How TV’s “Family Ties” Turned Me Into An NBC Page

Herbie J Pilato
6 min readFeb 18, 2020

A “Big ‘80s” Memory

The “Ties” That Found Me

I always thought Family Ties, which originally aired on NBC in the “Big ‘80s,” was a fun show.

I admired the many talents of its star, Michael J. Fox, who played the program’s central character, wiz-kid, Alex P. Keaton. During the sitcom’s genesis, Fox was not envisioned as its focal point. The series was intended as a star-vehicle for Meredith Baxter-Birney, who played Fox’s mother, Elyse, and who had previously starred with her husband David Birney in Bridget Loves Bernie (the controversial CBS series from 1973 about a Catholic woman who marries a Jewish man and which, unfortunately, was canceled after a few episodes).

When Fox auditioned for Ties, then-NBC entertainment president Brandon Tartikoff, who passed away in the early 1990s, labeled the actor as “too cocky,” and originally cast another young thespian in the role. Tartikoff was later encouraged to run with Fox and, once Ties hit its stride, Baxter-Birney’s talents were heavily outweighed.

The Keaton family, with Fox and Baxter-Birney in place, along with Justine Bateman (as Mallory, Alex’s sister), Tina Yothers (Jennifer, the youngest sibling), and Michael Gross (Steve, the father), was now in for a visit from beyond the fourth wall.

Here’s how it all went down:

In October of 1983, I was standing in line for a Ties ticket, outside Paramount Studios on the trendy Melrose Avenue. I made the cut for a seat inside (which doesn’t always happen) and was excited about the initial prospect of watching an episode of a TV sitcom being filmed, or in this case, taped.

For years before, I had listened to the familiar on-air announcements:

“All in the Family was videotaped before a live audience.”

“Laverne and Shirley was filmed before a live audience.”

“Happy Days was filmed before a live audience” (at least in the show’s later years).

In fact, in the past year, ABC (and Jimmy Kimmel) has expanded on that concept with its recent reboot specials of All in the Family, The Jeffersons, and Good Times, all presented under the umbrella title of “Live In Front…

Herbie J Pilato

Herbie J Pilato is a writer, producer, and TV personality whose books about life and pop culture include THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS.