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.[3] 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) are baby boomers, liberals and former hippies,[3] 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.[4] Both Alex, and, to a lesser extent, Mallory, embrace Reaganomics and exhibit conservative attitudes: Alex is a "Young Republican", and Mallory, while not overtly political, is a more materialistic young woman in contrast to her feminist mother.[3] 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 molded 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

Main stars Meredith Baxter and Michael Gross are exactly the same age, sharing the same birthday on June 21, 1947. In the series, their characters were intended to be approximately five or six years older, given that their "son", played by Michael J. Fox, was in fact only fourteen years younger than Baxter and Gross in real life.[5]

Recurring cast

The show had been sold to the network using the pitch "hip parents, square kids."[6] 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.[3][6] Fox had received the role after Matthew Broderick turned it down.[7]

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.

Guest stars

A number of Hollywood stars appeared on the show during its seven-year run. Some were character actors with years of experience. Many others were just beginning their careers and would become quite famous in the years following their appearance.


  • 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".
  • Christina Applegate played Kitten, a member of Jennifer's band, on the episode "Band on the Run".[8]
  • Hank Azaria played a co-worker of Mallory's in the season 7 episode "Designing Women".


  • Two members of the Baldwin family appeared in separate episodes: Stephen Baldwin appeared as a member of a therapy group that Alex attends with his girlfriend and Daniel Baldwin as an Army recruit who harasses Skippy.
  • Frances Bay played Mrs. Menlo in the episode "Keaton and Son".
  • 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").


  • Jeff Cohen played two different characters; Marv Jr. on the episode "The Visit", and Dougie Barker on the episode "4 Rms Ocn Vu".
  • James Cromwell played John Hancock in the 3rd-season episode "Philadelphia Story".



  • 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".
  • 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".



  • Tom Hanks appeared during the first and second seasons as Elyse's alcoholic younger brother Ned Donelly.[6]


  • Barry Jenner played the head of Mallory's fashion agency in the 1988 episode "Designing Women".


  • Judith Light appeared in Season 2 as a colleague of Steven, unsuccessfully attempting to seduce him.
  • 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.


  • 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.
  • Richard McGonagle, appeared in two episodes of Family Ties as separate characters.
  • Priscilla Morrill appeared as Elyse's mom Kate Donelly in season one's "No Nukes is Good Nukes" and season two's "'M' is for the Many Things."
  • Mark Moses as Rick Albert in the episode "Teacher's Pet".


  • Danny Nucci played a school bully who got beaten up by Jennifer after harassing her boyfriend at school in the episode "Designated Hitter".


  • 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.
  • Martha Plimpton played Jessie, a young girl Mallory befriends after she catches her shoplifting.
  • John Putch played Neil for two episodes, a friend of Alex who he goes out drinking with Alex during Alex's birthday party.


  • Anne Ramsey played Mrs. Warfield in the episode "Help Wanted"
  • Betsy Randle played Nancy in the 2 part episode "All in the Neighborhood"
  • 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".
  • Jack Riley played Earl in the episode "Have Gun, Will Unravel"


  • Dick Sargent appeared in season one's "No Nukes is Good Nukes" as Elyse's dad, Charlie Donelly.
  • Anne Seymour played Steven's mother May Keaton in "Remembrance of Things Past".
  • Liz Sheridan played Ginny McCoy in Heartstrings: Part 3.


  • Wil Wheaton, played the target of Jennifer's affection in the episode "D is for Date".


Theme song

The theme song,"Without Us" (credited in Season One as "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.[9][10] For the rest of the show's run, the song was performed by Deniece Williams and Johnny Mathis.

Connection to Day by Day

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).


Season Episodes Originally aired Nielsen ratings[11]
First aired Last aired Rank Rating
1 22 September 22, 1982 (1982-09-22) April 11, 1983 (1983-04-11) 56[12] N/A
2 22 September 23, 1983 (1983-09-23) May 10, 1984 (1984-05-10) 42 16.0 [13]
3 24 September 20, 1984 (1984-09-20) March 28, 1985 (1985-03-28) 5 22.1
Film September 23, 1985 (1985-09-23) N/A N/A
4 24 September 26, 1985 (1985-09-26) May 8, 1986 (1986-05-08) 2 30.0
5 30 September 25, 1986 (1986-09-25) August 13, 1987 (1987-08-13) 2 32.7
6 28 September 13, 1987 (1987-09-13) May 1, 1988 (1988-05-01) 17 17.3
7 26 October 30, 1988 (1988-10-30) May 14, 1989 (1989-05-14) 35 14.5 [14]


Emmy Awards

  • 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

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

TV Land Awards

  • 2008: Character You'd Pay to Do Your Homework for You (Michael J. Fox)
  • 2011: Fan Favorite, Presented by Ben Stiller

Young Artist Awards

  • 1985: Best Young Actress in a Television Comedy Series (Justine Bateman)
  • 1985: Best Young Supporting Actress in a Television Comedy Series (Tina Yothers)
  • 1986: Best Young Actor Starring in a Television Series (Marc Price)
  • 1988: Best Young Actor Under Nine Years of Age (Brian Bonsall)
  • 1989: Best Young Actor Under Ten Years of Age in Television or Motion Pictures (Brian Bonsall)


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.[15]

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 a perennial favourite seen on the Nine Network from 1983 to 2008. Prior to Eleven, the show screened on pay TV network TV1.

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

Home media


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.[16]

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 24 August 5, 2008
The Fifth Season 30 March 10, 2009
The Sixth Season 28 April 9, 2013
The Seventh Season 26 August 13, 2013
The Complete Series 176 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[17]) and Amazon Video as well as Hulu Plus.[18]

References in other media

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

The cast of Family Ties publicly reunited for the first time on February 7, 2008 for an interview on The Today Show.[22]

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 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."



  1. ^ Biography for Dennis Tufano on IMDb
  2. ^ Clements, Erin (October 7, 2015). "Family Ties cast reflects on show 3 decades later: 'We all loved each other'". USA Today. 
  3. ^ a b c d Saenz, Michael. "Encyclopedia of Television: Family Ties". Museum of Broadcast Communications. 
  4. ^ Kiehl, Stephen (June 7, 2004). "What he left behind: From Tom Clancy to Alex P. Keaton, Ronald Reagan's legacy extends beyond the political and into the cultural". The Baltimore Sun. 
  5. ^ Baxter, Meredith (2011). Untied: A Memoir of Family, Fame, and Floundering. Random House LLC. 
  6. ^ a b c Haglund, David (March 2, 2007). "Reagan's Favorite Sitcom: How Family Ties spawned a conservative hero". Slate. 
  7. ^ The Biography Channel - Matthew Broderick Biography
  8. ^ TV.com (1987-02-25). "Family Ties - Season 5, Episode 21: Band on the Run". TV.com. Retrieved 2013-07-29. 
  9. ^ Amazon Video: Family Ties Retrieved February 18, 2013
  10. ^ Netflix: Family Ties Retrieved February 18, 2013
  11. ^ Brooks, Tim; Marsh, Earle (2007). The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows 1946-Present (Ninth Edition). Ballantine Books. p. 1690-1691. ISBN 978-0-345-49773-4. 
  12. ^ 1982-83 Ratings Historyhttp://www.tvratingsguide.com/2017/07/1982-83-top-30-soap-bubbles-rise.html
  13. ^ 1983-84 Ratings Historyhttp://www.tvratingsguide.com/2017/09/1983-84-ratings-history-networks-are.html
  14. ^ 1988-89 Ratings Historyhttp://www.tvratingsguide.com/2017/07/1988-89-ratings-history-wga-writers.html
  15. ^ Netflix: Family Ties (1982–1988) Seasons 1–7
  16. ^ Lambert, David (August 22, 2014). "Family Ties - 'The Complete Series' Gets Re-Released in a New 'Unlimited' Box". TVShowsOnDVD.com. Retrieved August 24, 2014. 
  17. ^ Knolle, Sharon (July 27, 2015). "What's Leaving Netflix in August 2015". Moviefone. 
  18. ^ Amazon Video: Family Ties Retrieved January 23, 2013
  19. ^ Wallace, Amy (March 20, 2000). "Putting His Own Spin on 'City's' season finale". Los Angeles Times. 
  20. ^ Shales, Tom (May 24, 2000). "Michael J. Fox, Playing 'Spin City' to a Fare-Thee-Well." Washington Post. p. C1.
  21. ^ Michael J. Fox Database Archived 2004-11-19 at the Wayback Machine.
  22. ^ "Family Ties: Reunited After Almost 20 Years!". TVSeriesFinale.com. Retrieved 2008-02-07. 

External links