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'Family Ties' creator Gary David Goldberg dies at age 68
Gary David Goldberg, best known for a long creative association with Michael J. Fox in two major series - "Family Ties" and "Spin City' - died Saturday following a long bout with brain cancer, according to trade reports. He was 68.
Goldberg was one of a core group of young TV writers in the '70s and '80s - many associated with Grant Tinker - whose sensibilities defined and dominated the multi-camera sitcom; and with "Family Ties," he wrote and produced a show that not only accomplished that particular feat but was also to become one of the cultural landmarks of the decade that it reflected, and to a certain extent, defined. Alex Keaton - Fox - was a young, vital and humanized portrait of Reagan America not often seen, at least in comedic terms, on TV. Not that Gary and Fox didn't make fun of Alex - they did, and how.
"Ties" meanwhile was one of those big comedies that propelled NBC to a place of real dominance for a very long time, and when the show finally ended (in 1989), it ended not with a whimper but a bang - still popular, while Fox was still very much beloved.
From Fox: "With a full heart I say goodbye to my mentor, benefactor, partner, second father and beloved friend, Gary David Goldberg. He touched so many with his enormous talent and generous spirit. He changed my life profoundly. Love to Diana and all of Gary’s family."
Gary was - a word he would very much approve of, I suspect - feisty. He didn't like to take network notes: Few showrunners do, but he was not shy about demonstrating his disapproval. But he was also funny and gracious and warm.. A couple of clips, including one from the TV Legends archive, and a piece I did some years ago on "Brooklyn Bridge' - the sitcom that marked his return to the city he loved best of all, his hometown... ;
September 19, 1991, Thursday, NASSAU EDITION Recreating the Comforts of Home BYLINE: By Verne Gay. STAFF WRITER SECTION: PART II; Pg. 77 Other Edition: Suffolk Pg. 69, City Pg. 67 LENGTH: 705 words
OUTSIDE Gary David Goldberg's office on the Paramount lot in Hollywood you can hear the laughter and squeals of children coming from a nearby day-care center. The office - formerly Lucille Ball's dressing room - is decorated with dozens of mementos, sports trophies, Emmys for his work on "Family Ties," and one huge over-stuffed couch that sometimes functions as a bed.
Every thing, and every sound, suggests that you are in someone's rather comfy, cluttered house. Which is exactly the way Goldberg wants it. For the creator of "Family Ties" and "Brooklyn Bridge," which debuts tomorrow night at 8 on CBS, there is literally no place like home - if, of course, that home is a happy, nurturing place.
Tomorrow night, the 47-year-old son of Brooklyn is heading home again, figuratively speaking. "Brooklyn Bridge" is an unusual show for prime-time network TV: It's the autobiography of its producer, re-creating the Brooklyn of 1956 that Goldberg came from, even the two-story house in which he grew up in on 21st Avenue, Bensonhurst. Goldberg claims that everything - the wallpaper, the teacups, the clothes that the characters wear - is authentic.
Formula TV this is not. For Goldberg, however, "Brooklyn Bridge" is more than a pleasant little walk down Memory Lane. He says that it is a statement - his statement - about what network TV should be. "What we've said to [to CBS] is, we'll turn out a 22-minute show each week, but we'll make no concession to what people perceive TV should be all about," he says. "If we don't get the scene we want, or we don't get the performance we want, we won't move on . . . I want this show to be more than good."
Since the final curtain went down on "Family Ties" in May, 1989, Goldberg has been waging a small war of words with Hollywood, and with NBC, the network with which he was associated for a decade. There is a fundamental tenet to the TV production philosophy of Goldberg: a talented writer, he believes, should be allowed to create his own vision without interference, and in a nurturing environment.
Goldberg says the networks - with the exception of his new home, CBS - have become places where meddlesome executives hold sway. He has been pointedly critical of NBC - especially after the cancellation of his program, "American Dreamer," last season. "Something at NBC just changed," he says. "They lost their ability to be fans [of writing and production talent]. They lost their ability to be supportive . . . CBS is the only place where this" - his new show - "would be allowed to succeed."
"Gary's one of those guys who insist on bringing to life his own vision, right or wrong," says Grant Tinker, who was Goldberg's boss at MTM in the late '70s, when the producer was a member of one of the most successful writing teams in TV history. (Other members included Steven Bochco, James Brooks and Jay Tarses).
"He doesn't want someone to tell him how to do the show, right or wrong. Network people are famous for that, and he won't brook it." Goldberg calls "Brooklyn Bridge" the only show he has done since "Family Ties" that bears his imprimatur alone. Other long-cancelled shows he created for NBC - "Sara," "His and Hers," "The Bronx Zoo," - were either collaborative efforts, or the ideas of others.
"I would characterize [the years since 'Family Ties' ] as an unfocused period for me," he says. "I let other people define who I was going to be. I was unhappily involved in those shows, or peripherally involved, or . . . working on shows that were not my creations." He was, he says, "in many ways ambivalent about them."
There is no ambivalence with "Brooklyn Bridge." CBS, he says, has not interfered with any elements of the show. It is, he says, the evocation of his very own world. "I grew up feeling I was so overloved and so cared for that I felt this world was made for me," he says. "But the other side of this is that the first time you ever came up against any dissonance, you crumbled.
"There were mixed messages: We were taught that we would take over the world, we would be the leaders, the young Jewish men of the second generation, and that there was nothing we couldn't do - except go to New York by oursevles on the subway."