'Family Ties' - The TV Series

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The 1980s were a decade of challenge and protest. At the time, many children in the US were very liberal and rebelled against their conservative parents. This was a common theme in many shows of the time as well. But Family Ties reversed this formula by making the parents leftover liberals and the son, the character of Alex P Keaton a Republican.

The show was praised for being family oriented1, but had a good deal of controversy. Throughout the run of the show, the hippy parents often referenced or implied drugs (But were never actually specific as to what they were implying). Family Ties dealt with other areas of controversy, such as bigotry, gun control or suicide, but in a dramatically different, more sensitive way from the way All in the Family dealt with such issues.

The show started September 22, 1982 on NBC. While the network was struggling, it received poor ratings, but the ratings juggernaut The Cosby Show changed this. When The Cosby Show was at its height, Family Ties was given the time slot after it and shot to second place (Of course behind Cosby). One thing besides the formula that was unique about the show was it combining politics and family. During its run, it reflected the value changes of the so called 'Reagan era', when Ronald Reagan was the president.


Alex P Keaton

Alex P Keaton, played by Michael J Fox was essentially the star of the show. Initially, producers wanted the parents to be the stars, but the children, specifically Alex, were more popular. Alex was basically a genius, especially in finance. He was usually obnoxious to his siblings and obseqious or sarcastic to his parents. Alex was somehow eager to work. It was his dream to be a Wall Street stockbroker or a banker. He just liked to be around money.

Michael J Fox led to the large amounts of teenagers watching this show and the promotion of the character of 'Woody' on the show after it, Cheers. Because of this role, Michael J Fox also became instantly more famous.

Mallory Keaton

Mallory Keaton, played by Justine Bateman was as close as a girl in the 1980s can come to being a diva. Mallory was the oldest child, and often made fun of Alex for it. She only dated large, leather clad jerks, the first being the memorable 'Nick Moore'. Alex liked to make fun of Mallory and her boyfriends attention span and intelligence.

Elyse Keaton

Elyse Keaton, played by Meredith Baxter-Birney was the mother of the Keatons and an architect. She was a hippy from the 1960s and still has some habits from that time. Drug use is implied, but she also plays the guitar. Encouraged by her husband, from time to time she will play folk music usually involving peace, animals or other common themes from the flower child generation.

Steven Keaton

Steven Keaton, played by Michael Gross, was the father of the family. He works at a public access television station, similar to PBS. Alex and Steven often battled over all thing, from politics to fairness. All in all, Steven was not as mellow of a character he might have liked to have been seen as. He got frustrated constantly with the Republican son and Mallory's boyfriends.

Jennifer Keaton

Jennifer Keaton, played by Tina Yothers was the youngest child of the group for most of the series. She often told on Alex or Mallory and tried to get their attention. Jennifer never seemed to get much attention, and often tries to get Mallory and Alex to play or talk with her.

Andrew Keaton

Andrew Keaton, played by Brian Bonsall was the newest addition to the Keaton clan. He was introduced in 1986 as the newest child of Steven and Elyse. He usually didn't talk much, but affected his environment with screams and crying. Probably because of the tiring plotline of a crying baby, Andrew jumped age two years soon after his first season.

Minor Characters

  • Irwin 'Skippy' Handelman (Marc Price) was the Keaton's pathetic next door neighbor with a never ending crush on Mallory. He also works at a grocery store where Alex had his first job.
  • Nick Moore (Scott Valentine) was Mallory's gruff dumb boyfriend. He tried to be an enviromentalist musician, and while acheiving enviromentalism, he failed at music.
  • Lauren Miller (Courtney Cox) was basically the opposite of Alex. In her first appearances, she and Alex clashed and hated each other, but later, she becomes his girlfriend.

The Show Ends

The last episode of Family Ties was on September 17, 1989. Ratings fell after the fifth and sixth seasons and it was cancelled.

The Actors Move On...

Michael J Fox was the only Keaton to move on to a particularly sucessful career. His fan base from Family Ties led to his popularity on his next sitcom Spin City, and the popularity of the Back to the Future films, some of which came out while he was working on Family Ties.

1And was among the first of a number of family sitcoms of the time

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