August 26, 2012

Pop Culture Reunion: Family Ties

Some TV shows seem to age very well, while others don't.  One need look no further than "I Love Lucy" which had it's heyday in the 1950s to see one program that seems to have endured the test of time (in Black & White, no less.  In fact, the CEO of CBS Les Moonves recently disclosed that "I Love Lucy" still makes CBS $20 million a year - impressive!).  Indeed, "I Love Lucy" has never left the airwaves since it first premiered in 1951 and while the prevalence of reruns isn't what it was a few years ago, it still continues to entertain audiences as much as it did in the fifties.  On August 6, 2011, Google dedicated one of it's popular interactive "Google Doodles" to honor what would have been the 100th birthday for actress Lucille Ball, whose namesake appears in the title of this classic TV show (see HERE for that, or visit the short link at http://goo.gl/srVSQ).

On the other hand, other programs don't seem to age nearly as well.  In my assessment, a variety of factors play into a show's becoming "dated".  Sure, hairstyles and fashion will always reflect current trends of the times (for example, "Maude" which was a '70s show featuring actresses Bea Arthur and Adrienne Barbeau features not only fashions of the era, but the set's kitchen where Maude had countless interactions with her various housekeepers featured Coppertone-Brown colored appliances which look positively dated today).  While well-written, the content was very much attuned to trends in that era, hence it hasn't been regularly on the rerun circuit until AntennaTV picked it up a few years ago after a long hiatus.  However, aside from fashions, I think a show's basic premise which is at the heart of it's script may also help it stay current, or accelerate a show's decline in relevance.  Maude was very much about women's lib and divorce (both were very current in the seventies) and to some extent, tremendous progress has been made in that area.

Back in the 1980's, for a time, the NBC TV show "Family Ties" was the second-highest watched TV show in America (after "The Cosby Show"), but it's important to note that although cable TV was widespread at that time (indeed, cable subscriptions more than tripled from 15 million in 1980 to 47 million in 1989), the traditional broadcast networks still dominated viewership.  NBC was tops at the time, with what it branded as "Must See TV" (catch my post HERE or by visiting http://goo.gl/Vzbcn for that post) with such shows as "The Cosby Show", "Family Ties", "Night Court" and a host of others that put the Peacock network on top in terms of ratings.

Yet at it's core, "Family Ties" was about the meshing of two different generations, with flower-children/hippie parents raising kids more drawn to then-current Reagan-era conservatism.  But if one looks past some of the very dated references in the show, the core of the show seems to age reasonably well in spite of character Mallory Keaton's (played by Justine Bateman, who is Jason Bateman's - another child actor's - real-life sister) positively dated hairstyles and fashions or Alex P. Keaton's (played by actor Michael J. Fox) repeated references to long-since-retired treasury secretaries and politicians, or even his carrying of a briefcase everywhere, which has long since fallen out of fashion even on Wall Street.

Beyond that, the cast has aged in various ways.

Michael J. Fox, more than any other cast member, achieved superstar status with success not only on TV, but also on the big screen, too.  On the other hand, Justine Bateman who played Mallory Keaton has since worked only periodically (for example, she guest starred in a recurring role on a 1990s sitcom known as "Still Standing" as a lesbian neighbor to Bill and Judy Miller, and Justine Bateman's character had a son who dated the Miller's daughter Lauren).  Just how extensive the references to "current" events and fashions may also play a role.  Towards the end of "Family Ties", there were many then-current references weaved into the scripts, which in my honest opinion is the reason that the earlier seasons of this particular show are more enjoyable than later seasons were.  But beyond the older two children, the other kids are no longer in the entertainment business. Tina Yothers, who played Jennifer Keaton has largely stayed out of the TV business (though she did "work" in a rock band), although she returned to entertainment after a nine-year absence in show business by working on stage in lead role for "Lovelace the Musical", which was a 2004 stage show based on the life of former pornographic movie star Linda Lovelace.

Meanwhile, in March 2010, Brian Bonsall, who played youngest sibling Andy Keaton on "Family Ties" was arrested in Colorado and charged with hitting his best friend with a bar stool (see HERE or short link http://huff.to/7pp7Fq).  But aside from one former child star (one who was on the show for less time than all the others) descending into typical child-star-turned-bad behavior, most are finding things to keep themselves busy and not spiraling out of control.  And, in 2009, actress Merideth Baxter, who played the mother Elise Keaton on "Family Ties" revealed (see http://youtu.be/iRfu_rotO_c for the TV interview) that she was, in fact, a lesbian.  Her coming out story typified what many gays and lesbians did until the 1990s, which was to try and live their lives as heterosexuals, but offers a fascinating example of just how far gay rights have come since the 1960s.

Very recently, it was announced last week that actor Michael J. Fox had signed a plum deal with NBC television for a brand new TV series that will begin in the fall of 2013.  It is being described as a new family television series which he will star in.  The industry trade press also reported that NBC went to pretty great lengths to seal the deal, including committing to the show before anybody had even shot the pilot episode. Also, the show will reportedly feature Mr. Fox as a father and will incorporate his Parkinson's Disease into the script (see HERE or http://n.pr/O2er1N for details).

You can listen to the "Family Ties" theme song "Without Us" by visiting Amazon's MP3 store (sorry, its not free) at http://amzn.to/U4uGft.

Of course, the highlight of today's post is the 2007 cast of "Family Ties" (excluding Brian Bonsall) who reunited on NBC's Today Show after 20 years!  A few years ago, the cast of "Family Ties" (excluding Brian Bonsall) were reunited on NBC's Today Show.  The original link was at http://on.today.com/vAfAyU although NBC has since removed it, but another reunion of the cast was saved by Entertainment Weekly around the same time which can be watched on YouTube at https://youtu.be/6eTf-Pja6g8.


Much of the cast also appeared at the TV Land Awards in 2012, see http://bit.ly/2c7qkGm for the clip.  Of course, the entire series of "Family Ties" can be seen on DVD, and has made appearances on various broadcast and/or cable networks (check your listings for Antenna TV, Retro Television (RTV), or Me-TV).

This was one cast reunion that seemed to be very genuine insofar as the cast members seemed pleased to be reunited.  Unlike some other cast reunions where cast members rivaled one another for another chance in the television spotlight again, the cast of "Family Ties" (minus Andy Keaton) appears happy to be reunited.

Now, Sit Ubu, Sit!
(You may catch the Gary Goldberg book by the same title noted in the cast reunion above at http://amzn.to/PhsxOL).

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