Gary David Goldberg, Creator of ‘Family Ties,’ Dies at 68

Gary David Goldberg, the Emmy-winning creator of the iconic “Must-See TV” sitcom “Family Ties” who also branched out into directing features, died Sunday of brain cancer in Montecito, Calif. He was 68.

Introduced in 1982, “Family Ties” became one of the linchpins of NBC’s successful Thursday-night lineup and made Michael J. Fox — who will return to the network in the fall — a star. The series ran for seven seasons, earning Goldberg a writing Emmy. He won another during a stint on the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” spinoff “Lou Grant.”

“Basically, those parents are me and Diana,” Goldberg explained during an interview with the Archive of American Television regarding the genesis of “Family Ties,” referring to his wife, Dr. Diana Meehan, and their hippie roots.

Goldberg initially resisted the choice of Fox, as did then-NBC Entertainment President Brandon Tartikoff, who famously said he couldn’t picture the actor’s face on a lunchbox. A collection of his papers donated to USC shows Tartikoff holding just such a lunchbox, autographed by Fox.

Although the series is remembered as a huge hit, the ratings didn’t take off until its third season, when NBC introduced “The Cosby Show.”

Goldberg later reunited with Fox on “Spin City,” which proved a modest hit for ABC. But the show closest to his heart might have been “Brooklyn Bridge,” an autobiographical half-hour for CBS, derived from his own youth growing up under the watchful eye of his grandmother in Brooklyn, where he was born in 1944. The show earned critical acclaim, a Golden Globe and a Humanitas prize but garnered tepid ratings and was canceled by the Eye network after two seasons.

“He touched so many with his enormous talent and generous spirit,” Fox said in a statement. “He changed my life profoundly.”

All of Goldberg’s shows featured the memorable closing credit for his Ubu Prods., “Sit, Ubu, sit,” named for the producer’s Labrador. It was also the title of his 2008 autobiography.

Beyond his work in television, Goldberg directed such features as “Dad,” starring Jack Lemmon; “Bye Bye Love,” with Paul Reiser; and “Must Love Dogs.”

Goldberg launched his writing career in the mid-1970s on “The Bob Newhart Show,” working on a series of MTM productions (“The Tony Randall Show,” “Lou Grant,” “The Last Resort”) before creating “Family Ties,” which struck a nerve with its template of counter-culture parents raising a conservative son.

Asked in the archive interview what gave him the most pride about his career, Goldberg said, “I think it’s the fact that I’m still really close with almost everyone I’ve worked with, and a lot of the young writers I started have gone on to great careers. … It’s an idea that writers matter.”

Former NBC Entertainment chief Warren Littlefield, who worked as a development exec when “Family Ties” premiered, recalled shooting the pilot with Goldberg, and the producer finally hurling a chair when they couldn’t get a shot right during a party scene, before looking up and asking, “You think I overreacted?”

“It was at that moment I realized how passionate he was, how much he cared,” Littlefield said. “But he also had a sense of humor about it. And once ‘Family Ties’ was a massive hit, nothing changed.”

Goldberg was also surrounded by a media family. His wife, Meehan, is a producer, author, professor and advocate who taught in the UCLA and USC communications studies departments, produced documentaries through Ubu’s non-fiction wing, VU, and is co-founder of the Archer School for Girls. They had two daughters: Shana, a comedy-writer producer who ran “Friends” with her husband/partner, Scott Silvestri; and Cailin, a freelance writer and Huffington Post contributor.

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 10

Leave a Reply

10 Comments

Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. P Johnson says:

    The correct spelling of his son-in-law Scott is Silveri as in Silver With An I At The End.

  2. Cylk Cozart says:

    Cylk Cozart
    My heart is heavy as the world has lost a great and wonderful man……………………
    Gary David Goldberg.

    Gary was more than a perfect writer, director, producer, and creator of Hit Television Shows. He was one of the most intelligent people in any realm.

    Gary was a father to me. He was also the best friend anyone could have. He gave so very much to people.

    He helped me in so many ways. He taught me about loving your family even if you don’t agree with them.

    He was a superb athlete and the kindest human being on the planet.

    A wonderful father and great husband.
    I miss him so much.

    He insisted that I stay at his New York home, (to save my per diem) while I was filming “Conspiracy Theory,” for over 3 months.

    I was also lucky enough to stay at his homes in Vermont and Utah, any time.

    His family… Is “my” family.

    Dianna and the girls are precious souls and I love them so much.

    Those who were blessed to be in Gary’s presence if only for a moment, realized how very special Gary David Goldberg is.

    I love you Goldie…
    Cylk.

  3. TJ says:

    Rest in peace Mr. Goldberg.

  4. Mark Isenberg says:

    Mr. Goldberg did not change tv but he did introduce us to Michael J. Fox so we always will thank his memory for that and for Sit Ubu Sit,Good Dog in the credits. He made intelligent tv,good movies like Dad and yes,I was proud of Brooklyn Bridge that gave the Happy Days Mrs. Cunningham,a star turn as Grandma. Thank You,Marion Ross,too.

  5. kevin conway says:

    Legacy

    Comics and Ageism

    Originally published September 11, 1998, in Comics Buyer’s Guide #1295

    Harlan Ellison told me an interesting anecdote, in relation to the Writers Guild of America’s committee on ageism. The head of the committee, a writer well into middle age, was complaining of rampant ageism in the industry: a very pronounced prejudice against older writers. Another writer, upon hearing this, said, “I know exactly what you’re talking about. I’ve had to deal with that kind of thing, too.” The committee head was skeptical that the relatively young man could have experience with prejudice on the basis of age.

    The young writer then related the tale of an appointment he had with the producers of Spin City. He was going to pitch story possibilities, perhaps even be in line for a staff position. He called the day before the meeting to confirm. He was told, yes, by all means, they were looking forward to meeting with him. Then he was asked, “By the way, how old are you?” He was, he told them, thirty-one.

    “Oh,” the person on the other end informed him, “Then you don’t have to bother coming in. We’re only looking for people in their twenties.” Keep in mind that the series was created by Gary David Goldberg, who hasn’t seen twenty in several decades.

    Talent didn’t matter, experience didn’t matter, knowledge didn’t matter. Old is bad, young is good, and anything which has the slightest taint of “not now” is tossed aside.

  6. marie neson says:

    Those were the days of REAL talent in TV writing.

  7. abby frantz says:

    not in the biz, but i added goldberg to my list of icons. he was fond of retelling the story of the night when he and his wife were watching some sitcom and he commented “i could write better than this” and his wife said “so, do it!” he did and showed me that one can achieve whatever their heart and mind leads them to. great respect for gary and condolences to his family and friends.

  8. Annie D says:

    R.I.P Gary ! LOVED your work! Spectacular!

  9. Marvin Hayes says:

    It was a pleasure working with Mr. Goldberg on the production of ‘Spin City’. I have great memories when just coming into the business Mr. Goldberg gave a good sense of encouragement with his nice smile and a script in hand. Marvin Hayes

  10. Reva says:

    My sincere condolences go out 2 Diana & his family – i was lucky 2 have worked on his sit-com “Duet” – what a generous, kind, talented & funny man – thnx 4 the opportunity – RIP Gary & may your memory always be a blessing

More TV News from Variety

Loading