The premise was a reverse generation gap: Steven and Elyse Keaton (Michael Gross, Meredith Baxter-Birney) were liberal parents raising three conservative children, including the archetypal young Republican, briefcase-toting Alex (Michael J. Fox).
Creator and executive producer Gary David Goldberg based the show on his own family, but it also reflected the era’s broader political shifts. After all, President Reagan won re-election in 1984 with 59 percent of the young vote, his biggest victory among any group.
(Reagan once declared “Family Ties” his favorite show and offered to make a guest appearance; Goldberg demurred.)
Third-place NBC had high hopes for “Family Ties,” promoting it in a summer ad campaign that kept the show’s title and premise under wraps. By early September, the network’s promos finally took the show “out of the box.”
Reviews were tepid.
The best thing the Washington Post’s Tom Shales had to say about the pilot was it offered “a lack of coarseness that could pass for warmth.”
“Family Ties” struggled in the ratings until 1984, when NBC scheduled it after its blockbuster “Cosby Show” on Thursdays. By 1985, it was prime time’s second most popular show, after “Cosby.”
“Family Ties” is remembered for making a star of Fox, although NBC exec Brandon Tartikoff objected to his casting, saying Fox’s face would never wind up on a lunchbox.
Fox later sent the exec a lunchbox from his hit movie, “Back to the Future.” The note inside read, “Eat crow, Tartikoff.”
From the Pages of TV Guide
Also airing Sept. 22, 1982:
8 PM ABC TALES OF THE GOLD MONKEY – Adventure
Debut: This South Seas adventure series, set in the 1930s, revolves around an idol, a gold monkey that just about everyone – good guys and bad guys alike – is bananas to posses. Caught in the middle is Jake Cutter (Stephen Collins), a roguish American cargo pilot who, in the opener, contends with Nazi spies, vicious simians and a sassy Government agent named Sarah White (Caitlin O’Heaney). Ron Moody plays saloonkeeper Bon Chance Louie (a role played by Roddy McDowall in future episodes). Corky: Jeff MacKay. Princess Kogi: Marta DuBois. Tenboom: John Calvin. Todo: John Fujioka. (2 hrs.)
Monocle … John Hillerman
Tiki … Elizabeth Lindsey
Bobbi … Loyita Chapel
Sam … Ken Smolka
8 PM CBS SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS – Comedy-Drama
Crane (Peter Horton) talks the family into buying co-op grain that’s subsequently impounded when the warehouse owner goes bankrupt. Horton sings “Deep Inside.” Adam: Richard Dean Anderson. Brian: Drake Hogestyn. Hannah: Terri Treas. Daniel: Roger Wilson. Evan: Tim Topper. (60 min.)
Allison … Amy Steel
Judge Carlson … Dana Elcar
Schiller … Ian Patrick Williams
Prosecutor … Phillip Baker Hall
Freleng … Don Eitner
11:30 NBC TONIGHT
Scheduled: Richard Benjamin, Maureen Murphy, Manhattan Transfer. Johnny Carson, Ed McMahon, Doc Severinsen orchestra. (60 min.)