Why Was ‘ALF’ Canceled?

The strange 1980s sitcom ALF was beloved by its young audience and hated by those involved. For four years, the titular alien tormented the Tanner family while making his way into their hearts, as well. However, as the series broke out of its formula significantly, NBC canceled the TV show without any resolution. Since then, Paul Fusco has engaged in a constant struggle to get the series back on the air or in the theaters. 

Alf cosplayer Christian Ruiz in front of a blurred background
Alf | Daniel Knighton/Getty Images

What was Alf?

According to IMDbAlf was on the air for four seasons from 1986 to 1990. Trying to bridge the gap between the puppet-heavy children’s entertainment of the day and more adult sitcoms, audiences fell for the alien who crash-landed into the lives of a human family. According to everyone on set, the show was a mess, with the cast working long hours, on a set with several hazards. For fans, especially children, it was a gateway to a different type of entertainment. While the series was family-friendly, it fell in line with many of the sitcoms on the air at the time. However, after a cliffhanger ended the final season with an unresolved kidnapping, the series was canceled before creators could resolve it. 

Why was ‘ALF’ canceled?

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As Alf continued his grand adventures, however, they started to run out of ideas. In a typical sitcom, this would be the preamble to a big move, a vacation arc, or something that can get the title character out of the monotony of life. Writing about the history of the series in an interview with those involved, however, Jake Rossen of Mental Floss noted that this was not possible with the series budget, writing that, “As ALF matured into a ratings success, it became increasingly difficult to open up his limited world. He was an alien in hiding, which meant minimal interaction with anyone outside of the Tanner family.”

In that same piece, staff writer Victor Fresco acknowledged this. Alf was a complicated puppet who required specially designed sets to interact without the people behind him showing their faces on camera. “It’s a very hard show to do. Your lead cannot interact with anyone in the world but the four regulars,” Fresco said. Fusco wanted to spread out and even had the idea to take Alf to a brand-new setting, saying:  

If we had gone a fifth season, the idea was going to be ALF on a military base. He’s incarcerated there in some kind of detainment camp. The family would be allowed to visit him. It would’ve opened up his world more. He would’ve been like Sergeant Bilko, essentially. Selling bootleg items, gambling.

NBC disagreed, and the show was canceled after four seasons. However, while this was an unfortunate blow to Fusco and company, the character remains in the cultural lexicon in more ways than one. Fusco kept on fighting for the character years after the unresolved finale. 

Alf tries to find a new home

The show’s cliffhanger sat unresolved for several years until Fusco got to flesh out that initial idea in a made-for-television movie after ABC picked up the rights. The film was meant to be a backdoor pilot for a new series on the military base, but the ratings weren’t good enough to justify such an ambitious endeavor. Fusco briefly revived the character for a TV Land talk show. It did not last long enough to make a cultural dent.

According to the interview with Mental Floss, Alf still has a future. A movie is allegedly in the works, although little progress has been made since SlashFilm reported that the last attempt at a reboot was canceled in 2018. Despite these setbacks, Patchett and Fusco want to bring the alien back and give him a slight edge. With comedy catering less to family audiences, Fusco wants Alf to be the foul-mouthed alien puppet that he envisioned. That will have to wait.

Whether this comes out, Alf remains one of the most unusual sitcoms in television history. While inarguably a riff on The Muppets and other series, it did have a societal impact. Other high-concept sitcoms like Dinosaurs were quick to follow. Still, as well as the audience takes these ambitious ideas, the production behind them often leads to a premature demise.