’80s Love: The Cast Of Family Ties, Then And Now

The 1980s were a strange time in the USA. When Ronald Reagan became the President of the United States in 1981, he brought in numerous new social and economic initiatives. The show that best tackled and talked about those changes was the sitcom Family Ties. The series looked at the move from cultural liberalism in the ’60s and ’70s to the conservatism of the 1980s.

The show often took a comedic approach when examining serious topics and it made us laugh, cry, and perhaps most important, it made us think.

The Show Was So Successful It Had Nearly A Decade On Air

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MovieStillsDB/NBC
MovieStillsDB/NBC

While most sitcoms hardly get more than a season or two, Family Ties was quite the opposite. The show attracted a big audience and experienced success throughout its run in the 1980s. The show debuted in 1982 and lasted until its last episode in 1989, a solid seven-year run.

Behind the scenes, there was a lot more going on that we didn’t hear about. And after the show wrapped up, the lives of the cast members changed dramatically.

Baby Boomers vs ’80s Kids

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MovieStillsDB/NBC
MovieStillsDB/NBC

The time when the show Family Ties was airing was a strange one as Americans moved to a more conservative view of the country and the world in general. This change from the liberalism of the ’60s and ’70s to the conservatism of the 1980s was a big theme in the show.

Producers included a number of characters from each generation, which helped ensure a diverse view of the changing world.

All Of The Keaton Kids Were Different

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Pictorial Parade/Getty Images
Pictorial Parade/Getty Images

On the same note as the last slide, the children in the Keaton family had different views. Alex was a young Republican, Mallory was a very materialistic child, Jennifer was a tomboy who just wanted to be a normal kid, and the youngest, Andrew, was quickly molded by Alex’s Republican ways.

And the Keaton parents, Steven and Elyse, were former hippies, adding another level of cultural differences to the show.

Michael J. Fox Wasn’t Supposed To Be The Show’s Main Focus

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Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

While he was not originally supposed to be the main character of the show, the spotlight quickly became his. Throughout the show’s tenure, Fox became the star and this show would be instrumental in launching a huge career that has spanned numerous decades.

Not only has he worked in Hollywood the last few decades, became a megastar. Fox has starred in a ton of different movies and TV shows and is one of those people that the public knows even if they have never seen his work.

He Has Received One Of Canada’s Highest Awards

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GP Images/WireImage/Getty Images
GP Images/WireImage/Getty Images

While he has received a ton of praise for his acting chops, his work as an advocate has been well received as well. And not only did the public notice, but so did his home country of Canada. In 2011, he was given the Order of Canada award, which is the second-highest award you can receive in the country.

Michael J. Fox may be as well-known for his work bringing awareness to Parkinson’s disease as he is for his acting.

Famous Guest Stars Flocked To The Show

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NBC/Family Ties
NBC/Family Ties

While the starring and recurring actors on the show were great and beloved by fans, there were also a number of high-profile guest stars who appeared on the show before they became huge in the industry.

Some of these actors and actresses included names like Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Christina Applegate, Corey Feldman, Courteney Cox, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Martha Plimpton, Judith Light, and many more who went on to become big deals.

Family Ties References Are Now A Pop Culture Norm

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NBC/Family Ties
NBC/Family Ties

The show was not only popular during its time on TV, but also has maintained popularity throughout the years as a classic. Decades later, the show has been referenced in all different kinds of media. Music, TV shows, movies … you name it and Family Ties has likely been given some type of nod.

It’s also found a new generation of fans in recent years thanks to the popular streaming service Netflix.

The Days And Times It Aired Were Inconsistent

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NBC/Family Ties
NBC/Family Ties

While a large majority of shows stay on the same day and time throughout their tenure, Family Ties most definitely did not. They not only changed the show’s time consistently, but they even changed what day of the week it would be shown on.

Despite those many scheduling changes, Family Ties remained a strong offering among its millions of devoted fans who made the effort to watch it no matter when it aired.

Meredith Baxter Is A Breast Cancer Survivor

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Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic/Getty Images
Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Cancer is a disease that almost everyone is affected by in some form or another, whether directly or not. One of the most common forms is breast cancer, which affects millions of women and men each year.

Meredith Baxter fought breast cancer, and thankfully, she was able to beat it and become a long-term survivor. Keep reading to see all the other changes in Baxter’s life since Family Ties ended.

Michael Gross Had A Wide Range Of Acting Skills

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VALERY HACHE/AFP via Getty Images
VALERY HACHE/AFP via Getty Images

While this was probably one of his most noteworthy roles, actor Michael Gross could do more than just comedy. His career has spanned over 40 years and he shows no signs of slowing down. He has acted in dramas, comedies, and even on stage, showing just how flexible he is as an actor.

Gross claimed one of the starring roles of the Tremors movies and made appearances on hit TV shows including Law & Order, The Young and the Restless, and How I Met Your Mother.

Brian Bonsall Became A Musician

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Bobby Bank/Getty Images
Bobby Bank/Getty Images

During the show, Bonsall was a child actor who hadn’t even reached his tenth birthday. While he could have potentially had a long career ahead of him in film, he retired from the industry in 1994 and decided to go to high school and leave the acting world, pursuing a career as a musician.

He faced some troubles as an adult but has been clean and sober since a 2010 arrest.

Meredith Baxter Came Out In 2009

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Beck Starr/WireImage/Getty Images
Beck Starr/WireImage/Getty Images

Meredith Baxter has been married four times and has five children. When you look at those details, you may think she wasn’t very good at relationships, but that is not the case.

She came out in 2009, surprising some of her fans. She finally felt free to tell the world who she really was, something she’d been keeping private for all those years. Baxter has been married to Nancy Locke since 2013.

The Show’s Ratings In The Mid ’80s Were Nearly Unmatched

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MovieStillsDB/NBC
MovieStillsDB/NBC

The first two seasons that Family Ties was on the air were difficult. The show barely eked up into the top 50 in TV ratings and they switched their day and time so often it was hard to find any good ratings.

But from seasons three to five, the show finally hit its stride. Family Ties finished inside the top 5 for ratings in each of those years, peaking at number 2.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus Made An Appearance On The Show

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Deborah Feingold/Corbis via Getty Images
Deborah Feingold/Corbis via Getty Images

Actor Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who you probably recognize from Seinfeld, Veep, and Curb Your Enthusiasm, among many other things, made an appearance on Family Ties in 1988. That’s a year before Seinfeld ever aired, and a full 24 years before the HBO hit show Veep premiered.

On Family Ties, Louis-Dreyfus played a lawyer named Susan “Raindrop” White on the 2-part Season 6 episode “Read It and Weep.” Her character appeared in Part 2 of the episode.

Matthew Broderick Almost Played Alex

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George Rose/Getty Images
George Rose/Getty Images

Believe it or not, the role of Alex P. Keaton almost went to another actor. As hard as it is to imagine today, the part so perfectly played by Michael J. Fox almost belonged to Matthew Broderick.

However, the actor decided to turn down the role because he did not want to relocate to Los Angeles, California. The producers then offered the role to Fox, who we know as the young Republican from this Reagan-era show.

Fox Was Almost Fired From The Show

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THIERRY ORBAN/Sygma via Getty Images
THIERRY ORBAN/Sygma via Getty Images

And it was all over a lunchbox. Well, sort of. Whatever the real reason behind the near-dismissal, the president of NBC, Brandon Tartikoff, explained his reasoning by saying he didn’t think Fox had the type of face that belonged on a lunchbox.

After the show and Fox both rose to fame, Fox said he made Tartikoff a lunchbox with his face on it. Tartikoff probably deserved that one, and he later posed with the lunchbox.

Michael J. Fox Met His Wife On The Show

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Newsmakers/Getty Images
Newsmakers/Getty Images

Michael J. Fox and his wife Tracy Pollan have been married since 1988 and have four children together. They met, as it so happens, on “Family Ties” where she played Alex’s girlfriend Ellen. She says when she first met him, he seemed full of himself.

But obviously, once she got to really know him, she liked what she saw… even though he and Justine Bateman, who played Mallory, used to get in epic water gun fights on the set. Get the lowdown from Bateman in a few more pages.

Mallory Was Originally Less Confused

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NBC Television/Getty Images
NBC Television/Getty Images

Like her monosyllabic boyfriend, Mallory was sometimes thought of as a bit of an airhead. But that wasn’t always how her character was intended to be portrayed. Justine Bateman, the actor who played Mallory, one day started having Mallory start taking the digs her brother Alex hurled at her as compliments.

(Even though they definitely were not intended as such.) And this is what made her seem like a ditz.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt Also Showed Up On The Series

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Ferdaus Shamim/WireImage/Getty Images
Ferdaus Shamim/WireImage/Getty Images

On two 1988 episodes of Family Ties, Joseph Gordon-Levitt played the role of Dougie. he was only seven years old at the time. Dougie was a school friend of Andrew’s.

Gordon-Levitt went on to have a huge acting career, starring in box office hits like Inception and (500) Days of Summer as well as of course playing the character Tommy Solomon on over 100 episodes of 3rd Rock from the Sun.

And So Did River Phoenix

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George Rose/Getty Images
George Rose/Getty Images

River Phoenix, who tragically passed away in 1993 at the age of 23, made an appearance on an episode of Family Ties in 1985 playing the role of Eugene Forbes. Eugene was a 14-year old math whiz who tutored Alex in order to help him bring up his grade from an 89% to 90% in advanced geometry.

River Phoenix was the older brother of Rain, Joaquin, Liberty, and Summer Phoenix.

Democrats Dug Alex

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MovieStillsDB/NBC
MovieStillsDB/NBC

Michael J. Fox is well known for portraying the young, staunchly Republican character Alex, during the conservative ’80s, on Family Ties. In fact, former President Ronald Reagan once quipped that Family Ties was his favorite television show

But that doesn’t mean the series was only popular with conservative fans of the show. Lots of Republicans thought he portrayed their viewpoint well, and Democrats also thought that he did a good job satirizing the conservatives.

Christina Applegate Also Made An Appearance

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Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty Images
Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty Images

On Family Ties, Christina Applegate played a character named Kitten, and was a member of Jennifer’s band. Applegate has gone on to have a very successful acting career, also playing the role of Kelly Bundy on Married…with Children. She has won an Emmy award, and received both Tony and Golden Globe nominations.

Her “brother” on Married with Children also appeared in Family Ties…. read about that on the next slide.

Michael J. Fox Won Three Emmys

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Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Throughout his long and noteworthy career, Michael J. Fox has won a ton of awards. He has won Golden Globes, been an honorary doctorate degree recipient, and even won a Grammy.

But of all his awards, perhaps none are more impressive than the three straight Emmys he won as Alex P. Keaton on Family Ties, in 1986, 1987, and 1988. What’s Mallory up to these days? You’ll find out soon!

Count David Faustino In!

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Fotos International/Courtesy of Getty Images
Fotos International/Courtesy of Getty Images

David Faustino and Christina Applegate have similar stories in that they both appeared on Family Ties and many years later acted together on Married…with Children. On Family Ties, Faustino played the kid Keith Bailey in the 1983 episode “To Snatch a Keith.”

Besides Married…with Children, Faustino has gone on to act in all manner of TV shows including Entourage and Modern Family. Today, he hosts “Old Scratch Radio Sundays” on Skee 24/7 on Dash Radio.

Courteney Cox Joined The ‘Family’

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Aaron Rapoport/CORBIS OUTLINE/Corbis via Getty Images
Aaron Rapoport/CORBIS OUTLINE/Corbis via Getty Images

Before she was Monica on Friends or Jules on Cougar Town, actress Courteney Cox had a recurring role on Family Ties from 1987 to 1989. Cox played Lauren Miller, Alex’s girlfriend. She got to be on the show for the last two seasons of the series, and obviously, her career only skyrocketed from there.

During her time on the show, rumors swirled that Cox was involved romantically with Michael J. Fox, but both people denied this was true.

Fox Drew On His Real-Life Brother For Inspiration

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Maureen Donaldson/Getty Images
Maureen Donaldson/Getty Images

Once he did land the role of Alex, Michael J. Fox put his all into it. He’s said that he drew heavily on his view of his real-life brother who, apparently, was a real crack up at the family dinner table.

Fox has admitted that while he did see some of himself in Alex too, it was his brother’s sense of humor that really helped him to develop the character.

And He Was Shooting Back To The Future During Family Ties

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Universal/Getty Images
Universal/Getty Images

Michael J. Fox wasn’t able to get time off from playing Alex, so while he was shooting Family Ties, he was also shooting the feature film Back to the Future. He remembers only sleeping about three hours per night during this hectic time.

For about two months, his grueling schedule included rehearsal for Family Ties from 10 a.m to 6 p.m. Then he had to race to the set of Back to the Future where he would rehearse and shoot until 2:30 a.m.

Scott Valentine Had It Easy

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George Rose/Getty Images
George Rose/Getty Images

Scott Valentine, the actor who played Mallory’s boyfriend Nick Moore, has been quoted as playfully complaining that he went to a prestigious school only to end up playing a monosyllabic dude on Family Ties.

It’s clear he was just joking about the gripe, however. In the same quote, he then went on to say that sometimes he only had to grunt in an episode and still received a “bundle of cash for it.”

Valentine Also Tried (And Failed) Three Spin-offs

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MovieStillsDB/NBC
MovieStillsDB/NBC

As much as Scott Valentine would like us to believe that there really wasn’t much behind his character, Nick Moore, the public loved the guy. In fact, he became one of the most popular characters on the show which spurred him to try a spin-off, and then another, and then another.

In the first, called Taking It Home, he co-starred with Herschel Bernardi. Sadly, filming was canceled when Bernardi died in 1986. The second spin-off involved his character in a daycare center, and the third was a pilot episode for a spin-off titled The Art of Being Nick. It wasn’t picked up.

Crispin Glover Was Also On The Show

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Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic/Getty Images
Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Another Family Ties actor who ended up being in Back to the Future alongside Michael J. Fox, Crispin Glover played Doug, a friend of Alex’s, on the show. Besides Back to the Future, Glover went on to act in movies including Hot Tub Time Machine, Charlie’s Angels, and many more.

Also a director, Glover was recognized for his work in 2013 by the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City.

Fox Is Known For Bringing Awareness To Parkinson’s Disease

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Theo Wargo/MJF/WireImage for The Michael J. Fox Foundation/Getty Images
Theo Wargo/MJF/WireImage for The Michael J. Fox Foundation/Getty Images

Fox was originally diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1991 at the age of 29 but did not reveal this information to the public until almost a decade later. Since then, he has done his best to spread awareness about the disease, look for a cure, and has raised millions of dollars for the cause.

He established The Michael J. Fox Foundation and has worked tirelessly to bring awareness to the cause.

The Show Helped A Song Reach Number One On Music Charts

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Universal Studios/Getty Images
Universal Studios/Getty Images

When Fox’s character Alex and his girlfriend broke up (and when they were still together) their song was “At This Moment” by Billy Vera and the Beaters. Recorded in 1981, the tune was already six years old when it was featured on the show.

Then it shot to the number one spot on the Hot 100 and adult contemporary charts in 1987 because the show’s popularity that year gave it some delayed popularity.

Fox Thought Of Alex As Fearful

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Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic/Getty Images
Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic/Getty Images

When Fox was developing his interpretation of Alex Keaton, he dug deeper than one might think. In fact, on Inside the Actors Studio, Fox said about Alex, “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.”

The Production Logo Is The Creator’s Dog

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David Livingston/Getty Images
David Livingston/Getty Images

The sign off tag that everyone remembers from the end of each episode is actually Ubu Roi. Does the name sound familiar? It’s writer, producer, and Family Ties creator Gary David Goldberg’s dog.

The photo was taken in Paris in front of the Louvre museum. During this same trip, Goldberg and his wife hitchhiked their way across Europe. Who knew the Ubu Productions logo had such an exotic back story?

Alex Was Born In Africa

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Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Part of the charm of the show Family Ties is the tension between hippie, Democrat, baby boomer parents Steven and Elyse, and their young Republican son, Alex. And that tension began at birth.

When Mr. and Mrs. Keaton were in Africa volunteering with the Peace Corps, guess who was born? Yep, their conservative child, Alex. According to the season 1 episode “A Christmas Story,” Alex was born in 1965 while his parents were on assignment in Africa,

The Cast Wanted The Series To End In A Fatal Plane Crash

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MovieStillsDB/NBC
MovieStillsDB/NBC

It’s said that the cast of Family Ties did not want any possibility of a future reunion show at the time the original series ended. Indeed, they were all so opposed to a reunion series that they suggested to the show writers and creators that the final episode of the series end with the entire family dying in a plane crash.

One of the cast members is a licensed pilot now. Find out who later in the slideshow.

They Did Hold A Cast Member Reunion Decades Later

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Larry Busacca/Getty Images
Larry Busacca/Getty Images

Michael J. Fox and crew met up for a cast member reunion with Entertainment Weekly in 2015 to reconnect and give fans a chance to see what the Keatons look like years later. And according to them, they have actually stayed in touch all these years!

Obviously, Fox and Pollan did, but it’s nice to hear the others did, too. We’ll find out what Justine had to say about how the cast got along in a few pages.

The Creator Of The Show Was Involved In A Huge Lawsuit

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L. Cohen/WireImage/Getty Images
L. Cohen/WireImage/Getty Images

At one point, over 150 writers for TV and film over the age of 40 sued the television industry for age discrimination. One of their supporting quotes came directly from Gary David Goldberg, the creator of Family Ties. His quote stated that the show didn’t have any writers over 29, and that it was a choice made by design.

Goldberg died in 2013, just two days before he would have turned 69.

Tina Yothers (Jennifer) Was On Celebrity Wife Swap

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Gary Gershoff/WireImage/Getty Images
Gary Gershoff/WireImage/Getty Images

Tina Yothers began her acting career at only nine years of age when she got the role of Jennifer Keaton on Family Ties. Since then, Yothers has moved away from the acting side of the entertainment industry and leaned more into the music industry. (She was in a band called Jaded and a musical.)

However, she did appear on Celebrity Wife Swap in 2012. Oh, and she’s had black hair pretty much since the show ended.

The “J” In Michael J. Fox Is Made Up

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Columbia Pictures/Getty Images
Columbia Pictures/Getty Images

Born Michael Andrew Fox, the man who went on to play Alex P. Keaton realized that there was already another Michael A. Fox in the Screen Actor’s Guild. He decided to change his middle initial to stand out more, and chose J in honor of Michael J. Pollard, who is an actor known for playing C. W. Moss in the crime film Bonnie and Clyde.

That’s Pollard in the photo you see here. Unfortunately, he passed away on November 20, 2019.

Alex Keaton Showed Up On Spin City

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MovieStillsDB/ABC
MovieStillsDB/ABC

After Family Ties ended, Michael J. Fox went on to play the role of Mike Flaherty on Spin City. Fox ended up having to leave his role on this television show because his Parkinson’s symptoms started getting worse and worse.

However, there were quite a few nods to his previous role as Alex on Spin City, and in one episode, there’s even a mention of a conservative junior senator named Alex P. Keaton. Wow, worlds colliding.

Justine Bateman Went On To Have A Successful Digital Career

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Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

While many teens or young adults of the ’80s and ’90s don’t have the best grasp of the internet, Bateman is much different. She has actually launched a digital production company and has produced and acted on a number of web series.

Bateman is certainly an ambitious woman and she has done a number of cool things since appearing on Family Ties. She founded a clothing design company, is a certified scuba diver, and also became a licensed pilot.

The Cast Of Family Ties Was Close

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MovieStillsDB/NBC
MovieStillsDB/NBC

Justine Bateman, who played Mallory on Family Ties, has said that she and Fox were close off set. They would go smoke cigarettes outside together, and once Fox even got his assistant go buy water guns so they could have an all out water fight.

In a Fox News interview, Bateman shared this memory. “I think at one point, Mike even got up on the catwalk above the support stage and was shooting down on people. We had fun all the time.” Sounds like the set of Family Ties was not a boring one.

Meredith Baxter Was Pregnant During Production

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Fotos International/Getty Images
Fotos International/Getty Images

If you’re reading this, you probably know her better as Elyse Keaton. Did you know that Meredith Baxter found out she was pregnant while Family Ties was still being filmed?

Often in these types of situations, clothing, lighting, camera angles, and strategically placed props can help conceal the issue of a pregnant actor who isn’t playing a pregnant character. Baxter’s character was written out of a few episodes in season three, though.

A Non-Traditional Student

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Desiree Navarro/Getty Images
Desiree Navarro/Getty Images

Add Justine Bateman to the list of actors and actresses who excel in the showbiz industry but have brains and ambitions in other fields as well. Although her contract with “Family Ties” prevented her from attending college while the show was on the air, Bateman enrolled at UCLA in 2012 to study computer science and management.

She finished her degree in 2016, at the age of 50. Talent runs in the Bateman family, as we’ll see next.

Family Ties

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Vince Bucci/Getty Images
Vince Bucci/Getty Images

Justine Bateman has a very famous brother in real life. Jason starred in 1980s sitcoms, too, such as The Hogan Family and Silver Spoons. These days he’s known for his role as Michael Bluth in the hit series Arrested Development as well as several major Hollywood films and the recent Netflix series Ozark.

Justin is an accomplished director as well, winning a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series for Ozark in 2019.

Clothing Line

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Jason Merritt/Getty Images
Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Justine Bateman has a lot of talent! In addition to all the other things she’s good at, she’s always enjoyed knitting, and took the hobby a step further by founding her very own clothing company. Called “Justine Bateman Designs,” the line of hand-knitted items was founded in 2000.

Sound familiar? It should – Mallory stated on Family Ties that she wanted to be a fashion designer. Bateman is usually spotted out and about wearing cute and quirky ensembles.