The Nightmare Surrounding the Production of the TV Show “ALF”

In September of 1986, NBC released the new sitcom ALF. The title character’s name was ALF — “Alien Life Form” — whose real name was Gordon Shumway. He crash-lands in the garage of the Tanners, a middle-class suburban family. The series stars Max Wright as father Willie Tanner, Anne Schedeen as mother Kate Tanner, and Andrea Elson and Benji Gregory as their children, Lynn and Brian Tanner. ALF was performed by puppeteer Paul Fusco, who also created the show. What viewers didn’t know was that the inherent nature of producing a show featuring hand-operated puppets was technically difficult and extremely demanding on the cast. There were constantly high levels of tension on the set, with Max Wright despising the fact that he had to support an inanimate object that received most of the good lines of dialogue. The 30-minute show took an average of 25 hours to shoot. To add to the tension, the set was built on a platform raised four feet above the ground, with trap doors constructed at various 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. On the last night of taping the final episode in 1990, Max Wright walked off the set, went to his dressing room, got his bags, went to his car, and disappeared. There were no goodbyes. All of the cast members agreed that the entire production company was “a big dysfunctional family.”