who fought to cast Michael J
Michael J. Fox to play conservative teenager Alex P. Keaton on «Family Ties.» It has become the stuff of television legend and lore.
The show’s creator and executive producer, Gary David Goldberg, knew Fox was perfect for the role. He knew Fox had breakout star potential. NBC programming boss Brandon Tartikoff was thoroughly unimpressed, either by Fox or Goldberg’s arguments.
Goldberg, who died Saturday of brain cancer at age 68, wouldn’t give in. He battled to cast Fox on the sitcom set in Ohio. Finally, Tartikoff relented.
Go ahead and cast him if you must, Tartikoff told Goldberg, «but I’m telling you, this is not the kind of face you’ll ever see on a lunch box.»
When Goldberg’s faith in Fox was more than justified, the actor sent Tartikoff a little present. It was a lunch box with Fox’s picture on it. He enclosed a note: «To Brandon: This is for you to put your crow in. Love and Kisses, Michael J. Fox.» To his credit, Tartikoff, who died in 1997, kept the lunch box on display in his office.
Sounds too good to be true? Goldberg confirmed the story in the mid ’80s to a room packed with TV critics. A little while later, Tartikoff told those same critics that the lunch box was indeed sitting in his office.
«With a full heart I say goodbye to my mentor, benefactor, partner, second father and beloved friend,» Fox said in a statement released Monday. «He touched so many with his enormous talent and generous spirit. He changed my life profoundly.»
Goldberg is perhaps best known for «Family Ties,» the 1982 89 comedy starring Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter as liberal baby boomers with a teen son who idolizes Ronald Reagan. Goldberg based the parents on himself and his wife, Diana. He also used his dog, Ubu, as the name and image of his production company. The end credit on his shows showed a slide of the beloved pooch holding a Frisbee in his mouth. This was accompanied by the words, «Sit, Ubu, sit . . . good dog.»
Goldberg and Fox reunited on «Spin City,» an ABC comedy that premiered in 1996. Fox played New York City’s deputy mayor.
But, for me, Goldberg’s finest series always will be the lamentably short lived CBS drama «Brooklyn Bridge» (1991 93). It was a series laced with strong family ties and packed with delightful performances.
Set in 1956, it featured Danny Gerard as 14 year old Alan Silver, the middle class Brooklyn boy based on Goldberg. Cleveland native Carol Kane was featured as Aunt Sylvia.
It was a sturdy «Bridge,» constructed of nostalgia, wit and love. Alas, the characters never made it to a lunch box. But when we remember Gary David Goldberg, we should remember there was a show called «Brooklyn Bridge.»
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