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10 dramatic facts about 'Family,' the critically adored 1976-80 series

The show made Kristy McNichol and Meredith Baxter Birney stars.

Top image: The Everett Collection

Perhaps it is somewhat due to the generic, nonspecific name, but Family arguably remains as the most underrated TV show of the 1970s. Yet the title was apt for the realistic, humble drama — even the title credits were written in lowercase.

Most families could relate to the fictional Lawrence clan in some way. The kids watching the saga identified with its adolescent stars like Kristy McNichol and Quinn Cummings, while adults in the audience saw a bit of themselves in the characters played by Sada Thompson, James Broderick and Meredith Baxter Birney. The stories dealt honestly with everyday issues — love, ennui, cancer, adoption, aging.

The Aaron Spelling series ran for five seasons, from 1976–80, and garnered loads of acclaim. Many of its younger actors would go on to greater stardom in the 1980s. With the holiday season in full swing, it's time to revist Family.

Catch a Christmas episode of Family, "Tis the Season," on MeTV, as part of A Very Merry MeTV, December 25 at 4PM | 3C.

1

The Emmys adored it.

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences showed its love for Family. The series earned three nominations for Outstanding Drama Series. Sada Thompson was nominated four times for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, and took the trophy home in 1978. Kristy McNichols won two Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Emmys, beating out costar Meredith Baxter Birney in 1977. Gary Frank also won Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series that year. James Broderick also earned a nom.

2

Kristy McNichol carried a briefcase to the set.

The precocious kid star quickly became America's sweetheart. “I was like a miniature adult,” she later told People magazine about her time on Family in a 1989 cover story. “I’d go off to work every day with a little briefcase. I really think I grew up backwards."

Image: The Everett Collection

3

It made Kristy McNichol a pop star.

The attention turned McNichol into a teen idol. She popped up on The Carpenters at Christmas special, singing alongside Karen, and teamed with her brother to cut some pop records. Their cover of the 1963 Chiffons hit "He's So Fine" climbed to No. 70 on the Billboard Hot 100.

4

James Broderick is the father of Matthew Broderick.

While we're on the topic of family, we should note that patriarch James Broderick was the father of Matthew, who named his own son after his father. World War II veteran James had earlier appeared in an episode of The Twilight Zone, "On Thursday We Leave for Home."

5

Cheryl Ladd almost won a role.

Though the role eventually went to Meredith Baxter Birney, eldest child Nancy was nearly played by blonde beauty Cheryl Ladd. No worries for her losing the gig, however, as the audition put her on Aaron Spelling's radar and led to her landing Charlie's Angels.

Image: The Everett Collection

6

Cast member John Rubinstein wrote the theme music.

The musical talent of the cast ran deep. Rubinstein, who portrayed Jeff Maitland, Nancy's husband, was the son of legendary pianist Arthur Rubinstein. The young Rubinstein composed two instrumentals for the show. The original theme, used in 1976, was somber in tone, and eventually replaced with the blissful, more familiar theme.

Image: The Everett Collection

7

There's a 'Family Ties' connection.

Family has more than one, um, tie to Family Ties. Michael J. Fox made one of his earliest appearances in the 1980 episode "Such a Fine Line." He played a 14-year-old who fell in love with mom Kate, Sada Thompson's character.

Image: The Everett Collection

8

Quinn Cummings went on to invent a baby sling.

Cummings, who played the adopted Annie Cooper, was no stranger to acclaim. The young actress garnered an Oscar nomination for her work in 1977's The Goodbye Girl. She eventually retired from acting, and created a baby carrier dubbed the HipHugger. She now keeps a blog called the QC Report.

Image: The Everett Collection

9

A 1988 reunion special was nixed.

A Family reunion just made too much sense. It's right there in the title! However, plans for the 1988 TV special, which would have centered around widow Kate remarrying, died due to the Writers Guild of America strike. However, at least one paper blamed the cancelation on Baxter Birney.

Image: ABC

10

It created a decades-long legal dispute.

The details of the dispute are an article by themselves, and best left for a law class. In short, it all stemmed from Aaron Spelling's claims that idea for Family originated in his kitchen. Writer Jeri Emmett Laird disputed this origin in 1977 and claimed ownership of the idea. The long process of appeals lasted until 2001, and the courts finally ruled in favor of Spelling. The "created by" credit remained to Jay Presson Allen, whom Spelling commissioned to write the pilot.

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