Gary David Goldberg, the Emmy Award-winning writer-director-producer who created the iconic 1980s sitcom “Family Ties,” which made Michael J. Fox a star, as well as the semi-autobiographical CBS series “Brooklyn Bridge” — one of the most Jewish comedies ever to grace the small screen — died of brain cancer on June 22 at his home in Montecito. He was 68.
Goldberg’s TV successes also included sitcoms such as “Spin City,” starring Fox as the deputy mayor for a bumbling New York City mayor. Among his feature films are 1989’s “Dad,” with Jack Lemmon and Ted Danson as a reconciling father and son; “Bye Bye Love” (1995); and “Must Love Dogs” (2005), a personal-ad dating saga starring Diane Lane and John Cusack. In 2008, Goldberg penned his memoir, “Sit, Ubu, Sit: How I Went From Brooklyn to Hollywood With the Same Woman, the Same Dog and a Lot Less Hair.”
“Brooklyn Bridge,” which was one of the most acclaimed series of the 1990s, paid homage to Goldberg’s years growing up in a working-class Jewish neighborhood in Bensonhurst, along with his Orthodox grandparents and meddling, if well-meaning, neighbors.
“Matchmaking was a lot of fixing up,” he recalled in a 2005 Journal interview about “Must Love Dogs.” “The whole neighborhood was like JDate without a computer, with aunts and uncles and telephones.”
As a young man, Goldberg left the ’hood to attend Brandeis University on a sports scholarship, where he was eventually expelled for ditching classes; around 1970 he set off to hitchhike around the world with his wife-to-be, Diana Meehan, along with their black Labrador, Ubu. When the couple ended up in Israel in the early 1970s, Goldberg attended an audition for an Israeli TV show on a lark and ended up as the title character in a series called “The Adventures of Scooterman.”
But he didn’t try screenwriting until — again on a lark — he chanced to attend a writing class at San Diego State University, where a professor helped him procure his first agent when he was in his early 30s. Stints followed writing for “The Bob Newhart Show” and producing “Lou Grant” before Goldberg founded his own company, Ubu Productions, named after his beloved dog, in 1980.
Two years later, he based “Family Ties” — in which Fox plays an uber-conservative student living with liberal parents — on his own experience as an ex-hippie parent raising kids of a different generation.
Goldberg intended “Brooklyn Bridge,” which aired from 1991 to 1993 and received a Golden Globe award for best comedy, to be unabashedly Jewish; in an interview for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, he said he told his writers, “People will speak Yiddish on this show, and we’re not going to use subtitles. The grandfather will be reading a Yiddish newspaper. This is not the Andersons. This is real ethnic stuff.”
“I didn’t have meanness in [my] comedy,” he said of his work. “The times that I tried to be darker or meaner or hipper didn’t work. It just wasn’t where I came from.”
Goldberg is survived by his wife, Diana; daughters Shana and Cailin; and three grandchildren.
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