Family Ties

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For other uses, see Family Ties (disambiguation).
Family Ties
Family Ties title.svg
Genre Sitcom
Created by Gary David Goldberg
Starring Meredith Baxter-Birney
Michael Gross
Michael J. Fox
Justine Bateman
Tina Yothers
Brian Bonsall
Theme music composer Jeff Barry
Tom Scott
Opening theme "Without Us"
Performed by Johnny Mathis & Deniece Williams[1]
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 7
No. of episodes 176 (list of episodes)
Camera setup Multi-camera
Running time 24 minutes
Production company(s) Ubu Productions
Paramount Television
Distributor Paramount Domestic Television (1987–2006)
CBS Paramount Domestic Television (2006–2007)
CBS Television Distribution (2007–present)
Original network NBC
Audio format Stereo
Original release September 22, 1982 (1982-09-22) – May 14, 1989 (1989-05-14)
Related shows The Art of Being Nick (TV pilot)
Day by Day

Family Ties is an American sitcom that aired on NBC for seven seasons, premiering on September 22, 1982, and concluding on May 14, 1989. The series, created by 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.[2] This was particularly expressed through the relationship between young Republican Alex P. Keaton (portrayed by Michael J. Fox) and his ex-hippie parents, Steven and Elyse Keaton (portrayed by Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter).

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


Set in suburban Columbus, Ohio, during the Reagan administration, Steven and Elyse Keaton (Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter-Birney) are baby boomers, liberals and former hippies,[2] raising their three children: ambitious, would-be millionaire entrepreneur Alex (Michael J. Fox); fashion-conscious, gossipy Mallory (Justine Bateman); and tomboy Jennifer (Tina Yothers). Married in 1964, Elyse is an independent architect and Steven, a native of Buffalo, New York, is the station manager of WKS, a local public television station.

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 materialism and conservative politics which came to define the 1980s.[3] 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.[2] Mallory was also presented as a vacuous airhead, who was fodder for jokes and teasing from her brother. Jennifer, an athletic tomboy and the youngest child, shares more the values of her parents and just wants to be a normal kid. Steven and Elyse had a fourth child, Andrew (or "Andy", for short), who was born in early 1985. Andy is the youngest on whom Alex doted and quickly moulded in his conservative image.


Cast of Family Ties (from left): Tina Yothers, Brian Bonsall (added in season five), Michael Gross, Meredith Baxter-Birney, Michael J. Fox, and Justine Bateman.

Main cast[edit]

Recurring cast[edit]

The show had been sold to the network using the pitch "hip parents, square kids."[4] 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.[2][4] Fox had received the role after Matthew Broderick turned it down.[5]

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[edit]

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 Donelly.[4]
  • 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.
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus portrayed a lawyer in the two-part episode "Read It and Weep", which was about Jennifer's wanting to do a book report on a banned book.
  • 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 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 two 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".[6]
  • 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".
  • Anne Ramsey played Mrs. Warfield in the episode "Help Wanted". Ramsey played Mrs. Fratelli in the Goonies.
  • John McCook played the commercial character of "Sir Penguin" in the season 2 episode "This Year's Model" where Elyse was filming a commercial and Mallory kept sabotaging it.
  • Martha Plimpton played Jessie, a young girl Mallory befriends after she catches her shoplifting.

Theme song[edit]

The theme song, "Without Us", was composed by Jeff Barry and Tom Scott in 1982. During the first season, it was originally performed by Dennis Tufano and Mindy Sterling.[7][8] For the rest of the show's run, the song was performed by Deniece Williams and Johnny Mathis.

US broadcast history and Nielsen ratings[edit]

Season Timeslot Rank Rating Households
(in millions)
1 1982–83 Wednesday at 9:30 pm (Episodes 1-19)
Monday at 8:30 pm (Episodes 20-22)
#49[9] 15.1 N/A
2 1983–84 Wednesday at 9:30 pm (1983)
Thursday at 8:30 pm (1984)
#34[10] N/A N/A
3 1984–85 Thursday at 8:30 pm (Episodes 1-23)
Thursday at 9:00 pm (Episode 24)
#5[11] 22.1 18.7
4 1985–86 Thursday at 8:30 pm (Episodes 1-18, 20, 22-24)
Thursday at 9:00 pm (Episode 19)
Sunday at 8:30 pm (Episode 21)
#2[12] 30.0 25.8
5 1986–87 Thursday at 8:30 pm (Episodes 1-7, 9-19, 21-23, 26-30)
Monday at 8:30 pm (Episode 8)
Thursday at 9:00 pm (Episodes 20, 24)
Friday at 8:00 pm (Episode 25)
#2[13] 32.7 28.6
6 1987–88 Sunday at 8:00 pm (Episode 1, 3-14, 17-28)
Sunday at 8:30 pm (Episodes 2, 15)
Wednesday at 8:00 pm (Episode 16)
#17[14] 17.3 15.4
7 1988–89 Sunday at 8:00 pm (Episodes 1-22, 24-25)
Sunday at 8:30 pm (Episodes 23, 26)
#40[15] 14.3 N/A


Connection to Day by Day[edit]

During its final two seasons, Family Ties was scheduled on Sunday nights often 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[edit]

  • 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[edit]

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

TV Land Awards[edit]


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 UP and Antenna TV. Reruns previously aired on WFMZ, MeToo, Disney Channel, FamilyNet, WGN America, TBS, YTV, Nick at Nite, TV Land, Hallmark Channel and The Hub.

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.[16]

In Australia, reruns aired on Eleven (a digital channel of Network Ten) in the afternoons and late night until June 2013. As of November 2015, two episodes are shown on weekdays between 11 am and midday. Family Ties was aired on the Seven Network in 1982-1998 and aired on the Nine Network in 2003.

In the UK, Family Ties aired on Channel 4 from July 1985.

Home media[edit]


CBS DVD (distributed by Paramount) has released all seven seasons of Family Ties on DVD in Region 1, as of August 13, 2013. The second through fifth season releases contain special features, 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.

On November 5, 2013, CBS Home Entertainment released Family Ties - The Complete Series on DVD in Region 1.

On November 11, 2014, CBS Home Entertainment re-released a repackaged version of the complete series set, at a lower price, but did not include the bonus disc that was part of the original complete series set.[17]

DVD name No. of
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 August 13, 2013
The Complete Series 156 November 5, 2013/November 11, 2014 TBA


All seven seasons of the series were made available for streaming through Netflix (removed again August 15, 2015[18]) and Amazon Video as well as Hulu Plus.[19]

References in other media[edit]

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[20] and the episode contained a reference to an off-screen character named "Mallory".[21] In the episode, after Flaherty becomes an environmental lobbyist in Washington D.C., he meets a "conservative junior senator named Alex P. Keaton."[22] 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

Family Ties was also subtly referenced on The Simpsons in season 5, episode 22 "Secrets of a Successful Marriage". In the scene where Homer is applying to teach an adult education class, he sings the opening credits tune "Sha la la la" in reference to his happy family.

The cast of Family Ties publicly reunited for the first time on February 7, 2008 for an interview on The Today Show.[23]

Family Ties was referenced in Ready Player One, a science fiction and dystopian novel by Ernest Cline. The main character Wade Watts (Parzival) liked to imagine that he had a family where "there was nothing so wrong in the world that we couldn’t sort it out by the end of a single half-hour episode (or maybe a two-parter, if it was something really serious)."

Family Ties was also referenced on Naughty By Nature's 1995 song Craziest. The second line of the first verse said "You ain't a pal of me, my family ties but not wit Mallory."



External links[edit]