ALF (short for "Alien Life Form") is a humorous half-hour television series that ran from 1986-1990 on NBC.
ALF chronicles the adventures of one Gordon Shumway (also referred to by the nickname "ALF"), a short, furry extra-terrestrial and the last surviving denizen of the planet Melmac, which exploded one day for no apparent reason. After drifting through space, ALF ends up marooned on Earth when his spaceship crash lands in the suburban backyard of the Tanner family. The Tanners take ALF in and hide him for fear that, if government officials discover his existence, he will be dissected in the name of science.
At the time the show originally aired, most believed ALF to be either the creation of a clever group of puppeteers or a midget in a furry suit. However, a recent leak by a Democratic Senator has revealed that Gordon Shumway is actually a real alien who had been living with the real-life Tanner family for several months before the show's pilot was taped.
Government officials had, in fact, tracked down the alien shortly before his ship went down. They were prepared to dissect him, but were so disarmed by the creature's outrageous wit and naive charm that they agreed to leave ALF intact temporarily. Instead, they set up cameras throughout the Tanner household so that a team of scientists could monitor Shumway constantly. The Tanners, in exchange for their cooperation and continued silence, received a generous stipend.
Somebody's Watching MeEdit
The garrulous alien's wacky antics continued unabated, and it wasn't long before an enterprising member of the science team spliced together some clips and shopped the tape around to various networks as a teaser for a potential series. A bidding war ensued, with NBC finally coming out on top.
The first few episodes were partially staged in order to provide exposition, but subsequent shows were edited from hundreds of hours of raw footage, thus making ALF one of the first true reality television shows. Each of the Tanners was given a screen name to make it appear as though they were actors, and the family's stipend was quadrupled.
Though network execs were initially somewhat nervous about the mysterious nature of the show's production -- a tape would be delivered weekly to NBC's Burbank studios in an unmarked manilla envelope -- their concerns were soon erased when ALF debuted to terrific ratings and critical acclaim. The show's success continued through two full seasons, with ALF a frequent resident of the Nielsen Top Ten.
Shumway, however, struggled with his newfound fame. Though he enjoyed a comfortable life at the Tanners', and a steady buffet of assorted exotic felines -- enjoyed off-camera, of course -- he was, he felt, little more than a zoo animal; caged and displayed for a whole planet's amusement, with little hope of escape and even less hope of ever returning to Melmac. His depression deepened after NBC launched an animated series featuring his likeness, and depicting a TV writer's imaginings of life on Melmac that Shumway felt were deeply offensive.
White Line FeverEdit
Near the end of the show's third season, Shumway contacted the head of the science team and begged to be dissected. The scientists, however, had no intention of getting off this gravy train, and they refused. Fearing that Shumway might try something desperate, they responded with what turned out to be a very foolish gambit. They added character actor Jm J. Bullock to the "cast" of the show, insisting that if Shumway behaved they would make the hurting stop by firing Bullock at the end of season four.
Not surprisingly, ALF responded by turning to drugs. Young Brian Tanner, it seems, had used his portion of the family stipend to bankroll a massive cocaine ring, and he was only too happy to share some of his merchandise with the alien who had made it possible. With his gigantic nose, Shumway turned out to have a tremendous capacity for blow matched only by his voracious appetite for the drug. Tanner has estimated that, at his peak, ALF was snarfing upwards of three kilos of high grade Colombian; and that was just before breakfast.
The Final CountdownEdit
The show suffered greatly, as the editors scrambled to construct reasonably coherent episodes around Shumway's binges and increasingly bizarre hallucinations. He would frequently imagine that he was speaking with old friends from his long-dead planet, and the science team began to dread the prospect of having to actually construct convincing puppet aliens to act as "Rhonda" and "Skip," should Shumway's mania worsen by season five.
ALF's relationship with the Tanners was growing strained as well, eventually prompting the family to hold an intervention -- on the television show, they explained this by claiming that ALF had become "addicted to cotton" -- to no avail. The scientists, recognizing their mistake, pulled Jm Bullock from the show, but the damage had been done. Ratings were falling fast, and tensions were universally high.
The dam finally burst during the last few weeks of season four, when ALF clogged the toilet in the downstairs hall. ALF routinely clogged the Tanner toilets three or four times a week. This time, when Willy Tanner took the plunger to the blockage, the usual clump of matted hair and cat teeth bobbed to the surface -- along with a red striped collar reading "Lucky."
When confronted, Shumway insisted that he had no idea how the collar got there, and no memory of eating the family cat, but Willy had finally been pushed too far. He came at Shumway with a cordless power drill, prompting the alien to dive through the sliding glass door. Tanner claims that as Shumway scaled the back fence and disappeared from sight, he heard the alien exclaim, "Willy! You shouldn't have named that cat 'Lucky.' You should have named him 'Delicious!' Haaaaaaaa!"
The scientists were panicked. While half the team cobbled together the final episodes of season four from old footage, the remainder scoured the neighborhood and surrounding areas for signs of ALF. Apart from a massive pile of reddish-brown fur that turned up in the Ochmoneks' bathtub, no trace of the alien was found. It is speculated that Shumway escaped detection by shaving off his fur and disguising himself as Penny Marshall.
The television series that made him a star, already in the ratings dumper, was quickly and quietly cancelled by NBC in the Spring of 1990.
Subterranean Homesick AlienEdit
Shumway's current whereabouts remain a mystery. Assuming the alien was speaking truthfully when he claimed that Melmacians live hundreds of years -- and assuming his addictions haven't gotten the better of him -- he is presumably still at large.
Some have suggested that, knowing no other trade, Shumway would likely return to reality television. Though there is no definitive proof, many believe that with electrolysis, a nose job, and a mole removal, Shumway would bear a striking resemblance to the host of a certain televised singing competition.