Family Ties

Family Ties Information

Family Ties is an American sitcom that aired on NBC from September 22, 1982 until May 14, 1989. The series, from creator Gary David Goldberg, reflected the move in the United States from the cultural liberalism of the 1960s and 1970s to the conservatism of the 1980s. This was particularly expressed through the relationship between young Republican Alex P. Keaton (Michael J. Fox) and his ex-hippie parents, Elyse and Steven Keaton (Meredith Baxter-Birney and Michael Gross).

The show won multiple awards, including three consecutive Emmy Awards for Michael J. Fox as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series.


Set during the early years of the Reagan administration, Elyse and Steven Keaton (Meredith Baxter-Birney and Michael Gross) are baby boomers, liberals and former Hippies, raising their three children: Alex (Michael J. Fox), Mallory (Justine Bateman) and Jennifer (Tina Yothers) in suburban Columbus, Ohio. Married in 1964, Elyse is an independent architect, and Steven is the station manager of WKS, a local public television station. The couple later has a fourth child, Andrew (Brian Bonsall).

According to the episode, "A Christmas Story" in season one, they were influenced by John F. Kennedy and were members of the Peace Corps following their marriage in 1964. Alex was born in 1965 in Africa. Mallory was born while Elyse and Steven were students at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1967, and Jennifer was born the night Richard Nixon won his second term in 1972.

Much of the humor of the series focuses on the cultural divide during the 1980s when younger generations rejected the counterculture of the 1960s and embraced the conservative politics which came to define the 1980s. Both Alex and Mallory embrace Reaganomics and exhibit conservative attitudes: Alex is a Young Republican and Mallory is a more materialistic young woman in contrast to her feminist mother. Mallory was also presented as a vacuous airhead, who was fodder for jokes and teasing from her brother Alex. Jennifer, an athletic tomboy and the youngest child, shares the values of her parents and just wants to be a normal kid. Elyse and Steven have a fourth child, Andrew, born in 1984 whom Alex doted on and quickly molded in his conservative image.


  • Meredith Baxter-Birney as Elyse Keaton
  • Michael Gross as Steven Keaton
  • Michael J. Fox as Alex P. Keaton
  • Justine Bateman as Mallory Keaton
  • Tina Yothers as Jennifer Keaton
  • Brian Bonsall as Andrew Keaton (seasons 5-7)
  • Marc Price as Irwin "Skippy" Handelman
  • Scott Valentine as Nick Moore (seasons 4-7)
  • Tracy Pollan as Ellen Reed (season 4)
  • Courteney Cox as Lauren Miller (seasons 6-7)
The show had been sold to the network using the pitch "hip parents, square kids." Originally, Elyse and Steven were intended to be the main characters. However, the audience reacted so positively to Alex during the taping of the fourth episode that he became the focus on the show. Fox had received the role after Matthew Broderick turned it down.

Supporting cast and characters includes neighbor Irwin "Skippy" Handelman (Marc Price); Mallory's Sylvester Stallone-esque boyfriend artist Nick Moore (Scott Valentine); and Alex's feminist artist girlfriend Ellen Reed (Tracy Pollan, whom Michael J. Fox later married in 1988). In season 3, episode 17, Elyse gave birth to her fourth child, Andrew (who was played by Brian Bonsall from season 5 onward). Garrett Merriman played baby Andrew. Bewitched actor Dick Sargent guest-starred as Elyse's father Charlie in Season 1.

Guest stars

A number of Hollywood stars appeared on the show before they were famous or during the early years of their careers.

  • Judith Light appeared in Season 2 as a colleague of Steven, unsuccessfully attempting to seduce him.
  • Tom Hanks appeared during the first and second seasons as Elyse's alcoholic younger brother Ned.
  • Geena Davis portrayed inept housekeeper Karen.
  • River Phoenix played a fourteen-year-old math genius who develops a crush on Jennifer after coming to tutor Alex. Phoenix's sister, Rain, would also appear as one of Jennifer's friends in a different episode.
  • Courteney Cox played Alex's girlfriend Lauren at the end of the series
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus portrayed a lawyer in the two-part episode "Read It and Weep," which was about Jennifer's book being banned.
  • Crispin Glover played one of Alex's friends on the episode "Birthday Boy." Glover had played George McFly, the father of Michael J Fox's character Marty McFly in the original Back to the Future movie in 1985.
  • Wil Wheaton played the target of Jennifer's affection; she played dumb in order to convince him to date her.
  • Corey Feldman played a 7th grade classmate of Jennifer who was a nominee to win the Thomas Dewey best student achievement award on the episode "The Disciple."
  • Jeff Cohen played 2 different characters; Marv Jr. on the episode "The Visit," and Dougie Barker on the episode "4 Rms Ocn Vu."
  • Christina Applegate played Kitten, a member of Jennifer's band, on the episode "Band on the Run."
  • Stephen Baldwin appeared as a member of a therapy group that Alex attends with his girlfriend.
  • Daniel Baldwin appeared as an army recruit who harasses Skippy.
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt played Dougie, a kindergarten friend of Andrew in two episodes, "Sign of the Times" and "Father, Can You Spare A Dime?"
  • Jane Adams played Marty Broadie in two 7th season episodes, "They Can't Take That Away from Me: Part 1" and "They Can't Take That Away from Me: Part 2."
  • James Cromwell played John Hancock in the 3rd season episode "Philadelphia Story."
  • John Randolph played Jacob Keaton, Steven's father, in "I Never Killed for My Father." He was revealed to be dead in "Remembrance of Things Past, Parts 1 & 2."
  • Timothy Busfield played Doug in two 1984 episodes ("Best Man" and "Little Man on Campus"), and "Young Matt" in a 1986 episode ("My Back Pages").
  • Hank Azaria played a co-worker of Mallory's in the season 7 episode "Designing Women."
  • David Faustino played Keith Bailey the son of a divorced family friend who was taken away from his mother by his father in the episode "To Snatch a Keith."
  • Danny Nucci played a school bully who got beaten up by Jennifer after harassing her boyfriend at school in the episode "Designated Hitter."

Theme song

The Theme Song, "Without Us," was composed by Jeff Barry and Tom Scott in 1982. It was performed by Deniece Williams and Johnny Mathis, except for the first ten episodes, where it was performed by Dennis Tufano and Mindy Sterling.

US ratings

  • 1982"1983: outside the top 30
  • 1983"1984: #43
  • 1984"1985: #5, 18,847,800 households
  • 1985"1986: #2, 25,770,000 households
  • 1986"1987: #2, 28,579,800 households
  • 1987"1988: #17, 15,327,800 households
  • 1988-1989: #36


Main article: List of Family Ties episodes

Connection to Day by Day

During its final two seasons, Family Ties was scheduled on Sunday nights followed by Day by Day, another series from Ubu Productions. Michael Gross and Brian Bonsall brought their respective roles of Steven and Andy Keaton to the Day by Day episode "Trading Places", which reveals that Steven went to college with Brian Harper (Doug Sheehan).


Emmy Awards

  • 1986: Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series (Michael J. Fox)
  • 1987: Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series (Michael J. Fox); Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series; Outstanding Technical Direction
  • 1988: Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series (Michael J. Fox)

Golden Globes

  • 1989:Best Performance by an Actor in a TV-Series (Michael J. Fox)

TV Land Awards


NBC aired reruns of Family Ties weekday mornings from December 1985 until January 1987. In the fall of 1987, the series went into syndication in the United States. Currently, it airs on The Hub and gmc. Reruns previously aired on FamilyNet, WGN America, TBS, YTV, Nick at Nite, TV Land, and Hallmark Channel.

In Canada, reruns of Family Ties began airing on CTS, a Christian-based network, on September 6, 2010. On May 15, 2011 Netflix began to stream season 1-7 on its "watch instantly" streaming service.

In Australia, reruns air on Channel 11 (a digital channel of the TEN Network) in the afternoons and late night.

Home media


CBS DVD (distributed by Paramount) has released the first five seasons of Family Ties on DVD in Region 1, with the sixth season on DVD April 9, 2013. Each release features music replacements due to copyright issues as well as special features such as gag reels and episodic promos. The second season contains interviews with Michael Gross and Michael J. Fox along with other cast members. The fourth season contains the made-for-TV-movie, Family Ties Vacation. Paramount has also released the first three seasons on DVD in Region 4.

DVD Name Ep# Release dates
Region 1 Region 4
The Complete First Season 22 February 20, 2007 April 9, 2008
The Second Season 22 October 9, 2007 September 4, 2008
The Third Season 24 February 12, 2008 April 2, 2009
The Fourth Season 28 August 5, 2008
The Fifth Season 30 March 10, 2009
The Sixth Season 30 April 9, 2013
The Seventh Season 30


All seven seasons of the series were made available for streaming through Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.

References to prior media

Media critic Ben Shapiro has stated that, based on his interview with Gary David Goldberg, the show was an unintentional comic reversal of All in the Family (which had conservative parents and liberal kids). Goldberg didn't plan it that way, but discovered that later as a happy accident.

References in other media

Over a decade after the cancellation of Family Ties, Michael J. Fox's final episodes on Spin City featured numerous allusions to the show. In these episodes, Michael Gross played a therapist for Fox's character Michael Patrick Flaherty and the episode contained a reference to an off-screen character named "Mallory". In the episode, after Flaherty becomes an environmental lobbyist in Washington D.C., he meets a "conservative junior senator named Alex P. Keaton." Meredith Baxter also portrayed Mike Flaherty's mother, Macy Flaherty, in the episodes "Family Affair" (Parts 1 and 2).

Family Ties has also been referenced on Family Guy, as it is a favorite show of Seth MacFarlane. In the opening scene of the episode "Fifteen Minutes of Shame", Peter Griffin is coloring the painting of the Keaton family, just like in the title sequence (with the theme song in the background). In the episode "Movin' Out (Brian's Song)", Stewie Griffin compared Brian's breakup with Jillian to Alex's: "Remember when Alex P. Keaton lost his girlfriend? And then he got another one and everything was all right? And then he got Parkinson's. Yikes." In the episode "Jerome is the New Black", Family Ties is playing on the television and Jerome buys Peter Griffin a sculpture made by the character Nick. In the episode "Brothers & Sisters", the Griffins are watching a "later-season" episode of Family Ties, in which puberty has changed Jennifer into a buffalo. Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter reprised their roles for the scene. Coincidentally, this episode of Family Guy aired at the same time as the 9th Annual TV Land Awards when the cast of Family Ties accepted the Fan Favorite Award for the show.

The cast of Family Ties publicly reunited for the first time on February 7, 2008 for an interview on The Today Show.

See also

  • List of Family Ties writers

This webpage uses material from the Wikipedia article "Family_Ties" and is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Reality TV World is not responsible for any errors or omissions the Wikipedia article may contain.



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