"This is a TV show about a
furry little alien based on the Hitchcock classic."
- W.J. Flywheel, Webporium
is the name of a popular television sitcom series produced by NBC
between 1986 and 1990, inspired by and spoofing the movie E.T. the
Extra-Terrestrial (1982). It first aired September 22nd, 1986.
The title character is
Gordon Shumway, an alien nicknamed A.L.F. (Alien Life Form). He was
born on October 28th, 1756 on the Lower East side of the planet
Melmac. The planet Melmac was located six parsecs past the Hydra
Centaurus Supercluster and had a green sky and blue grass. Produced
by Alien Productions, ALF originally ran for four seasons and
produced 99 episodes, including three one-hour episodes that were
divided into two parts for syndication, totaling 102 episodes.
In the pilot episode,
Shumway follows an amateur radio signal and crash-lands into the
garage of the Tanners. The Tanners are a suburban middle class family
consisting of the social worker Willie (Max Wright), his wife Kate
(Anne Schedeen), their children Lynn (Andrea Elson) and Brian (Benji
Gregory Hertzberg), and the cat Lucky.
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 LaMotta and Liz
Sheridan), until he can repair his spacecraft. He generally hides in
is eventually revealed that ALF's home planet Melmac exploded, due
to nuclear war. ALF was off planet when his world was destroyed
serving as part of the Melmac Orbit Guard.
In the season one episode
titled "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's real name is Gordon Shumway who is
nicknamed ALF (an acronym for Alien Life Form) by Willie Tanner. ALF
was born on October 28th, 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. Now alone on earth, ALF becomes a permanent
member of the Tanner 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
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
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 in real life 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".
Originally, producer Bernie Brillstein was
approached to see Paul Fusco's audition with a new 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 (above) would go on co-produced the series with
Brillstein and Tom Patchett. Patchett also co-created, wrote, and
directed the series.
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
2006 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
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.
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 trapdoors had to be
reset multiple times, sometimes during a single scene. Fusco was the
principal puppeteer, and used his right hand to control ALF's mouth,
while the left controlled ALF's left arm. Second puppeteer Lisa
Buckley assisted Fusco beneath the stage, operating ALF's right arm.
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.
a puppet was usually used for ALF, there were some shots of the tiny
alien running or walking around. This was accomplished by actor
Mihaly "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. Standing at 2 feet, 9 inches,
Mihaly "Michu" Meszaros (right) was a longtime circus
performer and actor who was unofficially known as the "Smallest
Man on Earth." Meszaros also appeared in a handful of films
including Big Top Pee-wee and Look Who's Talking, as well as several
other TV shows including, "H.R. Pufnstuf" and "Dear
John". His last appearance was in the short comedy, "Death
to Cupid" in 2015. He also appeared in commercials and music videos.
The Hungarian born performer studied
juggling, acrobatics and pantomime at a circus school in Hungary,
started performing when he was 14, and worked for the Hungarian
National Circus. He was discovered by Kenneth and Irving Feld of the
Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus who brought him to the
US in 1973. A government agent followed him, to make sure he
didnt defect. But he later did, in 1980, together with his
Hungarian guard, and gained resident alien status in 1984, becoming
an American citizen in 1990. Billed as "The Mighty Michu"
he was a star with the Ringling Brothers Circus for 12 years becoming
one of the most beloved circus performers in history, capturing the
imagination of thousands, including a teenage Michael Jackson, with
whom he would become close friends.
ALF scored its highest ratings during
Season 2 (reaching #5 in the Nielsen ratings). Ratings remained at a
steady 10th 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 17th, 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."
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.
the hour-long season 1 episode, "Try to Remember,"
originally broadcast on February 9th, 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 inappropriate 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
To capitalize on the
success of the series, a spinoff animated series arose and aired on
Saturday mornings on NBC. Alf: The Animated Series, (AKA Alf on
Melmac) set on ALF's home planet of Melmac, ran from 1987 to 1988.
The series 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
bookended by a live-action sequence involving ALF talking to the
television viewers, setting up the episode. When the cartoon entered
its second season, it was paired with in a one-hour block with its
own spin-off AlfTales, which took Gordon and the cast of characters
from season one and recast them as characters from assorted classic
(Earthly) fairy tales.
ALF comic book was published by Marvel Comics beginning in 1987 and
ran for four years, 50 issues, and nearly a dozen specials. 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 Comic characters and
other pop culture parodies in the form of "Melmac
Flashbacks". Towards the end of the series, when the
cancellation of the series was imminent, the series took a highly
critical position towards Marvel Comics and then Marvel Editor-In-Chief
After the series run in the
United States, it went on to even greater success in reruns in many
European countries, including Poland, Bulgaria, Germany and Slovakia.
In 1996 a 90-minute
television movie, named Project: ALF, was aired on ABC. This movie
picked up six years after the events of the TV series with ALF in
government custody and focuses on a scientist and military policy
officer who break ALF out of government custody to get him to a
millionaire who is building a working spaceship, so ALF can leave
Earth. The original series was so popular in Germany that the
made-for-TV "Project ALF" was released there theatrically
under the name "Alf Der Film" ("Alf the Movie")
but was panned by critics and fans particularly for the Tanners' absence.
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. On May 21st, 2012, Paul Fusco
said he was pitching an ALF movie and it was reported that Sony
Pictures Animation has acquired the rights to ALF and wanted to
develop the property into a CGI-Live action hybrid feature. The
Smurfs producer Jordan Kerner, would produce the film, along with Tom
Patchett and Paul Fusco. On August 1st, 2018, it was announced that
Warner Bros. will produce an ALF Reboot. The reboot will likely focus
on ALF returning to Earth, with a new family and characters.