‘ALF’ Ended on a Cliffhanger That Wasn’t Supposed to Be the Final Episode
Shortly after E.T. phoned home, another alien crash-landed into American homes: ALF. Short for “alien life form,” ALF was the eponymous lead character in the hit 1980s sitcom ALF. Upon its debut, the TV show immediately skyrocketed in popularity, with the science fiction character even getting a real-life reception at the Reagan White House. But when the sitcom aired its shocking series finale, fans were left bewildered and confused by the show’s abrupt ending. It turns out that that finale was never actually supposed to be ALF‘s final episode.
‘ALF’ was on the air from 1986 to 1990
ALF follows the titular character ALF who crash lands in suburban California. He takes up residence with the Tanner family, who take him in and keep him concealed from the U.S. military. Over the course of its four seasons, ALF follows the alien’s escapades as he navigates the quirks of suburbia, makes friends and frenemies (a constant trope is the alien’s attempts to eat the Tanners’ family cat), and tries to evade the U.S. government’s attempts to catch him.
‘ALF’ became a pop culture phenomenon on NBC
ALF aired on NBC from September 22, 1986, until its series finale on March 24, 1990. According to an archived copy of People magazine, republished by ALF fan site ALF TV, no one predicted how big the sitcom would become. “At first the network was nervous,” says ALF‘s creator Paul Fusco who pitched the idea of the show to TV producer Bernie Brillstein. Brillstein didn’t think the idea would succeed, but he ended up greenlighting the show.
“NBC was going through a rough patch,” explains Ultimate Classic Rock. “The network had failed spectacularly with its recent programming. […] To onlookers, the new series about a sarcastic alien was seemingly another misguided effort by the floundering network. Early reviews were scathing, but the show found an audience. By the second season, it was a full-fledged phenomenon.”
Fusco starred as ALF himself, controlling the puppet and voicing the character. Rounding out the main cast was Max Wright and Anne Schedeen as the Tanner family’s patriarch and matriarch, and Andrea Elson and Benji Gregory as the Tanner siblings Lynn and Brian.
The ‘ALF’ finale shocked audiences
At the end of season four, ALF attempts to rejoin his alien family. But just before he reconnects with the incoming spaceship, the U.S. military captures him. The episode then ends, with the words “To be continued” splashed across the TV screen. There was just one problem: The TV show never did continue.
“The final episode was intended as a cliffhanger,” reports IMDb. The studio executives at NBC had been debating whether or not to renew the sitcom for a fifth season, and then had given Fusco a verbal promise that it would be renewed. However, those plans fell apart.
“In the finale of the show’s fourth season, the world finally caught up to the alien-in-hiding, as he was captured and brought to a military base,” explains The Hollywood Reporter. “That was where the fifth season was to start off … but regulations on network-owned shows were reversed, meaning that NBC suddenly had new plans: It could develop its own programs, a much more lucrative proposition.” So the network canceled ALF permanently.
“Project: ALF (1996), six years later, finally brought closure,” notes IMDb. “Due to poor writing and the absence of the original human cast, many fans reject the movie as part of the show’s canon.”
Despite its sudden ending, ALF remains a favorite with audiences who grew up with the show. “Fusco has quite a bit of communication with a few [fan sites],” reports the Hollywood Reporter. “He still receives fan letters to this day, including one that told the story of a fan who was risen from a coma after his family pressed play on a few taped episodes in his hospital room.”