Airing on NBC from 1982 to 1989, “Family Ties” neatly captured an era of transition in American culture and stood out as one of the most popular programs on television. At its height, it ranked No. 2 — just behind “The Cosby Show,” another sitcom that featured a nuclear family finding its way in a changing world.
Fox and Mr. Goldberg reunited in 1996 for “Spin City,” an ABC sitcom starring the actor as deputy mayor of New York City; Charlie Sheen took over the lead role before the show was canceled in 2002. Mr. Goldberg pursued other creative ventures in television and film during his career, but he was best remembered for conceiving the Keaton clan of Columbus, Ohio, in “Family Ties.”
Among the show’s fans was President Ronald Reagan, whose conservative movement invigorated the Young Republicans represented by Fox’s character, Alex P. Keaton. Reagan was widely reported to have declared “Family Ties” his favorite show on television. It ran, as was often noted, almost exactly the length of his administration.
The show did not develop as Mr. Goldberg had originally intended. He planned for the Keatons’ story to revolve around the countercultural parents he had created in his own image — Steven, a PBS station manager played by Michael Gross, and Elyse, an architect played by Meredith Baxter-Birney.
Their daughters Mallory and Jennifer were played by Justine Bateman and Tina Yothers. Matthew Broderick was reported to have turned down the role of Alex, opening the way for the little-known Fox. As the extent of Fox’s comedic talent emerged, Mr. Goldberg adapted the story line to focus on his character.
Alex’s worldview was perhaps best summarized in a line in the pilot episode, in which the parents invite their children to watch a slideshow of them marching on Washington.
“What were you protesting?” Alex inquires. “Good grooming?”
Alex had a favorite economist (Milton Friedman) and displayed a portrait of Richard Nixon in his room. Once, a copy of the Wall Street Journal cropped up under his bed.
“Do you think he was switched at birth and the Rockefellers have our kid?” Steven asks Elyse.
At times, the show not so subtly challenged Alex’s fidelity to market economics. When he leaves his job at a family-owned grocery store for a higher-paying position at a chain store, he decides that he doesn’t much like being called “junior stockboy No. 28” and returns to the mom-and-pop operation.
Mr. Goldberg shared an Emmy Award for the writing of a 1987 episode in which Alex’s friend dies in a car crash while running an errand. Alex might have been killed, too, but he declined to help his friend with the task.
“My life was saved out of smallness, out of lack of generosity for a friend,” Alex says. “Why am I alive?”