Comic science fiction
|Created by||Paul Fusco|
|Theme music composer||Alf Clausen|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||4|
|No. of episodes||99 (original run)|
|Running time||24 minutes|
|Distributor||Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution|
|Original release||September 22, 1986 -|
March 24, 1990
The title character is Gordon Shumway, a sarcastic, friendly extraterrestrial nicknamed ALF (an acronym for Alien Life Form), who crash-lands in the garage of the suburban middle-class Tanner family. The series stars Max Wright as father Willie Tanner, Anne Schedeen as mother Kate Tanner, and Andrea Elson and Benji Gregory as their children, Lynn and Brian Tanner. ALF was performed by puppeteer Paul Fusco, who co-created the show with Tom Patchett.
Produced by Alien Productions, ALF originally ran for four seasons and produced 99 episodes, including two one-hour episodes that were divided into two parts for syndication, totalling 102 episodes. The series proper concluded with an unresolved cliffhanger, but the later TV movie, Project ALF, provided a series finale for the property.
In August 2018, Warner Bros. Television announced development of an ALF reboot. These plans were cancelled in November 2018.
ALF is an alien from the planet Melmac who follows an amateur radio signal to Earth and crash-lands into the garage of the Tanners. The Tanners are a suburban middle-class family in the San Fernando Valley area of California. The family consists of social worker Willie (Max Wright), his wife Kate (Anne Schedeen), their teenage daughter Lynn (Andrea Elson), younger son Brian (Benji Gregory), and their pet cat Lucky (whom ALF wishes to eat).
Unsure what to do, the Tanners take ALF into their home and hide him from the Alien Task Force (a part of the U.S. military that specializes in aliens) and their nosy neighbors Trevor and Raquel Ochmonek (John La Motta and Liz Sheridan), until he can repair his spacecraft. He generally hides in the kitchen. It is eventually revealed that ALF's home planet Melmac exploded, due to nuclear war. In the season one episode "Pennsylvania 6-5000", ALF tries to convince the President of the United States to stop the nuclear program, as ALF fears that Earth might suffer a fate similar to Melmac's, though miscalculating his words causes the President and national security to call the FBI to arrest Willie. ALF was off the planet when it was destroyed because he was part of the Melmac Orbit Guard. ALF (a.k.a. Gordon Shumway) is homeless, but he is not the last survivor of his species. He becomes a permanent member of the family, although his culture shock, survivor guilt, general boredom, despair, and loneliness frequently cause difficulty for the Tanners. Despite the problems and inconveniences his presence brings into their lives, they grow to love him, though some episodes make it clear they are also afraid of how their lives would be turned upside down if word got out that he has been living with them.
While most of the science fiction of ALF was played for comedic value, there were a few references to actual topics in space exploration; for example, ALF uses a radio signal as a beacon in the pilot episode. In the episode "Weird Science", ALF told Brian, who was building a model of the solar system for his science project, that there were two planets beyond Pluto called "Dave" and "Alvin" (as in David Seville and Alvin from the Alvin and the Chipmunks franchise), which gets Brian in trouble at school. However, after ALF makes a call to an astronomical organization and states that "Dave" is known by the organization, Willie comes to believe that "Dave" could have been the planetoid Chiron, or "Object Kowal", after it's discovered. ALF then shows Willie exactly where "Dave" is on an intergalactic map of the universe.
Each episode dealt with ALF learning about Earth and making new friends both within and outside of the Tanner family, including Willie's brother Neal (Jim J. Bullock), Kate's widowed mother Dorothy (Anne Meara) with whom ALF has a love-hate relationship, her boyfriend (and later husband) Whizzer (Paul Dooley), the Ochmoneks' nephew Jake (Josh Blake), a psychologist named Larry (Bill Daily), and a blind woman named Jody (Andrea Covell) who never figures out that ALF is not human (although she is aware through touch that he is short and hairy).
Changes occur within the Tanner household over the course of the series, including the birth of a new child, Eric (the reason for adding a baby in the series being that Anne Schedeen was pregnant at the time); ALF's move from his initial quarters in the laundry room to the attic, which he and Willie converted into an "apartment", and the death of Lucky the cat in season four's "Live and Let Die"; in this instance, ALF finds that despite his occasional attempts to catch Lucky with the intention of making the cat a meal, as cats are the equivalent of cattle on Melmac, he has come to love and respect the family pet too much to do anything untoward with Lucky's remains. When ALF acquires a new cat with the intent of eating it, he actually grows fond of it and allows it to be adopted by the family, although he admits to the Tanners he has become the worst kind of Melmackian, a "cat lover".
|Season||Episodes||Originally aired||Nielsen ratings|
|First aired||Last aired||Rank||Rating|
|1||26||September 22, 1986||May 11, 1987||#28||16.5|
(Tied with Hunter)
|2||26||September 21, 1987||May 9, 1988||#10||18.8|
(Tied with The Wonder Years)
|3||26||October 3, 1988||May 8, 1989||#15||17.5|
(Tied with Monday Night Football)
|4||24||September 18, 1989||March 24, 1990||#39||13.7|
(Tied with Family Matters and Jake and the Fatman)
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Gordon Shumway is a Melmacian nicknamed ALF (an acronym for Alien Life Form) by Willie Tanner in the pilot episode. ALF was born on October 28, 1756, on the Lower East Side of the planet Melmac. Melmac was located six parsecs past the Hydra-Centaurus Supercluster, and had a green sky, blue grass and a purple sun. The commonly-used currency is a "Wernick" (named after producer Sandy Wernick), which is equal to 10 American dollars. Lint, gravel and foam are as precious on Melmac as gold is on Earth, whereas gold and platinum are so common that they are used in place of porcelain to make toilets and sinks, as seen in the season one episode "Baby, You Can Drive My Car", where ALF sells the gold and platinum plumbing in his ship to buy a Ferrari for Lynn.
ALF's body is covered with fur and he has a rippled snout, facial moles and eight stomachs. His heart (if he only has one) is apparently located in his right ear. He likes to burp and eat cats, and can whistle without opening his mouth. He had a best friend on his home planet named Malhar Naik. He has friends named Skip, Rick, Stella, and a girlfriend named Rhonda, all of whom also escaped the explosion. He attended high school for 122 years and was captain of a "Bouillabaisseball team", a game played on ice using seafood as a ball.
ALF is troublesome, sarcastic, slovenly and cynical, and sometimes puts himself at the risk of being discovered while perpetrating some of his often-unintentional pranks. However, if things have gone too far, he does as much as possible to make up for his mistakes, generally with positive results. In the episode "It's Not Easy Bein'... Green", he tries to help Brian, too afraid to perform, to gain confidence during a school show by giving him a "lucky tooth" that ALF claims helped him be a star of the stage on Melmac. On another occasion, in the episode "I've Got a New Attitude", he helps Dorothy deal with Sparky's death and move on to accept Whizzer's friendship. In the episode "Take a Look at Me Now" after neighbor Raquel Ochmonek claims to see ALF and is ridiculed on a call-in television show, ALF calls into the show to defend her.
ALF comes from a large family and has at least 30 known relatives: cousins "Pretty Boy" Shumway and Blinky; two uncles, Tinkle and Goome; Grandma Shumway; a brother, Curtis; parents Bob and Flo Shumway; and aunts Bubba, Wagner and Eugene. In a commercial for the NFL that ran during Super Bowl XLV on February 6, 2011, it was confirmed that ALF is a Carolina Panthers fan, even though the team didn't exist during ALF's original run.
Producer Bernie Brillstein was approached to see Fusco's audition with a puppet character but was initially uninterested, having managed Jim Henson for years, and regarding Henson as the best creature-puppeteer in showbiz. However, Fusco's brief performance as ALF won over Brillstein, who thought the character was hilarious and strong enough to be the focus of a series.
Fusco co-produced the series with Tom Patchett. Patchett also co-created, wrote, and directed the series. The series was first syndicated by Warner Bros. Television and Lorimar-Telepictures. The United States syndication rights are currently owned by Debmar-Mercury as its parent company, Lionsgate, now owns home video rights.
Due to the inherent nature of producing a show featuring hand-operated puppets (à la Jim Henson's The Muppet Show), ALF was technically difficult and demanding on series creator Fusco as well as its four lead actors. All confirmed during a 2000 People magazine interview that there were high levels of tension on the set. Max Wright stated that he despised supporting a technically demanding inanimate object that received most of the good lines of dialogue. He admitted to being "hugely eager to have ALF over with."Artie Lange, who later worked with Wright on The Norm Show, told of a time when Wright had become "crazed" and attacked ALF, causing producers to have to pull Wright off the puppet. Anne Schedeen added that on the last night of taping, "there was one take and Max walked off the set, went to his dressing room, got his bags, went to his car and disappeared... There were no goodbyes." Schedeen herself said "there was no joy on the set...it was a technical nightmare - extremely slow, hot and tedious... A 30-minute show took 20, 25 hours to shoot." While fond of her on-screen children, Schedeen said some adults had "difficult personalities. The whole thing was a big dysfunctional family." Schedeen added, "It's astonishing that ALF really was wonderful and that word never got out what a mess our set really was." Andrea Elson, who suffered from bulimia during the second season of shooting, stated, "If ALF had gone one more year, everybody would have lost it." Wright did later concede, though, that "It doesn't matter what I felt or what the days were like, ALF brought people a lot of joy."
In reference to the tension, Fusco commented in 2012 that "It was just the nature of the beast. There was no way we could have made it go any further or any faster," he insisted. "I think it was frustrating that it would take so long, but people got paid for what they did. Despite what people thought, that there was a lot of tension on set, there really wasn't."
Fusco was notoriously secretive about his character up until the series' premiere. During the show's production, Fusco refused to acknowledge that the puppet ALF was anything other than an alien. All involved with the production were cautioned not to reveal any of ALF's production secrets.
The set was built on platform raised four feet above the ground, with trap doors constructed at many points so that ALF could appear almost anywhere; Fusco operated him from underneath, so the unoccupied holes all over the floor were deep and treacherous. The trap doors had to be reset multiple times, sometimes during a single scene. Fusco was the principal puppeteer (who was mainly left handed when puppeteering), used his left hand to control ALF's mouth, while his right hand controlled ALF's right arm. Second puppeteer Lisa Buckley assisted Fusco beneath the stage, operating ALF's left arm. At times when Alf's full body was shown in the sitting position, Lisa controlled Alf's left hand by cable allowing slight finger movements. There was additionally a third puppeteer, Bob Fappiano, who controlled ALF's facial and ear movements via a radio controller offscreen. During tapings, Fusco would wear a head-mounted microphone to record ALF's voice. The process resulted in numerous mistakes and retakes, making it impossible to record ALF in front of a live audience. A laugh track was added during post-production.
To avoid wear and tear on the principal ALF puppet, the performers rehearsed with a crude early version of ALF, nicknamed "RALF" For ("Rehearsal Alien Life Form"). Fusco did not like to rehearse, and would often substitute his hand or RALF for the real ALF puppet during rehearsals.
In an interview on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Tina Fey said that her biggest frustration as producer of NBC's 75th anniversary special was dealing with ALF's "people". Fey said Fusco would only allow ALF to appear on the show if the puppeteers were hidden from everyone else. After ALF's cameo alongside former Family Ties star Michael Gross, ALF disappeared through a hole in the riser, was stuffed into a case, and immediately removed from the building.
While a puppet was usually used for ALF, there were some shots of the tiny alien running or walking around. This was accomplished by the 2' 9" (84 cm) actor Michu Meszaros wearing an ALF costume. This can be seen in one of the series' intros, which concludes with the Tanner family getting their picture taken; ALF (played by Meszaros) walks over to be part of the photo. However, Meszaros' services became too costly as well as time-consuming, and the full ALF costume was abandoned after the first season.
ALF scored its highest ratings during Season 2 (reaching tenth place in the Nielsen ratings). Ratings remained at a steady fifteenth place during Season 3, but plummeted to 39th place during Season 4. NBC moved the show from its traditional Monday night slot to Saturday in March 1990, but ratings continued to fall.
The season-ending cliffhanger "Consider Me Gone" became an unintentional series finale when NBC gave Alien Productions a verbal commitment for a fifth season, but ultimately withdrew its support.ABC resolved the cliffhanger on February 17, 1996, with the TV movie Project ALF. NBC executive Brandon Tartikoff later told Fusco that the network regretted cancelling ALF prematurely, saying "It was a big mistake that we cancelled your show, because you guys had at least one or two more seasons left."
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Fusco commented in 2007 that his most enjoyable experience on ALF was sitting in the Writers' Room and pitching jokes, while pushing the limit as to what NBC censors would allow. Fusco commented that, "the greatest things were the jokes we couldn't put in the show." Specifically, puns dealing with ALF eating cats and other pets were problematic after NBC reported that a child placed a cat in a microwave after watching the show. In the pilot episode "A.L.F.", ALF is seen consuming a beer with Brian. Fusco defended the premise saying that "ALF is 285 years old, he can drink beer, he's old enough." However, as ALF became more popular with children, NBC told Fusco "you can't have him drinking; the kids are watching, it's a bad role model." Even though Fusco believed that ALF was "an adult: he can do it," the alcohol consumption concept was discarded by the end of the first season. The cat-eating concept carried sporadically into the second season, with references including the "wedding cat" in the episode "Something's Wrong With Me," the Melmacian equivalent of a wedding cake.
For the hour-long season 1 episode, "Try to Remember," originally broadcast on February 9, 1987, ALF tries to simulate a jacuzzi by bringing Kate's electric mixer into the bathtub, thus receiving an electrical shock that caused amnesia. Fusco ended the original episode with a public service announcement from ALF himself, warning of the dangers from mixing water and electricity. Despite this, NBC reported that a child attempted to recreate the scenario and nearly electrocuted himself in the process (Fusco confirmed that the child was unharmed); Fusco was forced to refilm the opening sequence, replacing the electric mixer with a manual egg beater. ALF's amnesia is instead caused by a cranial concussion received after slipping in the shower (a "thud" is heard rather than a "zap"), with all mentions of being shocked either overdubbed with new dialogue or deleted entirely (including ALF's public service announcement). This edited version was used for a Fall 1988 rebroadcast, as well as all future U.S. and Canadian syndicated airings.
In 2010, blooper footage surfaced in which ALF was made to deliver racial jokes and sexual comments. He was actually mocking a then-recent episode of L.A. Law dealing with Tourette syndrome. Asked to comment, producer Steve Lamar stated that the footage was from an era when things were not so "ridiculously PC".
ALF was very popular in Germany after it began airing on ZDF. The actor who dubbed ALF's voice in German, Tommi Piper, recorded two albums and four singles as the four-toothed, eight-stomached cat-eating alien between 1988 and 1991. The show also became very popular in Bulgaria, one of the first American sitcoms shown on Bulgarian National Television. From 2000 to 2010 the series has aired again on different channels in Bulgaria. In the UK, the series was first broadcast on ITV in early 1987, before moving to Sky One. In Latin America it used to air on Nick at Nite from February 13, 2006, to June 3, 2012, and it is broadcast since middle 2016 on TCM Latin America. The show was shown in New Zealand on TVNZ, Seven Network and Nine Network in Australia, Stöð 2 in Iceland, RTÉ in Ireland (where it was also shown on its children's block Dempsey's Den), both SWABC and the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation in Namibia, Rai 2 in Italy, NHK in Japan, Bahrain 55 in Bahrain, Channel 2 in Jordan, Croatian Radiotelevision in Croatia, GBC in Gibraltar, GMA Network in the Philippines, Botswana TV in Botswana, Channel 5 in Singapore, KUAM-TV in Guam, TV3 in Malaysia, NRK and TVNorge in Norway, RTB in Brunei, KTV2 in Kuwait, NTM in Pakistan and ZNBC in Zambia. The original English version also aired in Germany on forces television on both Armed Forces Network (which airs mostly US television programming) and BFBS (which airs mostly UK television programming but also a mix of US, Australian and Canadian programming as well).
To capitalize on the success of the series, a spin-off animated series was produced, airing Saturday mornings on NBC. ALF: The Animated Series, set on ALF's home planet of Melmac, ran from 1987 to 1988, and was produced by DIC Entertainment. This was a prequel series, set on Melmac before the planet exploded. The show focused on ALF, his family, his friends, and girlfriend Rhonda and their various exploits. Each episode was book-ended by a live-action sequence involving ALF talking to the television viewers, setting up the episode and commenting on it afterward. When the cartoon entered its second season, it was paired in a one-hour block with its own spin-off ALF Tales, which took Gordon and the cast of characters from season one, and recast them as characters from assorted classic fairy tales.
Select episodes of both shows are included as special features on the ALF: Season 2 DVD as well as the cartoon-specific releases ALF Animated Adventures - 20,000 Years in Driving School and Other Stories and ALF and The Beanstalk and Other Classic Fairy Tales.
The animated version of ALF also appeared in Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue.
An ALF comic book was published by Marvel Comics under their Star Comics imprint, a line that featured licensed characters such as Heathcliff, Thundercats, Flintstone Kids, Muppet Babies, Count Duckula, and other famous characters. The ALF comic began in 1987 and ran for four years, totaling 50 issues and several specials. For virtually the entire series' run, the creative team was Michael Gallagher (script) and Dave Manak and Marie Severin (art).
The comic loosely followed the continuity of the television show (though it featured alternate takes on certain episodes, like the birth of Eric Tanner) and featured numerous parodies of Marvel Comics characters and other pop-culture in the form of "Melmac Flashbacks". It was the first instance to feature ALF's natural family in a reverse scenario where Willie Tanner is an astronaut who crashes his spaceship into ALF's garage on Melmac, and the Shumway family works to protect Willie from hostile Melmacians.
In 2004, ALF's Hit Talk Show debuted on U.S. cable channel TV Land, which featured ALF as a Johnny Carson-type TV talk-show host and co-starring Ed McMahon as his sidekick. Guests included Drew Carey, Tom Green, and Merv Griffin. It ran for seven episodes.
Following the end of the series a made-for-television movie was produced, in 1996, intending to give the series a proper end. Project ALF starts right after the series final episode but, especially because of the absence of the Tanners, it failed at obtaining success.
On May 21, 2012, Paul Fusco said he was pitching an ALF movie. In August 2012, it was reported that Sony Pictures Animation had acquired the rights to ALF and would develop the property into a CGI-Live action hybrid feature. The Smurfs producer Jordan Kerner, would also produce the film, along with Tom Patchett and Paul Fusco.
On August 1, 2018, it was announced that Warner Bros. would produce an ALF reboot. The reboot would have likely focused on ALF returning to Earth, with a new family and characters. In November of 2018 the reboot was cancelled.
As a result of the show's success, ALF has made guest appearances on a number of television programs:
ALF has also been referred to in various media numerous times over the years, being a pop-culture icon:
Like many shows of its day, ALF was also the subject of a trading card series by Topps. Most featured stills from various episodes, but a few cards parodied baseball cards by depicting players of the Melmacian sport "Bouillabaisseball," complete with stats such as "Splats". The yellow-bordered first series was released in 1987, with a red-bordered second series released in 1988.
ALF-related merchandise was sold during the show's original run, including a 1987 22-inch plush doll produced by Coleco, and a 1988 calendar with Melmac's planetary holidays, such as "Shout at a Shrub Day", prominently marked. ALF is currently being broadcast on Me-TV in the USA as of 2017.
In 1987, Dutch remixer and producer Ben Liebrand created a song called "Stuck on Earth" with samples from an episode of ALF. The single charted at #4 in the Netherlands, #14 in the Flanders region of Belgium, #28 in Germany, #26 in Australia, and #3 in New Zealand.
During 1988, Burger King ran a promotion called "The Many Faces of ALF," giving away themed ALF puppets and a cardboard record with each kids meal. These records featured original recordings sung by ALF - titled "Melmac Girls", "Cookin' with ALF", "Melmac Rock", and "Take Me, ALF, to the Ballgame".
Tommi Piper, the actor who dubbed ALF's voice for German audiences, spent twelve weeks in the German pop charts in 1989. The single featured Amélie Sandmann (as the voice of Rhonda) and was called "Hallo ALF Hier Ist Rhonda" (translated "Hello ALF, This Is Rhonda"). He also featured as ALF on various themed mix albums introducing songs by pop artists of the time and other original compositions.
There are six video games and one printing program based on ALF: 1987's ALF, also known as ALF: The First Adventure, for various computer systems, such as the Commodore 64, IBM, and Apple II, 1989's ALF for the Sega Master System, four educational games for IBM and Apple II computers released in 1988 called ALF's U.S. Geography, ALF's Thinking Skills, ALF's World of Words, and Add & Subtract With ALF, and the printing program ALF's Party Kit.
Between 2004 and 2006, Lionsgate Home Entertainment released all four seasons of ALF on DVD in Region 1. Oddly, all releases contained syndicated versions, with running times of 21 minutes, compared to the original length of 24 minutes. However, the 60-minute episodes "Try to Remember" and "ALF's Special Christmas" (from season one and season two, respectively), were presented in their original hour-long formats (though "Try to Remember" was presented in its censored version and "ALF's Special Christmas" has a minor scene using the song "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" excised). The 60-minute episode "Tonight, Tonight", however, was split into two parts for syndication. The season four episode "Make 'Em Laugh" was presented in nearly its original length, with a single line of dialogue edited out.
The "To Be Continued..." disclaimer was also removed from the series finale, "Consider Me Gone", as NBC canceled ALF after its initial airing.
In addition, most copyrighted music was excised from selected shows, shortening the running time by up to six minutes. (The DVD release of The Odd Couple also suffered from this practice.)
Lionsgate insisted they had to utilize syndicated versions for the DVD release of ALF, saying it would be cost prohibitive to remaster the original NBC-TV broadcast versions for release. This resulted in heavy criticism.
|DVD Name||Ep #||Release Date||Additional Information|
|Season One||25||August 10, 2004||
|Season Two||25||August 23, 2005|
|Season Three||25||May 30, 2006||
|Season Four||24||September 5, 2006||
Video Service Corporation previously released two other DVDs of ALF. The ALF Files was released exclusively in Canada on November 1, 2002. The hour-long episodes "Try to Remember", "ALF's Special Christmas" and "Tonight, Tonight" were presented in their original hour-long format. "Try to Remember", however, contains the re-edited version pertaining to ALF's electric shock in the bathtub.
Warner Bros. Home Video released the first season of ALF in Germany on September 4, 2009, and in the Netherlands and France on September 9. The DVDs are in PAL format, with English-language menus. The language selections available are English, French, German and Spanish (except for season 2 which, despite being dubbed, oddly doesn't feature Spanish, and the episode "Tonight, Tonight" which had not dubbed into German), with subtitles available in French, Dutch, Spanish, English and German.
The episodes span four discs and are complete, unlike their American edited counterparts, with a few exceptions:
|DVD Name||Ep #||Release Date||Additional Information|
|Season One||26||September 4, 2009||Contains all 26 episodes from season one
|Season Two||26||December 11, 2009||Contains all 26 episodes from season two
|Season Three||26||June 25, 2010||Contains all 26 episodes from season three
|Season Four||24||October 15, 2010||Contains all 24 episodes from season four
In the U.S., ALF has won numerous awards. In 1987 the show won a People's Choice Award for Favorite New TV Comedy Program; in 1988 it won Favorite Show at the Kids' Choice Awards; and at the 1989 Kids' Choice Awards, ALF himself won Favorite TV Actor. Benji Gregory and Andrea Elson were also nominated in various Young Actor categories for their work on ALF at the Young Artist Awards during 1987-1989, with the show also receiving a nomination for Best Family Television Series.