‘ALF’: The Unaired 5th Season Had a Wild Plot, but NBC Killed It

The strange ’80s sitcom ALF was beloved by its young audience and hated by those involved. For four years, the titular alien tormented the Tanner family while also worming his way into their hearts. But as the TV show significantly broke from its formula, NBC abruptly canceled it without a resolution. We’ll never know exactly how the fifth season would’ve unfolded, but its plot was arguably the wildest yet.

What was ‘ALF’?

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

The show’s title was an acronym for “Alien Life Form.” 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 themes, NBC created a sitcom whose audiences fell for the furry brown alien that 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 amid several hazards. 

But for fans, especially children, ALF was a gateway to a different type of entertainment. Though the series was family-friendly, it fell in line with many of the edgy sitcoms on the air at the time. However, after a cliffhanger ended the fourth season with a kidnapping, the series got the ax before creators could resolve it. 

What was the 5th season about?

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But as ALF continued his grand adventures, the creators began to run out of ideas. In a typical sitcom, this would be the preamble to a big move, a vacation arc, or something to get the title character out of the monotony of life.

However, in an interview with those involved with the show, Jake Rossen of Mental Floss noted this wasn’t possible on the series’ budget. “As ALF matured into a ratings success, it became increasingly difficult to open up his limited world,” he wrote. “He was an alien in hiding, which meant minimal interaction with anyone outside of the Tanner family.”

Staff writer Victor Fresco echoed that sentiment in the same article. “It’s a very hard show to do,” he said. “Your lead cannot interact with anyone in the world but the four regulars.”

But puppeteer/show creator Paul Fusco wanted to branch out and even take ALF to a brand-new setting. The next season’s plotline was a viable solution, albeit outlandish:  

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.

‘ALF’ creator Paul Fusco via Mental Floss

NBC disagreed with him and killed the show after four seasons. Though it was an unfortunate blow to Fusco and company, the character remains in the cultural lexicon in more ways than one. Fusco continued fighting for ALF years after the unresolved finale. 

ALF tried 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-TV 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. But it didn’t last long enough to make a cultural dent.

According to the 2016 interview with Mental Floss, ALF could still have a future. A movie was allegedly in the works, although little progress seems to have been made since SlashFilm reported that the last attempt at a reboot was nixed in 2018. Despite these setbacks, Fusco wants to bring the alien back and give him a slight edge (though NBC thought he already had one). With comedy catering less to family audiences, Fusco wants ALF to be the foul-mouthed alien puppet he envisioned. That will have to wait.

Whether this comes about, ALF remains one of the most unusual sitcoms in TV history. Though inarguably a riff on The Muppets and other series, it made a societal impact. Other high-concept sitcoms, like Dinosaurs, were quick to follow. Still, as well as the audience accepts these ambitious ideas, the production behind them often leads to a premature demise.