ABOUT THE SHOW
Set in suburban Columbus, Ohio during the early years of the Reagan administration, Steven and Elyse Keaton (Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter-Birney) are baby boomers, liberals and former Hippies, raising their three children: ambitious, would-be millionaire entrepreneur Alex (Michael J. Fox), fashion conscious, gossipy Mallory (Justine Bateman) and tomboy Jennifer (Tina Yothers). Married in 1964, Elyse is an independent architect and Steven, a native of Buffalo, New York, is the station manager of WKS, a local public television station.
Much of the humor of the series focuses on the cultural divide during the 1980s when younger generations rejected the counterculture of the 1960s and embraced the conservative politics which came to define the 1980s. Both Alex and Mallory embrace Reaganomics and exhibit conservative attitudes: Alex is a Young Republican and Mallory is a more materialistic young woman in contrast to her feminist mother. Mallory was also presented as a vacuous airhead, who was fodder for jokes and teasing from her brother. Jennifer, an athletic tomboy and the youngest child, shares the values of her parents and just wants to be a normal kid. Steven and Elyse have a fourth child, Andrew, born in 1984 whom Alex doted on and quickly molded in his conservative image.
- Meredith Baxter-Birney as Elyse Keaton
- Michael Gross as Steven Keaton
- Michael J. Fox as Alex P. Keaton
- Justine Bateman as Mallory Keaton
- Tina Yothers as Jennifer Keaton
- Brian Bonsall as Andrew Keaton (seasons 5–7)
- Marc Price as Irwin "Skippy" Handelman
- Scott Valentine as Nick Moore (seasons 4–7)
- Tracy Pollan as Ellen Reed (season 4)
- Courteney Cox as Lauren Miller (seasons 6–7)
The show had been sold to the network using the pitch "hip parents, square kids." Originally, Elyse and Steven were intended to be the main characters. However, the audience reacted so positively to Alex during the taping of the fourth episode that he became the focus on the show. Fox had received the role after Matthew Broderick turned it down.
Supporting cast and characters includes neighbor Irwin "Skippy" Handelman (Marc Price); Mallory's Sylvester Stallone-esque boyfriend artist Nick Moore (Scott Valentine); and Alex's feminist artist girlfriend Ellen Reed (Tracy Pollan, whom Michael J. Fox later married in 1988). In season 3, episode 17, Elyse gave birth to her fourth child, Andrew (who was played by Brian Bonsall from season 5 onward). Garrett Merriman played baby Andrew. Bewitched actor Dick Sargent guest-starred as Elyse's father Charlie in Season 1.
A number of Hollywood stars appeared on the show before they were famous or during the early years of their careers.
- Judith Light appeared in Season 2 as a colleague of Steven, unsuccessfully attempting to seduce him.
- Tom Hanks appeared during the first and second seasons as Elyse's alcoholic younger brother Ned.
- Geena Davis portrayed inept housekeeper Karen.
- River Phoenix played a fourteen-year-old math genius who develops a crush on Jennifer after coming to tutor Alex. Phoenix's sister, Rain, would also appear as one of Jennifer's friends in a different episode.
- Julia Louis-Dreyfus portrayed a lawyer in the two-part episode "Read It and Weep", which was about Jennifer's wanting to do a book report on a banned book.
- Crispin Glover played one of Alex's friends on the episode "Birthday Boy". Glover had played George McFly, the father of Michael J Fox's character Marty McFly in the original Back to the Future in 1985.
- Wil Wheaton played the target of Jennifer's affection; she played dumb in order to convince him to date her.
- Corey Feldman played a 7th grade classmate of Jennifer who was a nominee to win the Thomas Dewey best student achievement award on the episode "The Disciple".
- Jeff Cohen played 2 different characters; Marv Jr. on the episode "The Visit", and Dougie Barker on the episode "4 Rms Ocn Vu".
- Christina Applegate played Kitten, a member of Jennifer's band, on the episode "Band on the Run".
- Stephen Baldwin appeared as a member of a therapy group that Alex attends with his girlfriend.
- Daniel Baldwin appeared as an army recruit who harasses Skippy.
- Joseph Gordon-Levitt played Dougie, a kindergarten friend of Andrew in two episodes, "Sign of the Times" and "Father, Can You Spare A Dime?"
- Jane Adams played Marty Broadie in two 7th season episodes, "They Can't Take That Away from Me: Part 1" and "They Can't Take That Away from Me: Part 2".
- James Cromwell played John Hancock in the 3rd season episode "Philadelphia Story".
- John Randolph played Jacob Keaton, Steven's father, in "I Never Killed for My Father". He was revealed to be dead in "Remembrance of Things Past, Parts 1 & 2".
- Timothy Busfield played Doug in two 1984 episodes ("Best Man" and "Little Man on Campus"), and "Young Matt" in a 1986 episode ("My Back Pages").
- Hank Azaria played a co-worker of Mallory's in the season 7 episode "Designing Women".
- David Faustino played Keith Bailey the son of a divorced family friend who was taken away from his mother by his father in the episode "To Snatch a Keith".
- Danny Nucci played a school bully who got beaten up by Jennifer after harassing her boyfriend at school in the episode "Designated Hitter".
The theme song, "Without Us", was composed by Jeff Barry and Tom Scott in 1982. It was performed by Deniece Williams and Johnny Mathis, except for the first ten episodes, where it was performed by Dennis Tufano and Mindy Sterling.