Saturday, August 5, 2017

"Family Ties": oral history of the 1980s sitcom – introduction

Family Ties debuted in 1982 and ran seven seasons. Although the 35th anniversary of something is not acknowledged as regularly as the 25th or 50th, there ain't no nothin' like Family Ties. A TV show that can get away with a triple negative in its theme song can get away with nearly anything.

As part of my ongoing/bizarre commitment to preserving our pop culture past, welcome to the first oral history of Family Ties. It comprises the never-published memories and rare set photos of 53 of the show's notable guest stars. Some of them left show business long ago while others are still active—even Emmy-winning. Among them: 


  • Peter Scolari (Girls, Gotham, Newhart, Bosom Buddies)
  • Timothy Busfield (thirtysomething, The West Wing, Field of Dreams)
  • Kate Vernon (Battlestar Galactica)
  • Alan Blumenfeld (Heroes)
  • Christina Pickles (Friends, St. Elsewhere)
  • Lily Mariye (ER)
  • Stuart Pankin (Curb Your Enthusiasm)
  • Julie Cobb (Star Trek)

What they all have in common: they're people we haven't yet heard from on this topic. I asked everyone a core set of questions and then certain questions specific to certain people.


Interviews (10 parts):

1—casting
2—shooting anecdotes
3—reactions
4—Michael J. Fox
5—rest of the family
6—other cast
7—favorites
8—your life today
9—your family, show legacy
10—mementos, memories


 season 1

 seasons 2-3

 season 4

 seasons 5-7

Over several months, I rewatched all 168 episodes for first time since the 1990s. The following surprised me:

  • how often characters (mostly Alex) opened and drank cans of soda and how much OJ they drank out of that glass container
  • how certain actors appeared only two times, as the same character, but in different seasons (Chris Hebert, Sonia Curtis, Jason Naylor)
  • how Alex's teasing of Mallory got crueler over time and her character got ditzier
  • how dimly lit it sometimes was (shadows across faces); maybe other sitcoms of the era were also like that and I never noticed?

Season 5, episode 1 ("Be True to Your Preschool") ends with Alex P. Keaton asking his young brother Andrew "Who loves you?" Andrew responds "Alex loves me." I often ask my kids the same—but did not remember till now that it came from Family Ties.

Another special if indirect connection: I went to Brandeis University as did Family Ties creator Gary David Goldberg (he was class of '66, I was '94). A key Family Ties director, Sam Weisman, is also a Brandeis alum (MFA'73). When Gary died in 2013, Sam memorialized him.

Here is a longer version of the theme song "Without Us," as performed by Johnny Mathis and Deniece Williams.

Guest stars who declined to participate (not including people who didn't get back to me):


  • Tom Hanks, seasons 1 and 2
  • Amy Steel, season 1
  • Deborah Foreman, season 1
  • Daphne Zuniga, season 2
  • Jami Gertz, season 2
  • Geena Davis, season 3
  • Beverly Archer, season 3 (willing but didn't even remember doing Family Ties)
  • Shawn Schepps, season 3 (willing but all she remembered was "Justine was nice")
  • Isabelle Walker, season 3
  • Tracy Pollan, season 4
  • Martha Plimpton, season 4
  • Noah Hathaway, season 4
  • Albert Macklin, season 4
  • Christina Applegate, season 5
  • Wil Wheaton, season 5
  • Jennifer Salt, season 5
  • Haviland Morris, season 5 (willing but upon seeing my questions reported "I honestly have not one interesting anecdote or impression")
  • Joan McMurtrey, season 5
  • Constance McCashin, season 6
  • Jane Adams, season 7



 Shawn Schepps

 Isabelle Walker

 Noah Hathaway


Guest stars who agreed to participate…but then didn't (life is hectic):


  • Lee Montgomery, season 1
  • Jeremy Schoenberg, season 1
  • John Dukakis, seasons 1 and 2
  • AnneMarie McEvoy (now Conley), season 4
  • Tammy Lauren, season 6
  • John Marshall Jones, season 7


 Jeremy Schoenberg

 John Dukakis


 Tammy Lauren


The 53 participants, then and (when provided) now:

 Cindy Fisher
season 1, 1982-83, "Pilot"

 John Putch
season 1, 1982-83, "Summer of '82"
season 2, 1983-84, "Birthday Boy"
season 5, 1986-87, "Starting Over"

 Chris Hebert
season 1, 1982-83, "A Christmas Story"
season 2, 1983-84, "A Keaton Christmas Carol"

 Cristen Kauffman
season 1, 1982-83, "Oops"

 Lisa Lucas
season 1, 1982-83, "Sherry Baby"

 Earl Boen
season 1, 1982-1983, "The Fugitive: Part 2"
season 3, 1984-85, "4 Rms Ocn Vu"

 Terry Wills
season 1, 1982-83, "Suzanne Takes You Down"
season 2, 1983-84, "Double Date"; "The Graduate"
season 5, 1986-87, "A Tale of Two Cities: Part 1 and 2"; "Paper Chase"
season 6, 1987-88, "The Spirit of Columbus"
season 7, 1988-89, "Alex Doesn't Live Here Anymore" 
(appeared in the last scene of the last episode)

 Kerry Noonan
season 1, 1982-83, "Stage Fright" (on right)

 Edward Edwards
(photo credit: Sasza Lohery)
 season 2, 1983-84, "The Harder They Fall"

Tanya Fenmore
season 2, 1983-84, "Batter Up"

 Kaleena Kiff
season 2, 1983-84, "A Keaton Christmas Carol"

 Kate Vernon
season 2, 1983-84, "Birthday Boy"

 Eileen Seeley
season 2, 1983-84, "Birthday Boy"

 Debbie Gilbert (now Webb)
season 2, 1983-84, "Birthday Boy"

 Tom Byrd
season 2, 1983-84, "Ready or Not"

 Susan Isaacs
season 2, 1983-84, "Ready or Not"

 Kathleen Wilhoite
season 2, 1983-84, "Ready or Not"

 Lenora May
season 2, 1983-84, "Ready or Not"

 Alan Blumenfeld
season 2, 1983-84, "Lady Sings the Blues"
season 3, 1984-85, "Auntie Up"
season 4, 1985-86, "Mr. Right"
season 5, 1986-87, "Beauty and the Bank"; "A Tale of Two Cities: Part 1 and 2"
season 6, 1987-88, "Miracle in Columbus"

 Timothy Busfield
season 3, 1984-85, "Little Man on Campus"; "Best Man"
season 5 (different character), 1986-87, "My Back Pages"

 Matthew Barry
season 3, 1984-85, "Love Thy Neighbor"

 Lily Mariye
season 3, 1984-85, "Best Man"

 Michelle Meyrink
season 3, 1984-85, "Don't Kiss Me, I'm Only the Messenger"

 Robert Costanzo
season 3, 1984-85, "Help Wanted"
season 4, 1985-86, "Nothing But a Man"; "Engine Trouble"
season 5, 1986-87, "Starting Over"
season 6, 1987-88, "Mister Sister"

 Nancy Everhard (now Amandes)
season 3, 1984-85, "Don't Know Much About History"

 Norman Parker
season 3, 1984-85, "Remembrances of Things Past: Part 1 and 2"
season 5, 1986-87, "O'Brother: Part 1 and 2"
season 6, 1987-88, "Father Time: Part 1 and 2"

 Adam Carl
season 3, 1984-85, "Remembrances of Things Past: Part 1 and 2"

 Suzanne Snyder
season 4, 1985-86, "The Real Thing: Part 1 and 2"

 Peter Scolari
season 4, 1985-86, "Once in Love with Elyse"

 Gracie Harrison
season 4, 1985-86, "Paper Chase"

 Robin Morse
season 5, 1986-87, " My Mother, My Friend"

 Julie Cobb
season 5, 1986-87, "O'Brother: Part 1 and 2"

 Jonna Lee Pangburn
season 5, 1986-87, "A Tale of Two Cities, Part 2"

 Margaret Nagle
season 5, 1986-87, "Band on the Run"

 Brian McNamara
season 5, 1986-87, "A, My Name Is Alex"

 Sonia Curtis
season 5, 1986-87, "Love Me Do"
season 6, 1987-88, "Citizen Keaton"

 Stuart Pankin
season 5, 1986-87, "The Visit"

 Dana Andersen Schreiner
season 5, 1986-87, "The Visit"

 Amy Lynne
season 5, 1986-87, "It's My Party"

 Nicole Nourmand
season 5, 1986-87, "It's My Party"

 Alyson Croft
season 5, 1986-87, "It's My Party"


Jason Naylor
season 6, 1987-88, "Dream Date"
season 7, 1988-89, "Simon Says"

 Ellen Latzen
season 6, 1987-88, "Miracle in Columbus"

 Victor DiMattia
season 6, 1987-88, "Miracle in Columbus"

 Darrell Thomas Utley
season 6, 1987-88, "Sign of the Times"

 Susan Kohler
season 6, 1987-88, "Sign of the Times"

 Danielle von Zerneck
season 6, 1987-88, "Return of the Native"

 Debra Engle
season 7, 1988-89, "Designing Woman"

 Hilary Shepard
season 7, 1988-89, "Designing Woman"

 Christina Pickles
season 7, 1988-89, "Heartstrings: Part 1 and 2"

 Nick Rutherford
season 7, 1988-89, "Heartstrings: Part 3"

 Byron Thames
season 7, 1988-89, "Déjà Vu"

 Jaclyn Bernstein
season 7, 1988-89, "Simon Says"


Majority of interviews conducted in August 2016; several later in 2016 and first half of 2017.

Read, Ubu, read. Good dog. (Woof!)


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