ALF: The Family Sitcom About an Alien Is Darker Than We Expected

ALF debuted on NBC over 30 years ago, in 1986, and lasted for four seasons. Despite the strange and offbeat premise and the brown, furry, extraterrestrial star, the family puppet comedy was actually very popular with audiences during its four-year run. ALF was everywhere: on T-shirts, on lunchboxes, in toy stores, hanging from rear-view mirrors – you name it. Even though he was a rude alien with awful table manners, ALF seemed like he was a hoot.

ALF with schoolbooks opening a door / A promotional shot of the Tanner family from ALF / ALF interviewing a pope on an episode of ALF / ALF with the cast of Gilligan’s Island

Photo by Moviestore, Shutterstock / Source: MoviestillsDB.com, Copyright: NBC / MoviestillsDB.com, Copyright: NBC / MoviestillsDB.com, Copyright: NBC

You might expect that working on a family TV show about a fuzzy, lovable alien living with a typical American family would be a pretty fun experience. Well, the cast of ALF revealed that there was “no joy” while working on the series. One actor said he hated the puppet, another called it a “dysfunctional” workplace, and others called it a “piece of sh**” TV show. Curious? I was, too.

Let’s take a look behind the scenes of ALF and see what the cast members have been up to since.

One of Two ALF Costumes

If they made a show like this today (or even in the last decade), they would have created a CGI version of ALF. But, this was the ‘80s, so characters like ALF were mostly just puppets. In this case, there were two versions of the ALF puppet. One was the traditional type of puppet, with an operator controlling him from below.

Paul Fusco with the ALF puppet

Source: Wikimedia Commons

That job belonged to the show’s creator, Paul Fusco, who also voiced ALF. He operated the puppet during any close-ups or talking shots of ALF. The whole soundstage was built upon a four-foot-high platform in order for Fusco to be able to sit underneath it and make the puppet move and talk through dozens of trap doors that were cut through the floor.

The Man Inside the Costume

Then there was the other puppet. For the first two seasons, there was a little person named Mihaly “Michu” Meszaros inside the costume. He was two feet, nine inches tall and fit completely in the costume. That way, they could frame all of ALF in a given shot. At one point, Meszaros was listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the shortest person in the world.

Mihaly Meszaros sitting on the couch posing with the ALF costume

Source: eBay

Meszaros came from Hungary, and while his youth was brutal (thanks to corrupt circus owners), a day in a furry costume under the hot studio lights of a sitcom set might have been even worse at times. Meszaros passed away in 2016, at the age of 76.

20 to 25 Hours Per Episode

Due to the high soundstage and all the trap doors, members of the cast had to carefully maneuver themselves around the stage while reciting their lines. It was easy to stumble if they weren’t constantly gazing downward to ensure they avoided all the possible pitfalls. Each time ALF was moved to a different spot, all the camera positions and lighting had to be readjusted.

Anne Schedeen, Benji Gregory, Max Wright, Andrea Elson, and ALF sitting around the kitchen table eating dinner

Photo by ITV / Shutterstock

This meant endless delays. A typical 30-minute sitcom would take about three to five hours to shoot, but the ALF cast was required to be on stage and in makeup/wardrobe for 20 to 25 hours per episode, which was spread over two days. The actors weren’t happy campers and waited for the show to end…

He Hated Working with the Puppet

One of the lead actors on the show, Max Wright, played Willie Tanner, the father and head of the family. Wright reportedly despised working with a star puppet. He spoke to People in an interview in 2000 and called the entire experience “hard work and very grim.” Before ALF, Wright was a serious theatre actor.

Max Wright on set with ALF sitting on the couch together

Source: MoviestillsDB.com / Copyright: NBC

So, when he found himself on the set of ALF, and became the alien’s springboard for edgy puppet comedy, joking about walking in on Willie’s wife in the shower, Wright wasn’t very pleased. “Max had a difficult thing to do, playing straight man against ALF,” said Paul Fusco. He said he admired Wright’s ability to create “comedic chemistry” between them.

The Moment It Wrapped Up

According to Fusco, Wright “had to be that comic foil. Dying is easy, comedy is hard. To get that chemistry between ALF and Willie, it’s hard.” However, despite getting praise from the show’s creator, Wright longed for the show to end. He started to resent his starring role so much that the moment the show wrapped up, he walked straight from the stage to his car.

ALF and Max Wright posing on a pink background

Photo by ITV / Shutterstock

He simply upped and left, leaving the production and co-stars without any farewell. “There was one take, and Max walked off the set, went to his dressing room, got his bags, went to his car and disappeared,” Anne Schedeen, who played Kate Tanner, said. According to Schedeen, he disappeared before anyone even said, “That’s a wrap.”

ALF aka Mr. Chompers

Jerry Stahl was one of the writers for ALF, but he’s better known for his autobiography titled Permanent Midnight. It tells his personal story of addiction working as a writer in Hollywood. He later adapted his story into a script, which was made into a movie that starred Ben Stiller as Stahl.

Ben Stiller and Mr. Chompers on screen

Source: Pinterest

Strangely enough, ALF made an appearance in the 1998 film Permanent Midnight as Mr. Chompers. Stahl was battling addiction until it got him fired in 1989. He later admitted that many of the scripts he wrote for ALF were inspired by his traumatic childhood memories.

The Fans Had No Idea

Anne Schedeen, who played the mother, Kate Tanner, was the one who said the actors experienced “no joy on the set.” She said that the scenes with the puppet were a “technical nightmare” and that the actors were forced to work long hours. She admitted to being shocked to hear that the show was so well-received.

Anne Schedeen with ALF listening to her baby bump using a stethoscope

Photo by Nbc / Kobal / Shutterstock

The truth about the cast and crew being unhappy – never got out. Fans had no idea that behind the scenes, it was “extremely slow, hot and tedious,” as Schedeen put it. “If you had a scene with ALF, it took centuries. A 30-minute show took 20, 25 hours to shoot.” Schedeen also said some of her adult co-stars had “difficult personalities.” She called the show a “big dysfunctional family.”

Her Struggle with Bulimia

Andrea Elson, who played the teenaged daughter, Lynn Tanner, said she remembers “tension” on set, due to the cast having to “play second fiddle to a puppet.” Elson had her own issues being cast as a young teen. She eventually developed an eating disorder.

Andrea Elson with a guy around her age and ALF in the front seat of a car in a scene from ALF

Source: MoviestillsDB.com / Copyright: NBC

“I was this skinny little twig when I started, and then I started to get breasts and hips and I didn’t like it,” Elson said. “I just wanted to be stick skinny.” By the show’s second season, she developed bulimia. Once the show ended in 1999, she said she was “obsessed” with exercise and would spend two hours a day on the treadmill, five days a week. Elson didn’t find peace until she got pregnant in 1997.

Censorship Battles

Paul Fusco said the censorship battles in the ALF writing room were actually some of his fondest memories. He enjoyed fighting with NBC to include racy puns about the alien eating cats. Fusco also wanted ALF, who was supposed to be a family-friendly character, to be a beer guzzler.

ALF sitting at a table with a cat inside of a long baguette in a scene from ALF

Source: MoviestillsDB.com / Copyright: NBC

Fusco secured the pilot by charming NBC executives with the alien puppet, claiming the execs were so enthralled with it that one of them ended up looking eye-to-eye with the puppet in the meeting. According to Fusco, ALF was cancelled because NBC reshuffled its programming schedule when a new production house within NBC was created. Their timeslot was given to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

Project: ALF

Apparently, one NBC executive regretted the decision. He actually wanted the show to have two more seasons. Nonetheless, ALF didn’t make it to its 5th season. As with many shows, ALF was planning a big cliff-hanger for their series’ finale in hopes of gaining another season. “Our last show was a cliff-hanger where ALF got caught by the Alien Task Force,” Fusco said.

ALF behind a desk with twin women sitting on the sides

Source: MoviestillsDB.com / Copyright: ALF

But, the plan didn’t work. Since the show was canceled, various unfinished storylines were never tied up. Despite the end of the show, a ray of hope came six years later when ALF was signed for a movie deal. The TV movie Project: ALF gave the viewers what they wanted. The movie was later released theatrically across Europe in 1996. But none of the original cast members, except for Fusco, were involved.

Blooper Tape Released

More than two decades after the show wrapped up, ALF’s creators were rocked by controversy. It came after an old blooper tape was exposed, in which the puppet was making a series of offensive statements. The now-deleted tape, involving an out-take, showed ALF, voiced by Fusco, making sexual comments as well as saying the “N” word three times.

Liz Sheridan and John Lamotta holding a basket of eggs in a scene from ALF

Source: MoviestillsDB.com / Copyright: NBC

“You’re talking about 20 years ago when the world was not so ridiculously PC,” said Steve Lamar, an associate producer of ALF. “Anyone that’s offended needs to lighten up already.” TMZ approached John LaMotta, who played the role of Trevor Ochmonek, the nosy neighbour. He didn’t comment on the tape, but he did say he hated the show. Actually, his words were: “I thought the show ALF was a piece of sh**,” LaMotta said. “Worst work I ever did.”

The Gilligan’s Island Connection

There’s a connection between the beloved show Gilligan’s Island and ALF. Some of the original Gilligan’s Island cast members reprised their characters on an episode of ALF. Some of you might even recall the moment when Alan Hale Jr. made an appearance as Skipper Jonas Grumby on Season Two of ALF. That appearance happened to be his last time on screen as the famous character.

ALF sitting around a table with the cast of Gilligan’s Island

Source: MoviestillsDB.com / Copyright: NBC

In the plotline of the show, ALF is a huge fan of Gilligan’s Island and even made a tropical home in the back of the Tanner family residence. Other cast members made an appearance, too, including Bob Denver, Dawn Wells, and Russell Johnson.

He Was in Mr. Robot

For many people who remember ALF, many would just assume that his days of fame were long over. But that isn’t really true. If you watched the 2016 movie Mr. Robot, you might have noticed a familiar face. That’s right, ALF made a surprising cameo. A Season Two episode of the series not only featured ALF but also a Full House-type theme song.

ALF driving a red convertible in Mr. Robot

Source: YouTube

The ALF part was confirmed by Entertainment Weekly to have been voiced by Paul Fusco. Adam Penn is the guy who created the segment, and he had the following to say about ALF’s bit: “Two very different types of performances colliding in this funhouse/’Twilight Zone’-Esque world was fascinating to watch.”

Cards, Comedy, and RALF

ALF’s storyline regularly mentioned that the alien worked as an Orbit Guard back on his own planet. However, a series of playing cards shared some new insight into the alien’s backstory. Apparently, ALF tried to be a comedian, but it didn’t work out. The cards reveal ALF’s most famous joke: “You can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can’t find a word to rhyme with “orange.”

ALF with other ‘Aliens’ in a promotional shot for the show ALF

Source: MoviestillsDB.com / Copyright: NBC

Did you ever hear of RALF? Well, he was also on the show, even though the viewers didn’t know it. This “Rehearsal Alien Life Form” was used during some of the show’s repetitions in order to keep the real ALF puppet from too much wear and tear.

The Episode Titles

What does ALF have in common with pop songs? Well, its titles. From Duran Duran’s hit Hungry Like the Wolf to the Beatles’ When I’m Sixty-Four, the series almost always used a popular hit single as the name of the episode. With over 100 episodes, only a few didn’t have the honor of having a song title: the pilot and the special Christmas episode.

ALF holding Christmas presents

Source: MoviestillsDB.com / Copyright: NBC

Unlike other sitcoms from the ‘80s and ‘90s, whose sound effects were more often than not pretty bad, ALF was a different story. Believe it or not, ALF was actually the very first TV show that made use of Dolby Surround Sound. It’s probably the last sitcom you would have guessed that of, right?

ALF’s (Not so Much of a) Hit Talk Show

In 2004, ALF was given another chance and the puppet was given his very own talk show. ALF hosted the show alongside former Carson sideman Ed McMahon. As the duo sat side by side on the couch, some might have expected great things to happen. But, they only made seven episodes before going off-air.

ALF sitting behind a talk show desk with Ed McMahon and Frederick De Cordova

Source: MoviestillsDB.com / Copyright: NBC

The show’s pilot even gained enough viewers to allow for more episodes to be shot, but ALF’s Hit Talk Show never became a hit and was regarded as one of the greatest talk show flops. In 2009, GetBack.com listed it with nine other programs as the “Worst Talk Shows in TV History.” (Gotta say, I’m not surprised…)

No More Booze

The ALF storyline made him a whopping 285 years old, which means he was allowed to take a sip of any beverage he wanted, including alcoholic ones. But the alien puppet stopped drinking beer after Season One. Why? Because the producers realized he was becoming a role model for children and thus chose to cut the booze out of the show. At least some of the decisions on the show were done right!

Benji Gregory and ALF in a scene from ALF

Source: MoviestillsDB.com / Copyright: NBC

The show also has a connection to a certain food chain: Burger King. The franchise banked on ALF’s fame in the ‘80s when they put forth a clever ALF promotion. In their special packages, fans found gadgets, ALF puppets, and a cardboard ALF record with songs such as Melmac Rock and Take Me, ALF, to the Ballgame.

ALF in Germany and the Prequel Spin-Off

In an unexpected twist of events, ALF went international. The show went as far as Germany and even garnered a large following there. The German version of the show had an album called Jetzt Sing’ Ich! (“Now I Sing!”) with songs like Raus Mit Dem Senf and Nimm’s Leicht, Nimm’s Locker.

A screen shot of the animated prequel ALF

Source: Pinterest

The show also garnered an animated prequel spin-off. Ever heard of ALF: The Animated Series? The spin-off show came once ALF was no longer on TV and wasn’t even focused on the future of the alien or the Tanner family. The prequel looked at life on Planet Melmac before ALF came to Earth.

In the Shadow of ALF

In 1987, ALF was one of the biggest shows in the country, ranking at No. 10. In Bulgaria, of all places, it was even bigger. Nearly 20 million viewers tuned in each week to see the alien do weird things in suburbia. Despite all that attention, though, it was really only the puppet that became a superstar.

The Tanner family being photographed in ALF

Source: MoviestillsDB.com / Copyright: NBC

The rest of the cast largely fell off the map after the series ended, which only adds insult to injury as they all hated the show to begin with. It means the last big thing these actors did was something they hated, which is unfortunate to say the least. That said, let’s take a look at the faces behind the Tanner family, and their nosy neighbor.

Andrea Elson (Lynn Tanner)

ALF wasn’t the only noteworthy gig for the ‘80s teen star. Elson, a New York native, landed her big break on TV in the underrated show Whiz Kids (which aired between 1983 and 1984). It was one of the earliest shows to depict computer hackers. After four years of playing Lynn Tanner on ALF, the actress got a few small roles, including ones in Afterschool Specials and Married… With Children.

Andrea Elson sitting on the couch with ALF behind her in the show ALF / Andrea Elson today

Source: MoviestillsDB.com, Copyright: NBC / Twitter

The now-51-year-old met her future husband on the set of ALF. Scott Harper was one of the production assistants, and the two married in 1993. Eventually, after having stepped away from the spotlight, Elson found peace working as a yoga instructor in California.

Anne Schedeen (Kate Tanner)

ALF had to act quickly every now and then, specially when some of the actors went through real-life changes. One example of this was when baby Eric was introduced on the show. The baby was never a part of the original script; rather, it came in after Schedeen’s real-life pregnancy.

Anne Schedeen as Kate Tanner in a promotional shot for the show ALF / Anne Schedeen today

Source: MoviestillsDB.com, Copyright: NBC / YouTube

The now-71-year-old left the acting world after ALF ended. Other than being in a few episodes of Judging Amy, the actress hasn’t been onscreen since the early ‘90s. She reportedly went into interior design and has also put her prior fame to good work by being an ambassador for the Holiday Heroes charity.

Next up, what Brian Tanner looks like today.

Benji Gregory (Brian Tanner)

Gregory was born Benjamin Gregory Hertzberg, and he’s also known as Ben Hertzberg. From a young age, he was in front of the camera, popping up in several TV commercials. In 1985, a year before ALF premiered, the kid almost landed another sitcom role in Fenster Hall, a spin-off of Punky Brewster.

Benji Gregory in a promotional shot for the show ALF / Benji Gregory today

Photo by Nbc, Kobal, Shutterstock / Pinterest

When ALF ended, Ben explained, “It was a relief… I didn’t want to do any more shows, but I don’t regret any of it.” After going to the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, he joined the Navy and served aboard the Aircraft Carrier USS Carl Vinson. After being medically discharged in 2005, he settled in Arizona. The now-42-year-old apparently has no desire to return to acting.

Liz Sheridan (Raquel Ochmonek)

Of all the actors on ALF, it was the pesky neighbor who found the greatest success on the small screen. Pretty much everyone recognizes the actress as Jerry’s mom on Seinfeld. The now-91-year-old also appeared alongside Andy Griffith in his last film, Play the Game, which featured an octogenarian “intimate” scene between the two TV veterans, believe it or not.

Liz Sheridan in ALF / Liz Sheridan today

Source: IMDb / Wikimedia Commons

Sheridan used to work as a dancer in New York City nightclubs, where she met the then-unknown James Dean. She wrote Dizzy & Jimmy: My Life with James Dean: A Love Story, which detailed their time together in the early 1950s. According to Sheridan, they were each other’s first romantic love. Once Dean pursued Hollywood films, their relationship came to an end.

Max Wright (Willie Tanner)

This ALF star had an interesting career after the show ended, marked with both ups and downs. Wright starred on another sitcom, Norm Macdonald’s The Norm Show, from 1999 to 2001. He achieved greater acclaim on Broadway, though, being nominated for a Tony award for Ivanov in 1998. He later performed Shakespeare in the Park.

Max Wright with ALF / Max Wright taking out the trash just before his passing

Source: MoviestillsDB.com, Copyright: NBC / YouTube

In April 2001, Wright made the tabloids on the front page of National Enquirer, appearing in video stills at a “crack house.” The Detroit native also appeared in a number of shows following ALF, including Friends, The Drew Carey Show and Mad About You. Sadly, the actor died in his home in 2019, after a long battle with cancer. He was diagnosed with lymphoma back in 1995 but was in remission for several years.

Paul Fusco, Creator and Puppeteer

Paul Fusco, the voice and brain behind ALF, considered the alien as an extension of himself. He tried to resurrect the franchise multiple times over the years. In 2012, a deal with Sony pictures for a CGI film was in the works, but it never came to fruition. Fusco is also a magician and ventriloquist. Some may refer to him as “eccentric” or “downright weird,” but Fusco had a unique relationship with ALF.

Paul Fusco with ALF / Paul Fusco older in life

Source: YouTube / Pinterest

The 67-year-old claims he never called ALF “it” or a “thing,” and he was rumored to have asked the alien for writing advice when he was working on the show. Fusco himself admitted that his demands on the set made the series “a great deal of work for everyone.”

Michu Meszaros

Meszaros was once a member of the Ringling Brothers. He was in Barnum & Bailey Circus as the former “smallest man in the world.” When he was young, he attended a state-run school of circus arts, learning various performing skills like juggling, acrobatics and pantomime. American circus producers, like Irvin Feld and Kenneth Feld, heard of a man, somewhere in Hungary, that was almost too small to believe.

Michu Meszaros posing for the camera / Michu Meszaros later on in life

Source: Pinterest / Flickr

The producers located him in 1973 and were amazed by his size and talents. They made arrangements almost immediately to bring Meszaros from his home in the Hungarian circus to the United States. Once in the US, he remained a circus performer.

The Smallest Man in the World

He trained and presented standard poodles for his act, in which the dogs stood on their hind legs to show the audiences that they were much taller than their trainer. Circus audiences cheered his dignified yet slightly humorous role. He was hailed at the time as the “Smallest Man in the World.”

Michu Meszaros posing with a thumbs up

Source: Facebook

In the Grand Spectacle performance in 1982 and 1983, Meszaros portrayed a character known as the Marshal of Marshmallow Gulch, wearing a tailored white, silver and gold costume with rhinestones and a matching cowboy hat and silver boots. In the ‘80s in Hawthorne, California, where Meszaros lived, the shortest street in the city was named Michu Lane in his honor.

Friends with Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson saw Meszaros perform one night, after which the two became close friends and even appeared together in a Pepsi commercial. The little man with a size three shoe landed more gigs in Hollywood, having appeared in such films as Waxwork (1988), Big Top Pee-Wee (1988), Warlock: The Armageddon (1993) and Freaked (1993). He was also on the TV show Dear John.

Michu Meszaros posing with Michael Jackson circa 1996

Photo by Europress Photo Agency / Shutterstock

In 1990, when ALF ended, Meszaros officially became an American citizen. But eventually his health issues caught up with him. At one point, a GoFundMe page was created for his mounting medical bills. He finally died in his home on June 12, 2016, at the age of 76.

Jim J. Bullock (Neal Tanner)

Bullock played the semi-regular character of Willie Tanner’s brother, Neal. He briefly lived with the Tanners after his divorce. Once he got his own apartment, Neal made the mistake of letting ALF stay with him and almost lost his job and apartment because of it.

Jim J Bullock in a scene from ALF / Jim J Bullock today

Source: MoviestillsDB.com, Copyright: NBC / Pinterest

Bullock was a TV actor in the ‘80s. He co-starred in Too Close for Comfort and got regular spots on celebrity game shows like Battlestars and Hollywood Squares. His best-remembered film role came two years before showing up on ALF. Yes, he was the yawning Prince Valium in Mel Brooks’ 1987 Star Wars parody, Spaceballs. The now-65-year-old split his time between the screen and the stage. He had guest appearances on Seinfeld, Roseanne, and Glee, to name a few.

Josh Blake/Buxbaum (Jake Ochmonek)

The young, troubled character of Jake Ochmonek was played by Josh Blake. He was the kid who forced himself into the Tanner home and broke into their garage to steal a telescope only to discover ALF. Blake continued working gigs on the small screen for a while, appearing on the short-lived CBS sitcom The Famous Teddy Z.

Josh Blake in a scene from ALF / Josh Blake today

Source: MoviestillsDB.com, Copyright: NBC / Pinterest

He also had a recurring role in the MTV soap opera Spyder Games and enjoyed guest spots on Married With Children, Home Improvement, The Wonder Years, and JAG. Today, he goes by the name Josh Buxbaum and it looks like he has left acting behind. According to his Facebook page, the 45-year-old is the co-founder of a company called WebPurify.

Paul Dooley (Whizzer Deaver)

Dooley’s time on ALF was fleeting but memorable. He played Whizzer Deaver, Dorothy Halligan’s (Anne Meara) second husband, jazz musician, and band leader. He formed a friendship with ALF. Dooley is one of the few ALF actors who remained active in the entertainment industry. Dooley said his favorite part about working on ALF was the chance to work with the late Anne Meara and getting to watch Paul Fusco at work.

Paul Dooley holding an ice pack on his head with ALF next to him / Paul Dooley on the red carpet today

Source: IMDb / Photo by Kevin Parry, Shutterstock

He started acting more than two decades before ALF with a spot on the TV series East Side/West Side. After ALF wrapped up, he landed recurring roles on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Practice, ER, Desperate Housewives, and The Kids Are Alright.