Gary David Goldberg dies at 68; producer of sitcom ‘Family Ties’


When he had his first important business meeting, Gary David Goldberg arrived with a fertile mind and a seasoned thumb.

Without any TV writing credits, he hitchhiked from San Diego to Los Angeles to meet an agent and talk TV. A big bear of a former flower child, he hadn’t watched television in years, but a teacher at San Diego State convinced him he had talent.

It turned out that he did.

Although it took him 13 years to get his bachelor’s degree, Goldberg rapidly shot to success in TV, producing the hit sitcom “Family Ties” and other shows colored with his warm brand of New York humor.


Goldberg, who also wrote and directed several films, died Saturday at his home in Montecito, family members said. He was 68 and had brain cancer.

“Family Ties” revolved around the comically strained relationship between an ex-hippie couple and their children, especially their proudly conservative son. It was loosely autobiographical, Goldberg said in his 2008 memoir, “Sit, Ubu, Sit: How I Went from Brooklyn to Hollywood with the Same Woman, the Same Dog, and a Lot Less Hair.”

“We find our best story ideas come from our own lives or lives of friends,” he wrote. His family members “are slowly catching on to the idea that anything they do, can and will be used against them on network television.”

The “Family Ties” son, preppy down to his penny loafers, was played by Michael J. Fox, who shot to national prominence during the show’s run from 1982 to 1989.

Goldberg was “my mentor, benefactor, partner, second father and beloved friend,” Fox said Monday.

Goldberg, who named his company and his memoir after his Labrador retriever Ubu Roi, was equally admiring.


“The process of doing a half-hour multicamera television show in front of a live audience means putting on a 23-minute play each week,” he wrote in “Sit, Ubu, Sit.” “And while this format may have been invented for Lucille Ball, there’s one other person on this earth who was born to thrive in that form, and that is Michael J. Fox.”

Fox also starred in Goldberg’s sitcom “Spin City,” as a hyper-organized New York City deputy mayor whose private life was a shambles. The series ran from 1996 to 2002, although Fox, coping with Parkinson’s disease, left it in 2000.

The son of a mailman, Goldberg was born in New York on June 25, 1944, and raised in Brooklyn. With the start of his Hollywood career, he began using his middle name, although he later called it an “affectation” that he was stuck with.

Goldberg entered Brandeis University on a basketball scholarship in 1962 but dropped out and spent several years bumming around the world. While working as a waiter at the Village Gate jazz club in New York, he tried his hand at acting. He also met his future wife, Diana Meehan, and the two, with Ubu, thumbed through Europe; in Paris, Goldberg sold blood to make ends meet.

Moving to California, the couple started the Organic Day Care Center in Berkeley. Its motto: “Rain or shine, we take your kids on a trip every day.”

When Meehan pursued a master’s degree in San Diego, Goldberg went along for the ride. On a whim, he signed up for a writing class at San Diego State under screenwriter Nate Monaster, who saw his work and kicked him out.


“I have nothing to teach you,” Monaster said. “You have a unique style, and I don’t want to get in your way.”

Monaster did, however, nudge his astonished, 31-year-old student into TV, directing him to an agent in Los Angeles.

On his return, Goldberg bought a used black-and-white set at a motel going out of business, studied the shows of the day, and started churning out scripts. At an interview for his first writing job, on “The Bob Newhart Show,” he reeled off 31 story lines.

When he learned that, with all his college transfers, he was still a credit shy of his long-sought bachelor’s degree, a biology professor at San Diego State took pity on him.

All the fledgling comedy writer had to do was promise that, should he ever speak at an awards show, he’d leave his audience with one scientific fact.

Three years later, he delivered. Accepting a 1978 Writers Guild award for a “MASH” script, Goldberg issued his thank-yous and then mystified his audience.


“Photosynthesis,” he announced, “is a process by which energy in sunlight is used to convert water and carbon dioxide into carbohydrates and oxygen.”

Throughout his career, Goldberg won a host of awards, including Emmys for outstanding writing on “Lou Grant” in 1979 and “Family Ties” in 1987.

He also produced the nostalgic TV series “Brooklyn Bridge” and wrote and directed the 1989 film “Dad” with Jack Lemmon and the 2005 romantic comedy “Must Love Dogs.”

In addition to his wife, he is survived by daughters Shana Silveri and Cailin Goldberg-Meehan and three grandchildren.