusations of political bias, NBC ended up cutting one episode due to be aired just before the Presidential election of 1988. In one scene, staunch conservative Alex was filmed in his bedroom surrounded by posters for George H. W. Bush’s campaign. Instead, producers waited until the 41st President had been elected and shot another scene of Alex putting up a Bush poster in the family lounge.
27. It was Ronald Reagan’s favorite TV show
Alex P. Keaton’s devotion to the Republican cause certainly impressed those high up in the party. In fact, none other than the reigning president during most of the show’s run, Ronald Reagan, claimed that Family Ties was his favorite TV show. Sadly, rumors of a cameo for the 40th President never came to fruition.
26. Fox’s on-screen parents were jealous of his success
In Meredith Baxter’s autobiography, the actor freely admitted that both she and on-screen husband Michael Gross were jealous of Michael J. Fox’s success. The two older stars believed that the boyish Fox overshadowed their talents and even staged a bizarre protest to let producers know how they felt. This involved walking on to the Family Ties set with one leg each tied together before delivering a speech about their interchangeable characters. The show’s exec producer, however, took little notice.
25. Fox’s father advised him to quit acting just weeks before he got the part
If Michael J. Fox had listened to his father way back in 1982 then the likes of Back to the Future, Spin City and, of course, Family Ties, would all have looked very different. In his autobiography, Lucky Man, the star revealed that his father tried persuading him to give up his acting ambitions in a heartfelt letter. Yet just a few weeks later, Fox bagged the role of Alex P. Keaton, and the rest is history.
24. A Hollywood icon inspired the family name
Diane Keaton is an Oscar-winning actress who’s appeared in some of the most iconic films of the past half-century. But her crowning glory is surely the fact that she inspired the name of 1980s TV’s best-loved sitcom family. Yes, apparently creator Goldberg christened the Keatons in honor of the Annie Hall and The Godfather star.
23. Scott Valentine wore a wig
Scott Valentine sported a typically 1980s haircut for much of his stint as Mallory’s love interest Nick Moore. But the shaggy, lengthy locks you saw on screen weren’t the actor’s own. Yes, Valentine had to wear a wig until the fourth season episode in which his character decides to embrace a shorter, more clean-cut ‘do.
22. The series benefited from The Cosby Show
Family Ties has another NBC sitcom to thank for its lengthy run. The adventures of the Keaton family once followed huge ratings hit The Cosby Show on the Thursday night schedules. But viewership fell when it was moved to a Bill Cosby-less Sunday night for its sixth season and just a year later, Family Ties was no more.
21. Bateman admits the show’s cancellation left her depressed
Justine Bateman initially found it hard to deal with not being a Keaton anymore. The actor later revealed that she suffered from depression after Family Ties was canceled and her level of celebrity dwindled. Thankfully, Bateman managed to bounce back and, alongside adding to her acting credits, she developed a whole new set of skills that would prove fruitful in her career.
20. It boasted several before-they-were-famous cameos
It’s probably easier to list which Hollywood stars didn’t appear on Family Ties before they hit the big time. Tom Hanks, Stephen Baldwin and Christina Applegate are just a few of the names who briefly appeared on the sitcom when they were virtual unknowns.
19. Its child actors included Joseph Gordon-Levitt and River Phoenix
Family Ties also featured several child stars who would later manage to make that tricky transition to credible adult actors. When Joseph Gordon-Levitt was just seven, for example, he appeared for two episodes as Dougie, school pal of Andrew. What’s more, the late River Phoenix once guested as teenage math prodigy Eugene Forbes.
18. Several stars of The Goonies also had cameos
The Goonies remains one of the best-loved family films of the ’80s. It’s perhaps no wonder, then, that several of the movie’s stars briefly rubbed shoulders with the Keatons during Family Ties’ seven-season run. Martha Plimpton (Stef), Corey Feldman (Mouth) and Anne Ramsey (Mama) all guested on the show, while Jeff Cohen (Chunk) actually portrayed two different characters.
17. Michael J. Fox based Alex on his brother
Who knows whether he took it as a compliment or not, but Michael J. Fox’s brother apparently provided much of the inspiration for Alex. Fox once revealed that he often drew from his sibling’s sense of humor, particularly when around the family’s dining table, in order to better advance his development of his Family Ties character.
16. The show was modeled after producer Gary David Goldberg’s real life
And Fox wasn’t the only one whose real-life experiences influenced his work on Family Ties. Producer Gary David Goldberg, who sadly passed away from brain cancer in 2013, also shaped the show around his and his partner Diane’s real transition from hippies to suburbanites.
15. It helped a six-year-old song to reach number one
Billy Vera & The Beaters’ “At This Moment” could only peak at number 79 in the charts when it was originally released in 1981. But, six years later, after being used as the soundtrack to Alex and Ellen’s relationship in the show, the song eventually went 78 places higher to become an unlikely U.S. Hot 100 chart-topper.
14. Tina Yothers released the song she performed on the show
Sadly, Tina Yothers’ musical crossover didn’t quite have the same impact. But you can’t blame a girl for trying. The actress, who played Jennifer Keaton, decided to release the song she performed on the show called “Baby I’m Back In Love Again.” But in stark contrast to Billy Vera and co.’s effort, it failed to enter the U.S. Top 40.
13. Michael J. Fox met his wife on the show
Get ready to say a big “aw.” After all, although Alex and Ellen’s relationship in Family Ties may have broken down, the actors who played them enjoyed a much longer-lasting one off set. Indeed, despite initially thinking he was somewhat arrogant, Tracy Pollan went on to date Michael J. Fox, and in 1988 the pair got hitched. Incredibly, the pair celebrated their 28th wedding anniversary in 2016.
12. The sign-off tag features the show creator’s dog
Family Ties’ sign-off tag became almost as memorable as the show itself. And the black Labrador pictured in front of the Louvre in Paris was creator Gary David Goldberg’s very own dog. It’s also his voice you can hear commanding, “Sit, Ubu, sit! Good dog!”
11. Michael J. Fox used to hitchhike to work
Michael J. Fox may currently have an estimated wealth of around $65 million, but, of course, he wasn’t always so loaded. In fact, the star was so cash-strapped during the early days of Family Ties that he often had to thumb a lift to the Hollywood set from Brentwood.
10. The cast had a 2015 reunion
In order to prevent a future revival of Family Ties, the cast reportedly wanted to finish the series with an airline crash wiping out the whole Keaton family! However, they were more than happy to keep in contact in real life and in 2015 reunited for a feature in Entertainment Weekly.
9. Several cast members showed up in Fox’s later sitcom Spin City
The cast may not have been too keen on a Family Ties reunion, but they had no such reservations about appearing together in a different show. Both Meredith Baxter and Michael Gross showed up in Michael J. Fox’s hit sitcom Spin City, with the former once again playing his on-screen mother and the latter his therapist.
8. Michael J. Fox showed that revenge is best served on a lunchbox
Michael J. Fox very nearly missed out on the role of Alex after NBC head honcho Brandon Tartikoff argued that the actor didn’t have the right look to sell lunchboxes. However, the actor got his revenge once the show became a hit by making Tartikoff a lunchbox emblazoned with his youthful face.
7. Scott Valentine thought he was paid too much
It’s rare to hear an actor admitting that he was paid too much, but Scott Valentine, who played Mallory’s intellectually challenged beau Nick Moore, did just that after his stint on Family Ties. Yes, in 1994 the star explained to Canadian radio station CJAD 800 that he often felt bad for earning a “bundle of cash” simply for grunting on prime time television.
6. Skippy is now a stand-up comedian
Best known for playing Alex’s nerdy friend and Mallory’s not-so-secret admirer Irwin “Skippy” Handelman, Marc Price has continued to deliver the laughs since Family Ties came to an end. The actor has since moved into stand-up, and in 2006 he was featured on Last Comic Standing.
5. Michael J. Fox filmed the show and Back to the Future simultaneously
You could never accuse Michael J. Fox of being work-shy. After all, the actor somehow managed to film both Family Ties and the first part of the Back to the Future franchise simultaneously in early 1985. Fox later revealed that he survived on just three hours of sleep a night for around four months in order to fulfill both roles.
4. Meredith Baxter’s pregnancy was written into the script
While some shows may try to hide an actor’s real-life pregnancy with conveniently placed cushions, Family Ties decided to incorporate Meredith Baxter’s into the show. The star fell pregnant between seasons two and three, inspiring writers to give the Keaton family a new addition in Andy.
3. It enjoyed a mutual appreciation with The Muppets
They wouldn’t appear to have much in common, but Family Ties and The Muppets enjoyed a mutual appreciation in the ’80s. Indeed, Fox, Bateman and Yothers all appeared in a photoshoot with Miss Piggy and co. for an edition of Muppet Magazine. Furthermore, in an episode of Muppet Babies the little ones can be seen viewing the hit NBC sitcom.
2. Gross and Baxter have the exact same birthday
As if Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter couldn’t have been any more perfectly suited to playing parents Steven and Elyse Keaton, it turns out that they share an identical birthday. Both came into the world on June 21, 1947, although Baxter was born in Los Angeles and Gross in Chicago.
1. The cast loved on-set messing around
The grown-up Family Ties cast members certainly weren’t afraid to be kids again during breaks in filming. In fact, in a 2015 interview with Variety, Justine Bateman revealed that Michael J. Fox once instigated a water fight on set and that Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter often used to wrestle each other on the couch. Sounds like good fun!