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Remembering ‘Family Ties’ and How the Show Made Michael J. Fox a Star

The 1980s were a long time ago, and while Michael J. Fox is still so well known around the world, it may be difficult to remember just how big he really was. Think about it this way: his Classic TV sitcom Family Ties made its debut in 1982. Two years later, NBC introduced The Cosby Show, which became an absolute ratings sensation. Then the network placed Family Ties right behind that series, resulting in it becoming the second highest rated show on TV. Michael's comic brilliance caught the attention of producer Steven Spielberg and director Robert Zemeckis, and he was given permission from the show's creator, Gary David Goldberg, to shoot Family Ties during the day and the feature film Back to the Future at night. That film became the biggest moneymaker of 1985, turned the low budget Teen Wolf (shot earlier but released after BTTF) into a hit, and elevated the status of Family Ties even higher. In the mid-'80s, it was Michael J. Fox's world and we were just guests going along for the ride! But what a ride it was.

But, again, it all started with Family Ties. The concept of the series, which ran for seven seasons from 1982-89, was that former hippies from the 1960s — Steven and Elise Keaton, played by Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter — are raising three kids in the conservative '80s. The clashes between those two ideals would be at the heart of the show, along with the fact that, in the end, the family prevails. But what happened is that Michael J. Fox, who was playing staunch republican teen Alex P. Keaton, was a standout from the start and began stealing the show, his comic timing cracking the audience up and inspiring the writers to lean toward the character. Mama and Papa Keaton remained heavily involved, as were their daughters Mallory (Justine Bateman) and Jennifer (Tina Yothers) — and, later, their son, Andy (Brian Bonsall) — but there was no question that Alex stood at the center of things. Yes, the scripts would focus on all the others and give them their moments, but this was most definitely the Alex P. Keaton Show.

Join us as we look back at the beloved sitcom, revealing some interesting details about the series, and how it transformed Michael's career.