When two flower children decide to marry and have kids, the last thing they expect from their glorious celebration of love is a Republican. But in Family Ties that’s exactly what Elyse and Steven got, in the form of Alex P. Keaton. He was a child whose first word was “Nixon,” who grew up to scoff his parents for their liberal hippie values, and to sleep under a portrait of William F. Buckley, Jr.
Played by Michael J. Fox in his breakthrough role, Alex P. Keaton sauntered through the house in a suit and a tie, spouting the ideals of Reaganomics and causing girls all over the country to take a second glance at members of Young Republican clubs.
As one of the first sitcoms to explore the relationship between idealistic baby boomers and the children that forced them to face a more responsible reality, Family Ties became one of the defining shows of the 1980’s. The show thrived on the clashing ideals of the Keaton parents and their three (plus one in 1984) anything-but-flower children. Set in Middle America in the town of Columbus, Ohio, Family Ties reached a wide audience of viewers facing similar struggles of the “me-decade,” and maintained excellent ratings throughout its run.
The show achieved one of the eighties’ most satisfying blends of humor and drama, attempting to tackle many serious issues in its seven seasons on NBC. Not even Alex P. was without blemish, suffering the after-effects of a budding pep pill addiction in one “very special episode.” The show also became king of the “flashback” episode, influencing nearly every sitcom that followed it.
Alex wasn’t the only child who constantly tested his parents’ penchant for peace. His spacy younger sister, Mallory, may not have delved into right-wing politics, but her values were still a source of confusion for her parents. How could a woman who had once gone braless and a man who had sported a shoulder-length mane and mutton-chop sideburns, given birth to an aspiring fashion designer?
Despite the perpetual clash of ideals, the Keatons were essentially a very loving family. Relationships were of upmost importance, with Alex, Mallory, and their younger sister Jennifer trying to model their experiences with the opposite sex after their parents’ lasting, stable, and sometimes even nauseatingly perfect marriage.
Alex met his match when he left for Leland College in 1985. The brilliant Ellen, played by Fox’s future wife Tracy Pollan, became the love of his life (for a season) until she left the show in a teary train station scene that left poor Alex at his most vulnerable. After he recovered, Lauren (played by a young Courtney Cox), came into his life as a psychology student who could see right through Alex’s cockiness but loved him anyway.
Back at home, love of a different kind was in the air. Mallory had met her “intellectual” match, artist Nick Moore, whose vocabulary consisted primarily of the word “Ay.” Much to her parents’ dismay, Mallory and Nick proved to be meant for each other, and went on to elope in Season Five. Well, at least she didn’t end up with geeky neighbor Skippy…
As the show neared the end of its run, the relationship between Alex and the youngest Keaton, Andrew (born during the show’s run), brought the show around full circle. Sensing the possibility for an ally, apprentice, and admirer, Alex watched Andrew’s development with crafty interest. Andrew learned well from the master, reading the Wall Street Journal by the age of four and proving that the generation gap would last longer than any sitcom.
There were laughs, there were tears, and there were many, many hugs. It was good for the soul, and it was phenomenal for the ratings. Together with The Cosby Show, Family Ties helped launch NBC’s much-vaunted Thursday night “Must-See TV” lineup. The show was one of the biggest hits of the mid-80’s, and despite their differences, the Keatons remain one of the most beloved families in sitcom history.
In Syndication the extended episodes are often split into thrity minute segments, also five episodes (not shown during the initial run) are also seen in Syndication, adding up to a total of 176 half hours.
USA / NBC – UBU – Paramount / 157×25 minute episodes /6×50 minute episodes 1×90 minute episode 1×120 minute episode / Broadcast 22 September 1982 – 17 September 1989
Creator/Producer: Gary David Goldberg
Meredith Baxter as Elyse Keaton
Michael Gross as Steven Keaton
Michael J. Fox as Alex P. Keaton
Tracy Pollan as Ellen Reed (1985-86)
Justine Bateman as Mallory Keaton
Tina Yothers as Jennifer Keaton
Brian Bonsall as Andrew Keaton (1986-89)
Courteney Cox as Lauren Miller (1987-89)
Marc Price as Skippy Handleman
Scott Valentine as Nick Moore (1985-89)
John Putch as Neil (1982-86)