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NBC

14 Memorable Facts About Family Ties

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NBC

In 1982, thanks to Ronald Reagan, America was becoming more conservative. Back then NBC was struggling a bit in the ratings: its famed Thursday night comedy block hadn’t started yet, and sitcoms about nuclear families were scarce. To capitalize on the dearth of family-oriented sitcoms, Gary David Goldberg created a show for NBC about Columbus, Ohio-based couple—and former liberal hippies—Elyse and Steven Keaton, who were now raising three (later four) kids, one of whom was a Reagan-loving young Republican named Alex P. Keaton (Michael J. Fox). Loosely based on Goldberg’s life, Family Ties was grounded in comedy, but also tackled intense issues such as alcoholism, incest, and death. “The show was more focused on getting Humanitas Awards than Emmys,” co-star Justine Bateman told Entertainment Weekly. “I don’t know if there was anything the [writers] wanted to do that the network said no to.” 

Family Ties quickly became a ratings juggernaut; a third of all American households watched the show. Despite its success, Goldberg decided to call it quits after seven seasons, so the show went off the air in 1989, with Alex moving to New York City to take a job—though not before giving his family a heartfelt goodbye. Decades later the show is remembered for the Keatons’ wit, and the warm, fuzzy family values it enacted. Here are 14 “sha-la-la-la” facts about the show.

1. MATTHEW BRODERICK WAS THE FIRST CHOICE FOR ALEX P. KEATON.

Gary David Goldberg saw an audition tape of Matthew Broderick and wanted to cast him Alex P. Keaton, but Broderick turned down the part as he didn’t want to move to L.A. Goldberg saw Michael J. Fox’s audition tape but didn’t feel he was right for the role. “I just thought, ‘No,’” Goldberg later told Emmy TV Legends. “And Mike is such a gifted actor that he could make his choices very specific, and he could play any role any way, and he had made a very specific choice that day in the room at Paramount to play the darker side of Alex Keaton, and it didn’t work.”

But casting director Judith Weiner kept hounding Goldberg to cast him, and finally Goldberg agreed to see Fox again. “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 who he was, he played another 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?’"

2. MICHAEL J. FOX SAW ALEX AS A “SCARED KID.”

On Inside the Actors Studio, host James Lipton asked Fox, “Who is Alex Keaton?” “I always thought of him like a mansion made out of rice paper,” Fox replied. “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 Alex, and that the role taught him quite a bit about acting. “What I learned about acting, especially doing that show, is that 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. That’s the great fun of playing Alex: he is a kid who’s putting on all this stuff, and when it was really effective was when you see him naked. You see he’s just this scared kid.”

During an interview with Emmy TV Legends, Fox said he also based the character on his smart-ass brother, who had great timing. “My brother was so funny at the dinner table that you’d wait for what he had to say.” Fox said. “He’d 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.”

3. BOTH CONSERVATIVES AND LIBERALS LOVED ALEX P. KEATON.

Finally, some good news on bipartisanship: Republicans and Democrats both loved Alex. Fox grew up in Canada and “wasn’t a part of any American political construct,” he told Emmy TV Legends. “As the character developed, Republicans really took Alex under their wing and made him a poster boy for the movement. At the same time, too, social liberals were writing me letters saying, ‘Way to go satirizing that point of view.’ So I was loved on both sides and that was uniquely about the character and uniquely about the show. It was one of the shows where it just caught a time. It just found its niche.” (So much so that Ronald Reagan reportedly expressed interest in making a cameo on the show.) “The central values, the family element of it, that part of it, I think, was a value that appealed to both sides of the spectrum. So it was unifying in that sense.”

4. MALLORY WASN’T ALWAYS SO DUMB.

Justine Bateman, who played Mallory Keaton, told Variety that in the first couple of episodes, Mallory was “a normal sister.” “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.’ And I say, ‘Oh, kind of like an Albert Schweitzer with pom 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*t, if she thinks that’s funny, that’s so great.’ So we just started going in that direction,” Bateman said.

5. SCOTT VALENTINE THOUGHT HE WAS PAID TOO MUCH MONEY TO GRUNT.

Scott Valentine played Mallory’s boyfriend, Nick Moore, and felt the role was too dumbed down for him. “That was some tough stuff there,” 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. 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.”

6. NICK MOORE WAS SPUN-OFF INTO THREE UNSUCCESSFUL PILOTS.

Moore’s Stallone-esque character was only supposed to appear in a single episode of Family Ties but became a series regular. He was such a popular character that the network decided to give him his own show. Three pilots were made, and all three failed. The first was a show called Taking It Home, where Nick (last name Morelli) moves home to Detroit and lives with his grandfather, played by Herschel Bernardi. Bernardi died after filming, in 1986, so the project was canceled.

The second show centered around Nick and a daycare center for juvenile delinquents. “They said kids telling Nick he was an idiot wasn’t as funny as adults telling Nick he was an idiot,” Valentine told Spy. The third time around wasn’t the charm Valentine was looking for either; Valentine shot a pilot where Nick lives with his sister and her kid in New York City in a show called The Art of Being Nick. The show featured a pre-Seinfeld Julia Louis-Dreyfus (who made a guest appearance as a lawyer on Family Ties), and did well when it aired in 1987. “It came in number two and they still didn't pick it up,” Valentine said. “Then [the network] hemmed and hawed and went back and forth and finally towards late summer said, ‘Geez, we’d like a shot at this again.’ And I said, ‘You know what guys? If I do this I’m gonna be Nick for the rest of my life. And we should put Nick to rest right now.’”

7. FOX WAS ALMOST FIRED BECAUSE HIS FACE WASN’T FIT FOR A LUNCHBOX.

Brandon Tartikoff, then-president of NBC, wanted to fire Fox after the pilot. “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,’” Fox told Parade. “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.”

8. FOX FILMED FAMILY TIES AND BACK TO THE FUTURE SIMULTANEOUSLY.

Because of his contractual obligations to Family Ties, Fox initially wasn’t allowed to do Back to the Future. But when things didn’t work out with actor Eric Stoltz, the filmmakers tried again for Fox. Right before Christmas break in 1984, Goldberg called Fox into his office and told him about the movie and asked, “‘Was I prepared to do both the show and a movie at the same time?’” Fox told Parade. “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.” Of course the movie was a huge success and made Fox an even bigger star.

9. THE UBU PRODUCTIONS LOGO WAS ACTUALLY GOLDBERG’S DOG, NAMED UBU ROI.

The now-iconic production company signoff tag at the end of every episode featured a picture of a black lab—Ubu Roi—with a Frisbee in its mouth and a voiceover saying, “Sit, Ubu, sit. Good dog.” The photo was taken near the Louvre in Paris, during a trip where Goldberg and his wife hitchhiked across Europe. “As far as hitchhiking goes, most people who picked us up, picked us up because of Ubu,” Goldberg said in his memoir, Sit, Ubu, Sit: How I Went from Brooklyn to Hollywood with the Same Woman, the Same Dog, and a Lot Less Hair. “I just thought, you know, I want very little distance between who I was that day, and who I am now,” Goldberg 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 lived on in Goldberg’s other shows like Spin City and Brooklyn Bridge.

10. WHEN TRACY POLLAN FIRST MET FOX, SHE FOUND HIM TO BE “FULL OF HIMSELF.”

At the start of season four, the producers cast Tracy Pollan as Ellen Reed, a grounded love interest for Alex. On Inside the Actors Studio, Lipton asked Pollan what her first impression of Fox was and she said, “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.” Fox had an immediate crush on her and credits her for helping him win his first Emmy. “But I had this moment where I was looking at her and thinking, ‘She’s really good.’ She was so present. I really learned the importance of presence. I’d been having a lot of fun playing this guy for laughs, but I really felt, ‘Now I gotta work here. I gotta show up and do this because this actress is really the real thing.’ It was a profound moment for me, in a way.”

Pollan (whose brother is famed food writer Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma) appeared on the show for 13 episodes between 1985 and 1987. On July 16, 1988, she and Fox married. Today they have four children.

11. THERE WAS A RUMOR THAT FOX AND COURTENEY COX WERE AN ITEM OFF-SCREEN.

For the last two seasons of Family Ties, a then-unknown Courteney Cox joined the cast as Alex’s girlfriend, Lauren Miller. Rumors swirled that Fox had broken up with his former co-star, Pollan, and hooked up with Cox. “People always want to read there’s romance when it’s just two actors having a good time working with each other," Fox told People in 1987. “I’m having a great personal relationship with Tracy and a great professional relationship with Courteney." Cox also brushed off the rumor. “I’ve never been to a nightclub with Michael,” she said. “I’ve never even been to some of the clubs the tabloids named. Even my stepfather called me up and said, ‘So, I hear you’re busy for Thanksgiving.’”

12. BRIAN BONSALL HAS HAD A DIFFICULT TIME TRANSITIONING TO ADULTHOOD.

Beginning in 1986, child actor Brian Bonsall joined the cast as the Keatons’ fourth child and second son, Andy. In real life, in the years since Family Ties, Bonsall has had a few run-ins with the law. After the show ended, Bonsall moved to Boulder and finished school. In 2004 he was arrested for drunk driving, and in 2007 he was arrested for assaulting a girlfriend. Then, in 2009, he went to jail again, this time for breaking a stool and hitting his friend with it several times.

13. SKIPPY IS A STAND-UP COMEDIAN.

Marc Price played the Keatons' lovably annoying, Mallory-loving neighbor Irwin “Skippy” Handelman for the duration of the series. Since the show ended, Price has kept the comedy going by touring the country with his stand-up routines. “A lot of people know me as Skippy, and that doesn’t scare me,” Price told the Sun Sentinel in 1993. “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 getting recognized as Marc Price in due time.”

Price says people come to his shows because of Skippy, “but I’m certainly Marc Price and they get to meet Marc Price.” He’s thrilled when people approach him about his comedy but is okay with people asking him, “‘Hey Skippy! Did you ever do it with Mallory?’ That doesn’t bother me either.”

14. JUSTINE BATEMAN GRADUATED FROM UCLA LAST YEAR.

After Family Ties, Bateman continued to act in TV shows—most notably playing a high-priced escort on an episode of Arrested Development called “Family Ties,” starring opposite her brother, Jason Bateman—but then decided to quit acting and go to college. She enrolled in UCLA’s undergrad computer science and management program, from which she graduated in June 2016.

“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,” Bateman told The Hollywood Reporter just a few months before he graduation. Bateman documented her college experience with a Tumblr account, where she wrote, “I especially want a job or a company that is playing with very high stakes, swimming with very powerful players, and working with very ambitious projects. I want a big knife to cut into a big cake. And all the responsibility that comes with that.”

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Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
The 10 Wildest Movie Plot Twists
Laura Harring in Mulholland Drive (2001)
Laura Harring in Mulholland Drive (2001)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

An ending often makes or breaks a movie. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as having the rug pulled out from under you, particularly in a thriller. But too many flicks that try to shock can’t stick the landing—they’re outlandish and illogical, or signal where the plot is headed. Not all of these films are entirely successful, but they have one important attribute in common: From the classic to the cultishly beloved, they involve hard-to-predict twists that really do blow viewers’ minds, then linger there for days, if not life. (Warning: Massive spoilers below.)

1. PSYCHO (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock often constructed his movies like neat games that manipulated the audience. The Master of Suspense delved headfirst into horror with Psycho, which follows a secretary (Janet Leigh) who sneaks off with $40,000 and hides in a motel. The ensuing jolt depends on Leigh’s fame at the time: No one expected the ostensible star and protagonist to die in a gory (for the time) shower butchering only a third of the way into the running time. Hitchcock outdid that feat with the last-act revelation that Anthony Perkins’s supremely creepy Norman Bates is embodying his dead mother.

2. PLANET OF THE APES (1968)

No, not the botched Tim Burton remake that tweaked the original movie’s famous reveal in a way that left everyone scratching their heads. The Charlton Heston-starring sci-fi gem continues to stupefy anyone who comes into its orbit. Heston, of course, plays an astronaut who travels to a strange land where advanced apes lord over human slaves. It becomes clear once he finds the decrepit remains of the Statue of Liberty that he’s in fact on a future Earth. The anti-violence message, especially during the political tumult of 1968, shook people up as much as the time warp.

3. DEEP RED (1975)

It’s not rare for a horror movie to flip the script when it comes to unmasking its killer, but it’s much rarer that such a film causes a viewer to question their own perception of the world around them. Such is the case for Deep Red, Italian director Dario Argento’s (Suspiria) slasher masterpiece. A pianist living in Rome (David Hemmings) comes upon the murder of a woman in her apartment and teams up with a female reporter to find the person responsible. Argento’s whodunit is filled to the brim with gorgeous photography, ghastly sights, and delirious twists. But best of all is the final sequence, in which the pianist retraces his steps to discover that the killer had been hiding in plain sight all along. Rewind to the beginning and you’ll discover that you caught an unknowing glimpse, too.

4. SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983)

Sleepaway Camp is notorious among horror fans for a number of reasons: the bizarre, stilted acting and dialogue; hilariously amateurish special effects; and ‘80s-to-their-core fashions. But it’s best known for the mind-bending ending, which—full disclosure—reads as possibly transphobic today, though it’s really hard to say what writer-director Robert Hiltzik had in mind. Years after a boating accident that leaves one of two siblings dead, Angela is raised by her aunt and sent to a summer camp with her cousin, where a killer wreaks havoc. In the lurid climax, we see that moody Angela is not only the murderer—she’s actually a boy. Her aunt, who always wanted a daughter, raised her as if she were her late brother. The final animalistic shot prompts as many gasps as cackles.

5. THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995)

The Usual Suspects has left everyone who watches it breathless by the time they get to the fakeout conclusion. Roger "Verbal" Kint (Kevin Spacey), a criminal with cerebral palsy, regales an interrogator in the stories of his exploits with a band of fellow crooks, seen in flashback. Hovering over this is the mysterious villainous figure Keyser Söze. It’s not until Verbal leaves and jumps into a car that customs agent David Kujan realizes that the man fabricated details, tricking the law and the viewer into his fake reality, and is in fact the fabled Söze.

6. PRIMAL FEAR (1996)

No courtroom movie can surpass Primal Fear’s discombobulating effect. Richard Gere’s defense attorney becomes strongly convinced that his altar boy client Aaron (Edward Norton) didn’t commit the murder of an archbishop with which he’s charged. The meek, stuttering Aaron has sudden violent outbursts in which he becomes "Roy" and is diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, leading to a not guilty ruling. Gere’s lawyer visits Aaron about the news, and as he’s leaving, a wonderfully maniacal Norton reveals that he faked the multiple personalities.

7. FIGHT CLUB (1999)

Edward Norton is no stranger to taking on extremely disparate personalities in his roles, from Primal Fear to American History X. The unassuming actor can quickly turn vicious, which led to ideal casting for Fight Club, director David Fincher’s adaptation of the Chuck Palahniuk novel. Fincher cleverly keeps the audience in the dark about the connections between Norton’s timid, unnamed narrator and Brad Pitt’s hunky, aggressive Tyler Durden. After the two start the titular bruising group, the plot significantly increases the stakes, with the club turning into a sort of anarchist terrorist organization. The narrator eventually comes to grips with the fact that he is Tyler and has caused all the destruction around him.

8. THE SIXTH SENSE (1999)

Early in his career, M. Night Shyamalan was frequently (perhaps a little too frequently) compared to Hitchcock for his ability to ratchet up tension while misdirecting his audience. He hasn’t always earned stellar reviews since, but The Sixth Sense remains deservedly legendary for its final twist. At the end of the ghost story, in which little Haley Joel Osment can see dead people, it turns out that the psychologist (Bruce Willis) who’s been working with the boy is no longer living himself, the result of a gunshot wound witnessed in the opening sequence.

9. THE OTHERS (2001)

The Sixth Sense’s climax was spooky, but not nearly as unnerving as Nicole Kidman’s similarly themed ghost movie The Others, released just a couple years later. Kidman gives a superb performance in the elegantly styled film from the Spanish writer-director Alejandro Amenábar, playing a mother in a country house after World War II protecting her photosensitive children from light and, eventually, dead spirits occupying the place. Only by the end does it become clear that she’s in denial about the fact that she’s a ghost, having killed her children in a psychotic break before committing suicide. It’s a bleak capper to a genuinely haunting yarn.

10. MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001)

David Lynch’s surrealist movies may follow dream logic, but that doesn’t mean their plots can’t be readily discerned. Mulholland Drive is his most striking work precisely because, in spite of its more wacko moments, it adds up to a coherent, tragic story. The mystery starts innocently enough with the dark-haired Rita (Laura Elena Harring) waking up with amnesia from a car accident in Los Angeles and piecing together her identity alongside the plucky aspiring actress Betty (Naomi Watts). It takes a blue box to unlock the secret that Betty is in fact Diane, who is in love with and envious of Camilla (also played by Harring) and has concocted a fantasy version of their lives. The real Diane arranges for Camilla to be killed, leading to her intense guilt and suicide. Only Lynch can go from Nancy Drew to nihilism so swiftly and deftly.

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Hollywood's 5 Favorite Movie Villains
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iStock

Movie villains are meant to bring out the best in a hero, but with the right script, director, and performer in place, these bad guys can sometimes steal the show from their clean-cut rivals.

Take any horror movie, for example—chances are you’re not watching Friday the 13th to root for the absentminded teenagers down at Camp Crystal Lake. And Steven Spielberg certainly didn’t become a household name by directing a shark movie titled Three Guys on a Boat Drinking Narragansett.

The Hollywood Reporter set out to celebrate these iconic agents of evil by surveying 1000 professionals in the entertainment industry (directors, producers, entertainment attorneys, etc.) on their favorite movie villains. A rogues' gallery of murderous AI, mafia bosses, and a diabolical fashion magazine editor all made the top 25 list as the worst of the worst, and while they’re all deserving, the top five are the gold standard. They include:

5. Nurse Ratched: Played by Louise Fletcher in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
4. The Joker: Played by Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008)
3. The Wicked Witch of the West: Played by Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz (1939)
2. Hannibal Lecter: Played by Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Hannibal (2001), and Red Dragon (2002)
1. Darth Vader: Played by David Prowse and James Earl Jones in the Star Wars movies (Prowse 1977-1983, Jones 1977-present)

That top spot might not come as a surprise to most, unless you’re still in your twenties: According to The Hollywood Reporter, survey respondents in that age group put Darth Vader in the sixth spot—behind Regina George from Mean Girls.

To check out the entire list, head to The Hollywood Reporter.

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