One of the more memorable and unusual TV shows of the 1980s was ALF. It centers around an alien named Gordon Shumway from the doomed planet Melmac. He crash lands his spaceship into the California garage of the Tanner family, who nickname him ALF (Alien Life Form). The cast of the show includes Max Wright, Anne Schedeen, Andrea Elson, and Benji Gregory, with John LaMotta, Liz Sheridan, Anne Meara, and Paul Dooley. The series ran on NBC for four seasons and 102 episodes.
ALF kept the Tanners quite busy as he was constantly breaking things, trying to eat their cat, and just overall being obnoxious. Filming on the show was apparently a lot to handle as well.
The production details of the series were kept relatively secret during the show’s production. Once the series finished airing, many in the cast and crew have conceded that the series was a technical nightmare and that there was a great deal of tension on the set. ALF was primarily performed by Paul Fusco, one of the show’s executive producers and co-creators with Tom Patchett.
The last episode ended in a cliffhanger, with ALF being captured by the US military’s Alien Task Force. As you might expect, the producers didn’t plan on ending the show this way. In fact, Fusco says they were planning on doing a fifth season with ALF living on a military base. He felt that the new setting would have opened up the show to new characters and situations.
Based on what we now know about the show’s production, it seems likely that this change in cast and setting was also conceived to put an end to the four years of backstage tensions.
Unfortunately, ALF was cancelled and the series remains open-ended in syndication. Fusco says a one-hour special was planned to wrap up the series but there was a change in management at NBC and it never happened.
But, that wasn’t the end of the furry little extraterrestrial; he’s popped up several times over the years.
Less than a year after his show’s last episode, in February 1991, ALF appeared on an installment of NBC’s Blossom sitcom. Mayim Bialik’s character gets tricked into date with a geek for homecoming and wants to break it. She dreams that she’s gone to heaven and meets ALF who gives her advice.
In 1996, ABC aired a 90 minute TV movie called Project ALF. The story picks up six years after the end of the TV show, with ALF in government custody. None of the other series castmembers returned for the movie. The Tanners are mentioned briefly when ALF is told that they are in the witness protection program and have been relocated. The self-absorbed alien seems to have no interest in finding them. The movie features a pre-West Wing Martin Sheen. Though the drama wouldn’t debut for three years, at one point Sheen’s character asks another military officer if he knows when the New Hampshire primary will be held. By the end of the movie, ALF is released and looks like he’ll be annoying some young officers for awhile.
The character’s next appearance was on the April 30, 1999 episode of The Love Boat: The Next Wave. In the story, a young girl whose parents recently divorced comes to visit her cousin Nicole (Heidi Mark) on the ship. The child hasn’t spoken in a month so John (Corey Parker) lends her his ALF doll to keep her company. At one point a hypnotist prompts the doll to magically come to life.
On the November 3, 2000 episode of The Cindy Margolis Show, ALF stopped by for a visit. The dance party show only lasted for a few more episodes.
In 2002, the furry alien returned as a spokesperson for Telcom USA’s 10-10-220 service, teamed with other celebrities like football’s Terry Bradshaw and wrestler Hulk Hogan.
In May 2002, ALF sat amongst dozens of TV veterans for the NBC 75th Anniversary Special. Michael Gross (Family Ties) complains to host Kelsey Grammer (Frasier) about the person sitting next to him. As the camera pulls back, we think that he’s talking about ALF. Gross clarifies and says that he and ALF came together and that the annoyance is David Hasselhoff (Knight Rider) who keeps talking to KITT via his watch. Tina Fey, the producer of the program, once complained that ALF’s “people” were the toughest that she had to deal with during that show.
On March 12th of 2003, the alien joined a slew of classic TV stars and appeared on TV Land’s annual TV Land Awards. Highlights of the show include a tribute to Star Trek and The Dick Van Dyke Show (which led to a reunion special).
In 2003 and 2004, ALF appeared as a celebrity square on the revival of Hollywood Squares. For 2004’s TV Land Week group of shows, he appeared with classic stars from The Brady Bunch, The Jeffersons, The Love Boat, and others.
On July 7, 2004, ALF returned to series television on ALF’s Hit Talk Show for TV Land. A half-hour, Tonight Show-style interview show, Ed McMahon served as the host’s sidekick. ALF trades quips with celebrity guests like Drew Carey, Doris Roberts, Tom Green, and Eric Roberts. It ran for only seven episodes.
Also in 2004, the ALF series began being released on DVD. A lot of new introductory and interstitial footage was shot and included on the DVD season sets. The human castmembers didn’t take part in the releases.
On November 30, 2007, ALF appeared as a guest on The O’Reilly Factor as part of the weekly “American TV Icon” segments. The alien and host Bill O’Reilly seemed quite comfortable trading barbs with one another.
What does the future hold for the furry alien? Fusco has discussed making a prequel movie, about ALF’s trip to Earth. Though there doesn’t seem to have been much movement on that project lately, it doesn’t look like the cat-loving extraterrestrial is going away anytime soon.
Images courtesy Alien Productions.