Tuesday, August 8, 2017

"Family Ties": oral history of the 1980s sitcom – part 3 – reactions

Introduction to the Family Ties oral history (including the list of interviewees and links to each part).

Was it just another job or was there anything special about it at the time?

Cindy Fisher (s1): Pilots are always special because they bring hope of a series. The cast was all signed for the series, I was just the guest star, so to celebrate I brought each of the cast a red rose the day of shooting in front of the live audience. I was pretty objective (not being really a part of it) and felt the synergy so thought it might go. Always hard to tell network commitment.
John Putch (s1, 2, 5): Sure it was special. I was a young actor just getting some traction in TV. Prior to Family Ties, I had had a successful run on Norman Lear's One Day at a Time playing the character of Bob Morton. The writing on TV back then by Gary Goldberg and Michael Weithorn was so good and sharp. It was a fun time. Nothing was just a job when you were young and hopeful.

Terry Wills (s1, 2, 5, 6, 7): It was very special because the experience really embodied the show's title.
Kerry Noonan (s1):
Family Ties was my second TV or film job. I had come out of UCLA as a theater major. I had not yet seen the show (I think it was season 2?) since I had been doing a lot of theater in L.A., which took up most of my nights.
Edward Edwards (s2): This episode aired two days before the birth of my first child. So taping of the show was a couple of weeks before that. Somehow anticipating the birth of my child and having the opportunity to really cut loose creatively in this episode made this a very memorable time in my life.
Kate Vernon (s2): Having no reference [because it was my first or second audition], it's hard to compare it. As far as first jobs on great sets, I lucked out. Walking into that group of people was definitely walking into what felt like a family. Meredith Baxter Birney was absolutely lovely and warm and made me very comfortable. Michael Gross, too. It was a safe place for a new actress. I didn't feel any pressure. I was just like "Please God help me remember my lines!" I thought the script was hilarious. I love that they pretended to be astronauts and we were completely enthralled.
Debbie Gilbert (now Webb) (s2): It was special for many of us because, I believe, it was a first job. Katie [Vernon] had already wrapped Pretty in Pink, but it was not released yet. [MTN: I suspect this timeline is off. This episode was shot in late 1983; Pretty in Pink was released in early 1986.] She was tall and her piercing blue eyes made it clear there was something special about her. Crispin would arrive on the set each day [in] some sort of creative outfit he was experimenting with. He told me he had just painted his entire apartment black. At the time, Mike [Fox] was dating the dark-haired gal from The Facts of Life [Nancy McKeon]; this also blew my mind. Even Mike seemed to be floating on air about his position in life. John Putch, I was told, was the son of Edith Bunker [Jean Stapleton]. I could not believe where I was.
Susan Isaacs (s2): It was my very first job and my very first audition. I was in my last year at UCLA film. I'd been cast in so many student films, I was mulling over whether to pursue film production or acting. In fact, I'd kind of thrown out a fleece in a prayer only a few days before he audition. "Hey, God, I need a sign which avenue to pursue." And then Bob's your uncle, two days later I was at Paramount booking a job, getting my SAG card and an agent. Of course, so many of my peers in the film department went on to long careers behind the camera, while I struggled for many years as an actor. Nevertheless, it was a very special show. My father, who'd been very negative about me trying to be an actor, was over the moon. I won't forget the moment he shook Lee's hand after the taping. He was beaming. Lee gave me a start, and I'll never forget her for giving me that shot.
Kathleen Wilhoite (s2): It was just another job, but hanging out with Justine made it special. I laughed a lot and I liked everyone on the cast and crew. I don't remember feeling any kind of angst or having any problems on that show.
Lenora May (s2): To be quite honest, it was another job. However, it was the last one where I played a teenager as I was already pushing 28! After that I switched to "young mom" roles.
Alan Blumenfeld (s2, 3, 4, 5, 6): What it did for my confidence to be part of the industry was incalculable. In terms of how other people viewed me, I've never really known. I've just known that the show was such a hit that it helped me get other auditions and work.

Timothy Busfield (s3, 5): Because I was 27 and fresh off Revenge of the Nerds, I was auditioning a lot but wasn't getting a great deal of [parts]. I was more excited to be on the Paramount lot auditioning than I was to be reading for Family Ties. After my second episode, they offered me to be a series regular—but I was also offered Trapper John, M.D. I took that because it was a lead character in a film show and I wanted to learn to become better for film. On Trapper John, M.D., I was basically the lead for the last episodes. With Family Ties, it was still year 3. It wasn't necessarily a show I would've watched, nor did I watch it when I left it. I don't know how much TV I watched—I [rather] watched movies.
Matthew Barry (s3): I needed it badly. At the time I was working at the Sunset Marquis hotel as my "regular struggling actor job" and this job allowed me to quit.
Lily Mariye (s3): This was an amazing job for me! I had only recently begun to think of myself as an actor, rather than a dancer, and
Family Ties was a huge hit show. I was a little overwhelmed on the first day of rehearsal, actually being in the Keatons' living room and being with the Keatons. To relate it to being a young actor on a show today, it would be like suddenly rehearsing in the living room of The Big Bang Theory…completely surreal!

After our episode, Gary David Goldberg wanted to make Tim and I recurring characters on the show, but Tim got a regular gig on
Trapper John, M.D. before Gary was able to make that happen.

Nancy Everhard (now Amandes) (s3): It was a big deal for me. It was my first sitcom and going in front of a live audience was really exciting!
Norman Parker (s3, 5, 6): It appeared, at first, to simply be a nice job. But from the first read-through at table with the cast I knew immediately I was with a very special group of people.
Suzanne Snyder (s4): I have only fond memories of my time on
Family Ties. Everyone was very kind and talented. They were like a loving, happy family. They listened to each other, cared for each other, and helped each other.

These two episodes were very special for everyone because they were introducing a new character, Tracy [Ellen Reed]. They had searched for Tracy all over the country. I was directed to behave very differently from Tracy.
Gracie Harrison (s4): Working on
Family Ties was far from just another acting job. It was an incredible success at the time and it was exciting for me to be a part of a very special episode.
Robin Morse (s5): The truly special thing was getting cast in a show that I'd been watching and loved, so it certainly was not just "another job." I felt really excited and grateful to be a part of the show.
Jonna Lee Pangburn (s5): Really??? I personally never really watched TV…but everyone knew about
Family Ties! It was a "score" job for a middle-class working actress! A very nice credit and a great week on the set. The cast and crew were professional and welcoming. No scandals, no mud fights, no drugs, sex, or sordid behavior. Kind of boring for an interview.
Brian McNamara (s5): For me personally, I was working on a bit of TV history.
Sonia Curtis (s5, 6): Not really [anything special]. Although Mallory and I were supposed to be friends, Justine was very cool with me behind the scenes. She was more able to turn it on and off whereas I was trying to create the sense that we were really friends before the camera was rolling…probably just different acting styles, plus she was a series regular and had to work with lots of different people each week.
Stuart Pankin (s5): Getting work was and is never just another job. With 95% unemployment at any given time, an actor is always grateful to be appreciated, and to get work, especially on a hit show.
Amy Lynne (s5): Oh, it was hugely special because up till that point, I had never gotten a major prime time part. And I wasn't in just one scene, I was in the whole show. It made my sitcom career take off. After that I got two series—Raising Miranda in 1988 with Bryan Cranston (I remember him singing to me in his trailer) and The Ann Jillian Show. I got a photo of all of [the cast] and had them sign it. Even though I was on the show, I was still all googly-eyed.
Nicole Nourmand (s5): The environment was particularly friendly. The episodes I did were full of kids. We all made presents for each other and had a blast hanging out when doing our homework.
Alyson Croft (s5): This was a big deal for me. My family and I would watch this show every week. Once I was on set, I remember being worried that if anyone found out my age, it was gonna get me fired. The other actresses were so much older!
Jason Naylor (s6, 7): At that time,
Family Ties was by far the most widely well-known of any television project I had yet worked on and I felt very proud to have been cast and excited to have the chance to work with actors and a production crew of that caliber.
Ellen Latzen (s6): Working on
Family Ties was one of the highlights of my career. I remember when my mother got the phone call that they wanted me to be a guest star. Fatal Attraction [in which Ellen appeared] had just come out and the producers wanted me on the show. I think I screamed when my mom told me. It was one of my favorite shows and I was a huge fan of Michael J. Fox, so being offered a part was a dream come true. They flew us from New York to L.A. to film and it was my first time ever visiting California. Shooting on the Paramount lot was such a thrill for me. I remember seeing Michael Dorn and LeVar Burton walking around in costume [for Star Trek: The Next Generation] and thinking that was so cool.
Victor DiMattia (s6): I remember being very excited about meeting Michael J. Fox because I liked Back to the Future.
Darrell Thomas Utley (s6): It was my first foray into the entertainment industry. I was selected after auditioning with a few other kids. We were screened at the California School for the Deaf in Riverside, where the casting guys went to look. It was a special opportunity which led me to few other roles after
Family Ties. It was my first "job" and at the time it was one of the most popular TV shows. It was surely magical as I saw everything behind the scenes as opposed to seeing it on TV.
Danielle von Zerneck (s6):
Family Ties was huge at the time and one of my favorite shows. It was so amazing to be on that set. Michael J. Fox was in the midst of becoming huge.
Hilary Shepard (s7): To be on such an iconic show was so much fun. When you know their house so well from seeing it on TV and then get to be there the set, it gives you chills!
Christina Pickles (s7): It was an honor.
Nick Rutherford (s7): At the time, I don't know if I even had the idea of what a job was. I remember the sound stage. I remember waiting behind the fake front door to run out, and I remember seeing for the first time the painted backdrop that made it look like outside was a neighborhood and thinking "Oh, cool. That's how they do that."

Jaclyn Bernstein (s7): It's funny—I worked a lot as a child. I did hundreds of commercials and shows, most of which I have very little memory of—it's just the nature of the beast. But Family Ties was, literally, the most special on-set experience I ever had. I truly mean that. I didn't understand why at the time because I was so young, but it must have been the beautiful chemistry and wholesome collaborative work environment that I was feeling. It really felt like a family. Being an actor is kind of like being a gypsy. You build a home and then the shoot wraps so you pack and go, usually to never to see most of the people ever again. Even more so as a child because when you're not on camera, you are with the set tutor clocking in school hours, so you don't get a lot of time to build relationships with cast and crew. But Family Ties was a golden group. I remember feeling so sad to leave when the week wrapped. After the live taping on Friday night, I actually cried because I didn't want the experience to end. That never happened to me before or since.

Suzanne, did you see any sign of the spark between Michael and Tracy who, as you probably know, got married a few years after your episode was filmed?

I remember thinking that Tracy and Michael seemed like they could end up together.

Do you remember any notable reactions to your role from friends or fans?

Cindy Fisher (s1): They aired the pilot over and over before each taping for a few seasons, to familiarize the audience and get them in the
Family Ties mood, so I got a lot of mileage out of that.
Chris Hebert (s1, 2): At the time I was on, the show was still finding its audience. It really wasn't until it got scheduled after The Cosby Show that the ratings began to skyrocket (which was a year or so after I appeared on it). However, many people who have caught in reruns over the years or even were fans from the beginning and have said they remember those two shows. Some have said something like "Oh, I remember you doing that 'Four more years' line!" (from my first episode) and my watching the Nixon impeachment trial in the second. 
Terry Wills (s1, 2, 5, 6, 7): Mostly, they were just happy to see I had a job.
Edward Edwards (s2): I was amazed that people stopped me on the street after it aired. Even years later, people would see me in the subway station or a hotel lobby and tell me how much they loved to hate my character.
Kaleena Kiff (s2): I had been a regular on another NBC show shooting in NYC for two seasons so most of my 8-year-old friends in California weren't overly impressed. Mostly they were just envious that I was missing more school.
Kate Vernon (s2): It was basically my first gig and so there was a lot of attention from my family. Plus I'm Canadian and Michael J. Fox is Canadian and I had the funny line "We're not at war with Canada, are we?"
Eileen Seeley (s2): Relief from my family that maybe I wasn't as crazy as they thought I was for pursuing an acting career.
Debbie Gilbert (now Webb) (s2): Well, of course, back then there were not hundreds of channels. It was a big deal to be on TV. I came to Hollywood because I was clueless about what to do about my future. I wanted to be a journalist, but my [as-yet] undiagnosed ADD made it difficult to focus in college. The classrooms used typewriters and the sounds of the keys clicking distracted me. I could not focus and had no idea why. So I quit and went home to my parents, a failure. One day I opened the Yellow Pages and started with A, [zeroed in on] 'Acting,' enrolled myself in a class in Las Vegas (where I grew up), and found myself being taught by the character actor Joseph Bernard. Joseph was close to Jerry Lewis, and Jerry gave me a small part in something (I don't remember) to get my SAG card. Once I had [that], I headed to L.A.

Family Ties aired, I went home to visit my folks and ran into my high school boyfriend. He had dumped me when we were about to graduate. He was on his way to an Ivy League. I was Jewish but looked like a shiksa, he was rich, I was poor—so I was Barbra Streisand in The Way We Were. Now I was good enough for him. ;) It felt great to say "You are lovely, Hubbell, but…"
Susan Isaacs (s2): My friends were super excited. My family got a lot of calls about it. Not about the topic, but about the fact that "Susie is on TV!" My ex-boyfriend from high school was back east, and he made everyone in his dorm watch the episode. The only reaction he related back to me was that his buddies said I had a nice butt.
Kathleen Wilhoite (s2): Well, I played the girl who encouraged Justine to lose her virginity. I guess I got a couple of raised eyebrows. I had just started working as a professional actress, so any time I worked I got positive reactions from my friends and family.
Lenora May (s2): Actually only last week [August 2016], a coworker of mine was watching reruns of
Family Ties with her 9-year-old and she freaked out when she realized that I was in the show she was watching. I looked a lot younger, ha ha.
Matthew Barry (s3): I got a lot of letters from fans talking about how adorable Scott was.
Nancy Everhard (now Amandes) (s3): My family was always happy to see me on TV. I came from a small town in Ohio where no one else was in the entertainment business.
Norman Parker (s3, 5, 6): The exposure was so enormous that suddenly a trip to the drugstore made it clear anonymity was a thing of the past for the time being.
Adam Carl (s3): Nothing specific, though in general all my friends and the kids I went to school with were very supportive. Nobody ever gave me a hard time and my peers were always excited for me when I got a gig or when an episode I worked on aired. My best friend Scott would come to the tapings of every show I did which was always reassuring for me and definitely helped keep me grounded. Now we're middle-aged men but we're still extremely tight.
Gracie Harrison (s4): If my friends or family see it, I usually get a text from them with a picture of me on the TV screen. Always makes me smile. I also know I have a residual check coming. ; )
Robin Morse (s5): At the time, yes, most people were really excited because it was such a popular show; however, the truly rewarding experience is that now my kids and their friends are watching it, and they get such a kick out of the fact that I was on it.
Brian McNamara (s5): I had many people come to me after the episode aired telling me how moved they were. Keep in mind this was a comedy, so that was particularly gratifying.
Sonia Curtis (s5, 6): [When] people recognize me and feel they know me [personally], it's usually from acting jobs, and they usually remember the
Family Ties episodes well. A couple of guys told me they had a huge crush on Amy which made me laugh since I thought she was so quirky…to each his own, right?
Stuart Pankin (s5): My character Uncle Marv was a pain and the family couldn't wait for him to go. [The family] printed up a calendar with my face on it and happily crossed off the days until my departure. I got a copy of that calendar, put it in the kitchen, and gave a few to my friends and family. That calendar/dartboard was a happy and funny reminder of my experience.
Dana Andersen Schreiner (s5): At that time, fans would actually write letters. I didn't get a lot, but what I did get mostly came from people who were in prison. (I think this was pretty common for young actresses.) I do remember getting more than usual after my
Family Ties aired, which I thought was interesting since it was such a family-oriented show
Amy Lynne (s5): I was working quite a bit even if they weren't huge parts so I didn't have a lot of friends because I was gone so much. My friends were mostly from the dance troupe. I think the friends I did have at school got a little jealous, so it wasn't the best experience. It's a hard thing to comprehend when you're 14 and a girl—girls can be nasty.

I got to do these plots [about teenaged drama] that gave me deeper understanding. It gave me more insight than if I had just gone through it in real life. But everything is a trade-off, so I missed out on dances, parties, boyfriends. So you don't grow up till later. But it was still nice because I got to see growing up from a different angle.
Nicole Nourmand (s5): I played a major dork, Beth Hooper. I was nerdy as a tween, but of course they had to make me a meganerd with jeans hiked up and a plaid shirt. So my friends made fun of me and I was mortified to be dressed like a loser on national TV.

Alyson Croft (s5): I just remember the laughter. There was so much laughter from the executives, [director] Asaad Kelada, and the studio audience.
Jason Naylor (s6, 7): I have the vague recollection of some fan mail and perhaps a Tiger Beat puff piece or two, but the most remarkable reaction has to have been the moment when Michael J. Fox, in character as Alex Keaton, nearly broke when, in character as Simon, I performed another bit of physical comedy—opening the Keaton kitchen door into the toe of my shoe, simultaneously snapping my head back, thus appearing to have opened the door into my own forehead on my way out of the house—with sufficiently good timing that Mr. Fox appeared to nearly not been able to contain his own mirth.
Ellen Latzen (s6): Nothing notable. But all of my friends back then, and even those I've told in my adult life, were so excited to hear I'd been on the show. It was such a staple in the '80s, a truly beloved program. And because mine was a pretty iconic Christmas episode, a lot of people remember it. I mean, how can you forget Alex P. Keaton playing a mall Santa?
Darrell Thomas Utley (s6): They, of course, were awestruck and glad to see a deaf actor representing a deaf character as it was pretty common for the roles to be filled by hearing actors faking some signs—which lacked authenticity. I didn't like to be placed on a pedestal and many did consider me as a role model. However, at that time, I was just another deaf child.
Susan Kohler (s6): Immediately after the episode aired, my phone rang off the hook. Everyone saw it, everyone called to say how much they liked the show. Also, the show received many accolades because of the subject manner (a deaf boy teased by classmates).
Debra Engle (s7): They all so thought it was interesting for me to be [playing] a person stealing things. 
Christina Pickles (s7): Months later I ran into the director who told me I had been very moving in that emotional part. I was thrilled because you never know.
Nick Rutherford (s7): Not particularly. Though I still occasionally bring up the clip with friends to laugh at how little and weird it was.

Part 4.

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