What Was Michael J. Fox’s “Revenge” Against Brandon Tartikoff For Tartikoff’s Original Hesitance to Cast Fox in Family Ties?
Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.
TV URBAN LEGEND: Michael J. Fox had a clever “revenge” for Brandon Tartikoff’s early doubts about whether Fox would be popular enough to star in a regular TV series.
The original actor cast in the role of Alex P. Keaton in Family Ties was Matthew Broderick, but Broderick ended up backing out of the show. You can only imagine how much that irked show creator Gary David Goldberg. It was pretty clear, even then, that Broderick was going to be something special, so the idea of having him and then NOT having him was pretty rough, and Goldberg seemingly took his frustration out on the hundreds of young men who auditioned to take Broderick’s place.
Eventually, though, his writers and co-producer had him take a second look at one of the actors that had auditioned before they had cast Broderick in the first place, Michael J. Fox.
This time, Goldberg was converted.
However, he had to sell the idea to the network, particularly NBC Head of Entertainment Programming, Brandon Tartikoff. Before the pilot was even filmed, Tartikoff took issue with Fox’s height. He felt he was too short for the role of the son of Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter-Birney. However, he let Goldberg have his way for now.
Once the pilot was filmed, though, NBC loved the show itself, but Tartikoff, once again, tried to have Fox replaced. This time, his argument (in response to Goldberg’s argument that Fox was quite good) was “Maybe, but this is not the kind of face that you’ll ever see on a lunchbox.”
Eventually, though, Tartikoff relented and let Goldberg have his way.
And, of course, Family Ties was a big hit and Fox, in particular, became a star.
Tartikoff was friendly with Fox, and he told Fox about his earlier issues with his casting (Fox obviously had a general idea that Tartikoff did not want him on the show, but Tartikoff told him his specific objections).
Well, a couple of years passed, and Fox (now perhaps at the height of his popularity) starred in the major motion picture Back to the Future (once again replacing a notable 1980s’ teen actor, Eric Stoltz).
The movie was a gigantic smash hit, and, naturally enough, they made, you guessed it, lunch boxes for the film. So Fox had some fun with that fact…
As I mentioned, the pair had become friends, so they’d often meet up for lunch. At one of these lunches, following the success of Back to the Future, Fox presented Tartikoff with a custom-made lunch box. On the cover of the lunch box was a picture of Michael J. Fox’s smiling face. The box was inscribed:
“To Brandon: This is for you to put your crow in. Love and Kisses, Michael J. Fox.”
Tartikoff kept the box in his office for the rest of his career in television.
Great story, no?
The legend is…
Thanks to Michael J. Fox’s Lucky Man: A Memoir for the information!
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