The ‘ALF’ Cast Experienced ‘Tension’ On Set Because They Didn’t Want to ‘Play Second Fiddle To a Puppet’

ARTICLE HIGHLIGHTS

  • ALF was unlik any TV show fans had ever seen.
  • Star Max Wright famously hated working with the ALF puppet.
  • Wright was not the only star who didn’t want to “play second fiddle to a puppet.”
The cast of ALF Max Wright, Benji Gregory, Andrea Elson, and Anne Shedeen with ALF aka Alien Life Form on May 23, 1986 in Los Angeles, California
The cast of ‘ALF’ | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

ALF was a hit 1980s sitcom about an alien and his Earth family that ran on NBC for four seasons. With an offbeat premise and a puppet as the star, ALF was quite popular with audiences. Unfortunately, the same thing couldn’t be said about his co-stars. Apparently, there was some serious “tension” on the ALF set because the human actors didn’t want to “play second fiddle to a puppet.”

‘ALF’ was not like other TV shows

The premise of ALF was that an Alien Life Form (ALF) from the destroyed planet Melmac landed on Earth and ended up becoming a part of the Tanner family. The ALF character was a loveable furball with a croissant-shaped nose and a comb-over. He also had an unhealthy obsession with the family cat Lucky.

The ALF puppet was voiced by show creator and puppeteer, Paul Fusco. The series starred Max Wright as Willie, the head of the Tanner family. Anne Schedeen played mom Kate Tanner, and Andrea Elson starred as teen daughter Lynn. Ben Hertzberg played Brian, the youngest member of the Tanner family.

Max Wright hated working with the ALF puppet

Wright was a serious theater actor before he landed the role of Willie. He was the “straight man against ALF,” which Fusco says was a difficult thing to do. Despite the challenge, Fusco noted that there was great “comedic chemistry” between Wright and the puppet.

“He had to be that comic foil. Dying is easy, comedy is hard. To get that chemistry between ALF and Willie, it’s hard,” Fusco said in a 2007 interview.

In 2000, Wright told People magazine that starring alongside a puppet was “hard work and very grim.” The actor acknowledged at the time that he was “hugely eager to have it over with.”

On the last night of filming ALF, Schedeen recalled “there was one take, and Max walked off the set, went to his dressing room, got his bags, went to his car and disappeared. Nobody had to say, ‘Wrap,’ and there were no goodbyes.”

There was tension on set because the actors didn’t want to ‘play second fiddle to a puppet’

According to Elson, there was tension on the ALF set because the cast was stressed about having to “play second fiddle to a puppet.” By season 2, Elson had developed bulimia and became obsessed with exercise. She says she didn’t fully recover and find peace until she got pregnant in 1997.

Schedeen recalls experiencing “no joy on the set” because the scenes with the puppet were a “technical nightmare.” Filming a 30-minute episode could take as long as 25 hours, which led to the cast and crew being deeply unhappy.

‘ALF’ was a ‘big dysfunctional family’ according to star Anne Schedeen

“It was a technical nightmare — extremely slow, hot and tedious,” Schedeen said. “If you had a scene with ALF, it took centuries. A 30-minute show took 20, 25 hours to shoot.”

Schedeen also noted that her adult co-stars had “difficult personalities,” and she described the overall vibe on the ALF set as a “big dysfunctional family.”

“It’s astonishing to me that ALF really was wonderful and that word never got out what a mess our set really was,” Schedeen said.

According to John LaMotta — who played nosy neighbor Trevor Ochmonek — ALF was “a piece of sh*t” show and the “worst work” he ever did.

The show lost its time slot to ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’

Fusco has fond memories of censorship battles in the writer’s room. He says he often fought with NBC over his racy jokes about ALF eating cats. When the series was canceled, Fusco says one exec told him that he thought the show deserved two more seasons. Especially since it ended on a cliffhanger where ALF got caught by the Alien Task Force.

But the network had created a new production house at the beginning of the 1990s. So, the show lost its time slot to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

NBC promised Fusco a movie of the week so he could give the story closure. But that took six years, and none of the original cast wanted to be a part of it. Instead, the movie followed ALF’s adventures after his capture, with no Tanner family in sight.

Episodes of ALF are available on Amazon Prime Video and Tubi.

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