Wise cracking alien ALF hit our screens in 1986, and to this day is one of my favourite US sitcoms. It ran for four series and also spawned a film entitled Project ALF, and told the story of an alien who’s home planet Melmac had been destroyed and was now living on Earth, hiding out with an average American family called the Tanners.
ALF was of course a puppet, though an extremely well made and believable one. He was created by Tom Patchett and Paul Fusco, and indeed Fusco was also main puppeteer. Ocassionally, as on the title sequence, a full body shot was required which was achieved by having a dwarf actor in a suit.
The name ALF wasn’t actually the name of our alien chum, instead it was an abbreviation for Alien Life Form. Whilst the Tanners insisted on calling him ALF, his real name was actually the rather more ordinary sounding Gordon Shumway. After Melmac had been destroyed ALF found his way to Earth by tracking a radio signal. Willie Tanner (played by Max Wright) was the head of the Tanner clan, and he had a HAM radio setup which was what ALF had detected and followed to Earth.
After crash landing into the garage, the family took ALF in and more or less made him part of the family, protecting him from discovery by the government and their neighbours, the Ochmoneks. The family consisted of the aforementioned father Wille, his wife Kate (who was usually the one most annoyed by ALF’s antics) and their children teenager Lynn and young son Brian. Later there was the addition of a new member of the family, baby Eric, brought in as the actress who played Kate, Anne Schedeen, was pregnant. The final family member was pet cat Lucky, who ALF was always threatening to eat, as cat had been a favourite food on Melmac.
ALF generally spent most of his day causing trouble in one way or another, not normally on purpose but usually by not really thinking ahead first. Kate would normally be annoyed and a flustered Willie would have to try and sort everything out again. Most of the time ALF had the best of intentions at heart, but trouble seemed to follow in his footsteps at all times.
The fourth series of ALF ended on a “TO BE CONTINUED” cliffhanger, with ALF about to be finally caught by the government. Unfortunately NBC who funded the show never renewed ALF for another series, despite promises to the producers of the show that they would be guaranteed at least one new episode to round off the story.
In 1996 the television movie Project ALF came along to finally complete this story, which it didn’t really manage to do. ALF had been taken by the government to a scientific research lab for study, and whilst mentioned the Tanner family do not appear. The film was a bit of a wasted opportunity and was not well received by fans.
At the height of the series popularity ALF also spawned a cartoon series, called rather unsurprisingly Alf : The Animated Series. This was in many ways a prequel to the sitcom, telling tales of ALF and his alien friends living their lives on Melmac.