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

Ushering In The 80s

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 the cultural liberalism in the ’60s and ’70s, to the conservatism of the 1980s.

The show often took a comedic approach when examining series topics and it made us laugh, cry, and perhaps most important, it made us think. Here are some really cool facts about “Family Ties.” And wait until you hear what Mallory (actor Justine Bateman) has been up to.

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

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.

Baby Boomers vs ’80s Kids

The time when this show 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 as there were various characters from each generation which helped ensure a diverse view of the world.

All Of The Keaton Kids Were Different

On the same note as the last entry, most of the children in the family had different views. Alex is 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.

There’s much more info about the “Family Ties” kids coming up!

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

While he was not originally supposed to be the main character of the show, it quickly became his.

Throughout the show’s tenure, Fox became the star and this show would be instrumental in launching his huge career that has spanned numerous decades, and he is still working in Hollywood to this day.

Fox Went on To Have A Legendary Career

As mentioned, Fox is still working to this day. But not only has he worked in Hollywood the last few decades. He has also become a mega star.

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 Received One Of Canada’s Highest Awards

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 is the public noticing, but so is his home country of Canada.

He has been given the Order of Canada award, which is the second highest award you can receive in the country.

Meredith Baxter Came Out As Gay

When you look at her failed marriages, you may think she wasn’t very good at relationships, but that is not the case. She came out as a lesbian in 2009, much to the shock of the public.

Being homosexual was frowned upon during the time of her marriages, and thus, she couldn’t be who she really was.

Famous Guest Stars Flocked To The Show

While the starring and recurring actors on the show were great, 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 the following: Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Christina Applegate, Corey Feldman, and many more that went on to become big deals.

“Family Ties” Was A Huge Hit On Netflix

While Netflix wasn’t even a thought when the show first came out back in the 1980s, that is how many people in the last few years have watched the previously popular TV series.

While the show got taken off of Netflix in 2015, it proved to be a big hit among the company’s tens of millions of subscribers.

“Family Ties” References Are Now A Pop Culture Norm

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.

The Days And Times It Aired Were Inconsistent

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 changes it remained a strong offering among its millions of devoted fans.

Meredith Baxter Is A Breast Cancer Survivor

Cancer is an evil beast that almost everyone is affected by in some form or another. One of the most common forms is breast cancer, which affects millions of women.

Meredith Baxter fought cancer, and thankfully, she was able to beat it and become a survivor.

Michael Gross Had A Wide Range Of Acting Skills

While this was probably one of his most noteworthy roles, 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 star 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

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 was arrested in 2001 for a DUI, and again in 2007 for assaulting his then-girlfriend. After violating the terms of his probation he’s been in and out of jail.

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

The first two seasons of the show were difficult. The show barely eked into the top 50 on TV 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 hit its stride.

It finished inside the top 5 for ratings in each of those years, peaking at number 2.

Michael J. Fox Won Three Emmys

Throughout his career, 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, none are probably more impressive than the three straight Emmys he won as Alex on “Family Ties” from 1986 to 1988.

What’s Mallory up to these days? You’ll find out soon!

Julia Louis-Dreyfus Made An Appearance On The Show

Actor Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who you probably recognize from “Seinfeld” and “Veep” 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,” she played a lawyer named Susan “Raindrop” White on the episode “Read It and Weep.”

Joseph Gordon-Levitt Also Showed Up On The Series

On two 1988 episodes of “Family Ties,” Joseph Gordon-Levitt played the role of Dougie when he was only seven years old.

Dougie was a school friend of Andrew’s. Gordon-Levitt went on to have a huge acting career, staring in box office hits like Inception and (500) Days of Summer as well as of course playing Tommy on over 100 episodes of “3rd Rock from the Sun.”

And So Did River Phoenix


River Phoenix, who 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.

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

And Christina Applegate Made An Appearance

On “Family Ties,” Christina Applegate played Kitten, and was another 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.

As Well As David Faustino

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

Besides “Married…with Children,” Faustino has gone on to act in all manner of TV shows including “Entourage” and “Modern Family.”

And Crispin Glover

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, and Charlie’s Angels.

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

Courteney Cox Did, Too

Before she was Monica on “Friends” or Jules on “Cougar Town,” 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.

Matthew Broderick Almost Played Alex

The role of Alex P. Keaton, 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 Drew On His Brother For Inspiration

Once he did land the role of Alex, Michael J. Fox put his all into it. Drawing on his view of his real life brother who, apparently, was a real crack up at the family dinner table.

Fox has said 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”

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. Talk about living between two different realities! Think he ever got Marty and Alex mixed up?

The Show Helped A Song Reach Number One On Music Charts

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.

It was already six years old when it hit 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.

Brian Bonsall Got Into Some Trouble After The Show Ended

Bonsall was a talented kid. He landed the role of Andy on the show even though it was only his first TV show audition. It’s been recorded that he beat over 500 other child actors for the part.

However, after the show ended, he wound up getting into some trouble and even being arrested.

Democrats Dug Alex

Michael J. Fox is well known for portraying the young, staunchly Republican character Alex, during the conservative ’80s, on “Family Ties.” But that doesn’t mean he was only popular with conservative fans of the show.

But it wasn’t exactly what you might think. Republicans thought he portrayed their viewpoint well, and Democrats though the was doing a good job satirizing the conservatives. Isn’t that always how it goes?

Scott Valentine Had It Easy

Scott Valentine, who played Mallory’s boyfriend, has been quoted as playfully complaining that he went to a prestigious school only to play a monosyllabic dude on “Family Ties.”

In the same quote, however, he then goes on to say that sometimes he only had to grunt in an episode and still received a “bundle of cash for it.”

He Also Tried (And Failed) Three Spin-offs

As much as he’d like us to believe that there really wasn’t much behind his character, Mallory’s boyfriend, Nick Moore, the public loved him.

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. Sadly, all three were unsuccessful.

Michael J. Fox Met His Wife On The Show

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.)

Fox Thought Of Alex As Afraid

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.”

Alex Keaton Wouldn’t Like Trump

In the last decade, the Republican party has changed from Alex’s 1980s Republicanism. In fact, “Family Ties” producer Gary David Goldberg has gone on record saying that Alex would in no way approve of or want to be affiliated with the Republicans of the 2000s.

Goldberg also thinks Alex, today, is a pro bono lawyer for a children’s defense fund.

There Were Rumors About A Relationship Between Cox and Fox

Perhaps people only speculated because of how well their names rhyme, but while they were shooting “Family Ties,” there were rumors that Fox was dating Courteney Cox in real life, not just as Lauren Miller on the show.

In fact, people speculated that he’d broken up with Tracy for Courteney. This never seemed to be proven truthful, of course.

Fox Was Almost Fired From The Show

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. He probably deserved that one.

The Production Logo Is The Creator’s Dog

The sign off tag that everyone remembers from the end of each episode is actually Ubu Roi, writer, producer, and “Family Ties” creator Gary David Goldberg’s dog. The photo was taken in Paris in front of the Louvre.

During this same trip, Goldberg and his wife hitchhiked across Europe. Who knew the Ubu Productions logo had such an exotic story?

Alex Was Born in Africa

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 participating in the Peace Corps, guess who was born? Yep, their conservative child, Alex.

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

For whatever reason, the cast of “Family Ties” did not want any possibility of a future reunion show at the time the original series was 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

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! (We knew Fox and Pollan did, but it’s nice to hear the others did, too.)

Check out what Justine has to say about how the cast got along in a few pages.

The Creator Of The Show Was Involved In A Huge Lawsuit

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 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.

Tina Yothers (Jennifer) Was On Celebrity Wife Swap

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

Born Michael Andrew Fox, he 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.

Alex Keaton Showed Up On “Spin City”

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 an mention of a conservative junior senator named Alex P. Keaton. Worlds colliding.

Mallory Was Originally Less Confused

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 take 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.

Justine Bateman Went On To Have A Successful Digital Career

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.

She Has Done A Number Of Things After The Show

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.

Keep reading for more about what Justine is up to these days!

The Cast Of “Family Ties” Was Close

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.

Sounds like the set of “Family Ties” was not a boring one.

Fox Is Known For Shedding Light On Parkinson’s Disease

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, Fox has done his best to spread awareness about the disease, look for a cure, and has raised millions of dollars for the cause.

Meredith Baxter Was Pregnant During Production

You might know her better as Elyse Keaton. 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 mitigate the issue of a pregnant actor who isn’t playing a pregnant character.

She was written out of a few episodes in season three, though.

Non-Traditional Student

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

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. He received several awards for his work on “Arrested Development.”

Not a Fan

In 2016, it was announced that the producer of the hit Broadway show “Wicked” would be creating a stage version of “Family Ties.”

Bateman has been vocal about her disapproval of the idea. She took to Twitter to write “Ew, ew, ew, ew” in response to the announcement.

Clothing Line

Justine Bateman has a lot of talent! She 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.

Mallory Has Sure Stayed Busy

Justine Bateman has made a ton of television appearances since those “Family Ties” days. Her acting credits include “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” “Out of Order,” “Men in Trees,” “Still Standing,” “Californication,” and Disney’s “Wizards of Waverly Place.”

She also played a drug dealer on the comedy-drama “Desperate Housewives.”