By Susan King
Los Angeles Times
Meredith Baxter recalls that when she met Michael Gross 30 years ago at the first table read for the award-winning NBC sitcom, “Family Ties,” she gave the lanky actor cast as her husband a good once-over.
“I am thinking my first words to him were, ‘You need a tan!,’” she said, laughing. “He is a New Yorker, and I am born and raised in Los Angeles.”
Three decades after that first encounter, they are playing husband and wife once again in the Hallmark Channel holiday film, “Naughty or Nice,” which premieres at 8 p.m. tonight.
The two play Carol and Walter Kringle, a pleasant couple who love the holidays so much they named their daughter Krissy (Hilarie Burton).
After Krissy loses her job in an advertising company, Carol gets her a job wrapping Christmas presents at the mall.
For fans, the roles will bring back fond memories of the Keatons, the couple played by Baxter and Gross in “Family Ties.”
Baxter and Keaton played former hippies Elyse and Steve Keaton, still expounding liberal values in the world of Reaganomics.
The series made a star out of Michael J. Fox, who played their conservative Republican son Alex.
Justine Bateman played teenage daughter Mallory and Tina Yothers was youngest daughter Jennifer.
Though “Family Ties” left the airwaves in 1989, the bonds Baxter and Gross nurtured remain.
“We have done (the play) ‘Love Letters’ many times,’” said Baxter, who was born the same day — June 21, 1947 — as her TV husband.
“About seven years ago, we did a staged reading of ‘You Can’t Take It With You’ at the Pasadena Playhouse.”
Directing the two was a dream come true for David Mackay, who grew up watching them on “Family Ties.”
Gross and Baxter had not been cast when Mackay signed to do the film.
“They were just names being bantered about between myself and (executive producer) Tim Johnson,” Mackay said.
“The minute I came on I said you have got to get them. The concept was to have both or neither of them. They both wanted to work together, so it all went swimmingly.”