Pluggin' a Pop Song

Whew. According to Sitcoms Online’s review of tomorrow’s season 4 DVD set of Family Ties, the Paramount DVD does include the most famous use of music in this show, if not all of ’80s TV: “At This Moment” by Billy Vera and the Beaters (I’m not making that name up) as the de facto love theme for the ‘shippers favourite couple, Alex and Ellen (Tracy Pollan).

These episodes may have done more than any other, yes, more than Miami Vice, to show the advantages of cross-pollination between the worlds of TV and pop music. “At This Moment” was a song that had come out several years earlier and failed to make any impact at all. Family Ties used it, probably because it was cheap, and this not-particularly-great pop song became a top hit, as people saw it on the show, associated it with their Alex-Ellen ‘shipping, and bought the record. While the show benefited from having that song to play every time their new ‘shippy couple slow-danced together, and because nobody really knew the song before FT used it, it became the show’s own song in a way that a better-known (and more expensive) song would not have been.

This has become the basic formula for the use of pop music on many modern shows: pick a song by lesser-known groups (thus allowing you to get them cheap or, in the case of a show like Grey’s Anatomy, allowing them to get the DVD rights to the song as a package deal with the for-broadcast license); the song benefits from the exposure, and the TV producers benefit from the fact that everybody associates that song with the show. And it basically started with this obscure pop song on Family Ties.

The fourth season, by the way, was probably the best season of the show — you’ve got Ellen, the introduction of Nick, and the last Bonsall-free season — and I’m relieved to see from the Sitcoms Online review that Paramount doesn’t seem to have chopped it up too much. The set also includes the really rather awful but fascinating ’80s curio, the TV movie Family Ties Vacation, which outdid even The Facts of Life Goes to Paris in being a spinoff movie that had no connection whatsoever to the tone of the series (even though the staff writers wrote it).