To celebrate the 40-year anniversary of the premiere of Family Ties, Yahoo Entertainment reunited Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter, who played the parents on the classic show.
Much of the tension in the early seasons was between Michael J. Fox's character as a young Republican and his hippie parents. The political nature of the show is not something Meredith thinks would work in today's hostile climate. "I don't see how you could have it," Meredith said, "because the divide given the positions of the people, of the family at the time, if you just take that to their natural corners, I don't think there would be anything to come together on, you know, because it's so, the political landscape is so ugly today."
Michael had a more optimistic view, adding, "On the other hand, you could argue that it might be a healing experience to see somebody who can settle some of their differences in that way." Michael went on to say, "What I think was important about the show is we did deal with politics, but was a kinder, gentler politics. The Reagan years were different than these years now. People were not mortal enemies if they disagreed with each other. And I think that was one of the nicest things about the show is that our… we could disagree with our children and not send them up to bed without supper."
Although, Steven and Elyse probably wouldn't have sent the Keaton kids to bed without supper anyway, because as they put it, they were very lenient on-screen parents. When asked how their parenting styles in real life differed from the Keatons, Meredith replied, "Well, Steven and Elyse had very good writers… I didn't. I had to write my own material and it didn't always pass mustard, but, you know, it worked okay. I think Elise was far more lenient than I would be."
Michael felt the same way, and apparently so did his real-life kids. "I was certainly more lenient on screen," Michael said. "I mean, there was one occasion, at least one occasion where my own children said, 'Why can't you be as nice as that father on television?"
The show ended in 1989, with Alex moving to New York after getting a job at a big time Wall Street investment firm. The finale was well-received, and the cast, writers and producers were so happy with it that the idea of a reunion show was never even considered. "The feeling from the producers and the cast alike, in some ways, was we're ending on such a good note. We're at a high point. It's like, you couldn't go back home again," Michael explained.
Since there is never going to be a reunion, we had to know what Meredith and Michael imagine their characters would be up to these days. "Dribbling down my chin," Michael joked. "I can see Steven possibly volunteering somewhere. Presuming he's in good health and has the energy. I could see him trying to give something back to the community." Meanwhile, Meredith said she'd like to think Elyse would be working for Planned Parenthood.
- The question you kids should be asking is why we continue to make hydrogen bonds when we already have enough to kill the Russians 40 times over.
- Don't be so melodramatic, mom.
KYLIE MAR: It has been 40 years since Michael J. Fox took on the role of Alex P. Keaton, the young Republican who constantly bumped heads with his hippie parents played by Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter. "Family Ties" ran for seven seasons, winning multiple awards. And to celebrate the anniversary, I sat down with Michael and Meredith for a mini reunion and talked about what tied their onscreen family together despite their political differences. What would "Family Ties" look like in this era with the political climate that we have?
MEREDITH BAXTER: I don't see how you could have it because the divide, given the positions of the family at the time, if just take that to their natural corners, I don't think there would be anything to come together on, you know, because it's so-- the political landscape is so ugly today.
MICHAEL GROSS: On the other hand, you could argue that it might be a healing experience to see somebody who can settle some of their differences in that way. The wonderful thing about even Alex who wanted to conquer the world and have a building called Keaton Tower in every city, again, shared our core values. That was one of the tensions of the thing is he had an avaricious way about him, but yet his heart always won. So I--
MEREDITH BAXTER: Nicely said.
MICHAEL GROSS: --I think he probably would have-- when push came to shove, he was his parents' son and he knew what-- he knew right from wrong.
- I just want you to know that I respect the fact that you're standing up for your beliefs, even if I don't agree with them.
- Yeah, I think that goes for all of us.
- Yeah, yeah, all of us.
KYLIE MAR: While their political differences played a part, the show was ultimately about these two parents dealing with the trials and tribulations of raising a family. And both Michael and Meredith agreed that the Keaton kids had a much easier go of it than their real life kids when it came to their parenting. How does the parenting style of Steven and Elyse compare to your real life parenting style?
MEREDITH BAXTER: Well, I-- Steven and Elyse had very good writers.
I didn't, you know. I had to write my own material, and it didn't always pass muster, but it worked OK. I think Steven, at least, was far more lenient than I would be.
KYLIE MAR: So then I'm assuming that means after being Elyse Keaton it didn't make you more lenient on your own children at home?
MEREDITH BAXTER: No. I know the difference between real life and comedy.
MICHAEL GROSS: Fancy that.
I was certainly more lenient on screen. I mean, there were one-- one occasion, at least one occasion, where my own children say, why can't you be as nice as that father on television?
KYLIE MAR: The show ended in 1989 with Alex moving to New York after getting a job at a Wall Street investment firm. And while Michael explained that everyone from the cast to the writers to the producers didn't ever want to do a reunion show, I just had to find out what they thought Steven and Elyse would be up to all these years later. What do you think your characters would be doing in present day?
MICHAEL GROSS: I can see Steven possibly volunteering somewhere. I think he-- presumably, he's in good health and has the energy, I could see him trying to give something back to a community.
KYLIE MAR: Yeah. How about you, Meredith?
MEREDITH BAXTER: I'd like to think that Elyse would be working with Planned Parenthood.
MICHAEL GROSS: Hmm.
KYLIE MAR: Yeah, I could see that because she was a strong feminist of a character.
MEREDITH BAXTER: Very much. Yes.
KYLIE MAR: All right, guys. Thank you so much. It was lovely talking to you both.
MICHAEL GROSS: Kylie, thank you very much. The pleasure was mine.
MEREDITH BAXTER: Thank you, Kylie.
MICHAEL GROSS: Meredith, it's always good to see you.
MEREDITH BAXTER: Happy, and I will be talking to you soon.
KYLIE MAR: I like that I gave you guys both a reunion, kind of.
MICHAEL GROSS: This is the reunion you're not going to get on the small screen. This is it.
KYLIE MAR: I love that. I got the one and only.
MICHAEL GROSS: Yeah.