'Naughty or Nice': Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter's 'Family Ties' still bind
The actors played spouses for seven years (1982-89) on the NBC sitcom "Family Ties," on which their "children" included politically immersed Alex P. Keaton ( Michael J. Fox). They reunite Saturday (Nov. 24) in the new Hallmark Channel movie "Naughty or Nice," as the parents of one Krissy Kringle ("One Tree Hill" alum Hilarie Burton), an advertising executive whose holiday season is mirrored by a magical book detailing whether she's been -- yes -- naughty or nice.
"It's pretty special," Gross tells Zap2it about acting again with Baxter, with whom he also shares a birthday (June 21, 1947). "One of the nice things about 'Family Ties' has been the relationship with the cast members over the years, most particularly Meredith.
"She was just a special person, and still is. I didn't realize, until I read her book, how important our friendship was to her at the time. I'm just grateful I was remembered fondly; I'm sure there are a few other people out there who, if they wrote books, they would not remember me quite so well. I guess I had her back, and I didn't even know it."
Baxter confirms that, and not only in her memoir "Untied," which was published last year. "He is probably the nicest man I know," she says of Gross. "He's my favorite of all my husbands ... gentle, smart, loving, kind, generous, insightful and funny." And when it's mentioned how relieved Gross was to look so good in her book, Baxter notes with a chuckle, "He's one of the few."
When Gross received the "Naughty or Nice" offer, Baxter already had been cast. "I read the script and thought to myself, 'This could really be fun, just hangin' out with my old pal again,'" he recalls. "You form working relationships with people and get to be very savvy about each other.
"I did Michael J. Fox's final episode of 'Spin City' with him -- he'd invited me to come on -- and I knew how a phrase would come out of his mouth before he did. It's just fun, like playing tennis with someone you enjoy or having dinner with a good friend. And what a shame that we can't do it more often."
About her "Naughty or Nice" reunion with Gross, Baxter says, "I don't know if they thought, 'Oh, here's some funny "stunt" casting! Let's do this!' I don't care, though. Anything that brings us together is wonderful."
On other counts as well, Baxter enjoyed making "Naughty or Nice," deeming co-star Burton "so down-to-earth and quite lovely, and she handled what I thought was a challenging role seamlessly. And she didn't make it silly nor treacly, as these movies sometimes can be. The situation should carry the emotion. Don't show people how they should feel; let them feel it themselves."
Gross isn't a newcomer to performing in seasonal stories, having also done the ION Television movie "12 Wishes of Christmas" last year. "I just love the hope that comes with a lot of Christmas stories." he reflects. "A lot of people find them hackneyed, but I need inspiration in my life sometimes from a simple story well-told that brings people together at the end. There's enough fighting going on. Just look at Congress!"
Also seen a couple of weeks ago on CBS' "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," Gross says he and Baxter "kind of take it for granted" when it comes to their mutual birthday. "It's been kind of a long-running thing that I congratulate her on it, or that I seem to, before she congratulates me. She's always angry at herself, because she can't seen to get a card or a telephone call to me before I get one to her. But I don't hold it against her."
There's also no resentment on Baxter's part. She and Gross also got back together at last year's TV Land Awards celebration of "Family Ties," and with tongue in cheek, she points out, "I do believe he's older. He was born in Chicago, so I think the time difference does make him that. By a fair amount."