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Spin City aired from September 1996 until July 2002 on ABC.
This topical comedy lampooned the politically cynical '90s, much as Michael J. Fox's earlier hit Family Ties had so accurately reflected the materialistic '80s.Deputy Mayor Mike Flaherty ( Michael J. Fox) was a spinmeister, for bumbling New Yok City Mayor Winston ( Barry Bostwick), a distinguished looking politician who was well-meaning but prone to political gaffes. Meeting a priest and a rabbi at an official function, hizzoner tried to make a joke (" So both of you guys are in a rowboat...")asked by a reporter if he'd be marching in a gay parade , he blurted out, "What are you, drunk?" Mike was always there to cover for him, explaining what he really meant , trying to patch things up, even if it meant getting the good mayor to jump into the Hudson River to prove he really did think it was clean. With his boyish good looks and impish grin, the young Deputy Mayor was hard not to like.Much of the comedy took place in the Mayor's office , where Mike prosided over a motley staff. Stuart ( Alan Ruck) was the sycophantic ambitious number two man; Paul ( Richard Kind) the loud, chunky, clueless press secretary; James ( Alexander Chaplin) the curly-haired idealistic young speechwriter from the Midwest who was shocked by his sold-out colleagues; Nikki ( Connie Britton) the accountant with a chaotic personal life; and Carter ( Michael Boatman) the gay-black activist-attorney who was brought in to patch things up with the minority community after hizzoner made one too many "misunderstood" remarks.
Many stories revolved around their personal lives. Mike went through numerous girlfriends, beginning with aggressive reporter, Ashley ( Carla Gugino), and later including Nikki, a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, and the manager of the election campaign of the Mayor's chief political opponent. Mayor Winston divorced his shrewish wife Helen ( Deborah Rush)at the end of the first season, and also entered the dating scene. Paul and Claudia ( Faith Prince) had a long and tempestuous relationship finally marrying in 1998. Carter had a number of boyfriends, which didn't stop him from sharing an apartment and several business schemes with the loudly heterosexual Stuart ( one of their schemes was a bar in a gay neighborhood, which Carter pushed with the line "I'm here, I'm queer, lets sell a little beer!"). Janelle ( Victoria Dillard) was Mike's original secretary, later promoted to mayoral assistant( she ended up having an affair with the Mayor)and replaced by Brooklyn spitfire Stacy ( Jennifer Esposito). Rags was Carter's decrepit dog.
In the fall of 1999 Mike hired sexy, aggressive Caitlin ( Heather Locklear) to be campaign manager for the Mayor's illfated senatorial bid only to find her jockying with him for power. Later they dated.At the end of the season a mob-related scandal threatened to bring down the Mayor, and Mike took the fall, , leaving city hall to become an environmental lobbyist in Washington D.C.( actor Michael J. Fox, diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, had announced he was leaving the series). His chief nemisis in congress: conservative senator Alex P. Keaton! At the same time James, Nikki and Janelle all disappeared from the cast with no explanation, as had Stacy a year earlier.
The following fall viewers were introduced to Mike's replacement, Charlie ( Charlie Sheen), who proved to be a troubleprone womanizer with a lot of former girlfriends. He sparred with Caitlin, who broke off her long-distance relationship with the now-absent Mike and for a time dated Tim ( Scott Wolf). Also joining the cast was new assistant Angie (Lana Parrilla) but she vanished without a trace after one season. In November Claudia left Paul to become a nun. During the 2001-2002 season Mike visited, the mayor ran successfully for reelection while he dated Judge Claire ( Farrah Fawcett) and Charlie dated the Mayor's opponent's campaign manager, Jennifer ( Denise Richards, whom Charlie Sheen would eventually marry). Charlie and his office rival Caitlin had a secret affair, but as the series came to a close their future was unresolved.
Spin City was created by Gary David Goldberg ( who had also created Michael J. Fox's former hit series Family Ties) and Bill Lawrence ( who in 2001 would create Scubs for NBC).
A Review from Variety
By JEREMY GERARD
Powered By Spin City (Tues. (17), 9:30-10 p.m., ABC) Videotaped at Chelsea Piers, New York by Ubu Prods./Lottery Hill Entertainment, in association with DreamWorks. Created by Gary David Goldberg and Bill Lawrence; executive producers, Goldberg, Michael J. Fox; supervising producer, Lawrence; director (premiere), Thomas D. Schlamme; producer (premiere), Linda Nieber; associate producer (premiere), Randall Winston; story editors (premiere), Amy Cohen, Michelle Nader; director of photography (premiere), Mikel Niers; production designer (premiere), Tom Azzari; costumes (premiere), Molly Maginniiis; casting (premiere), Susan Vash and Bonnie Finnegan; editor (premiere), Jay Sherberth; music, Shelly Palmer. Cast: Michael J. Fox, Carla Gugino, Barry Bostwick, Richard Kind, Michael Boatman, Alan Ruck, Connie Britton, Alexander Gaberman, Victoria Dillard, Taylor Stanley.
ABC has a lot riding on Michael J. Fox's return to series TV seven years after the final telecast of "Family Ties." In button-down conservative Alex Keaton, the young Fox and executive producer Gary David Goldberg tapped into the Reagan-era Zeitgeist and struck a ratings motherlode. With "Spin City," Fox and Goldberg take a similarly cynical, against-the-current tack, and the results are unformed, but hold some comic promise: It's a decade later, and image-mongering has replaced greed as a key motivating social force. Fox plays Mike Flaherty, a glib New York City deputy mayor whose waking hours are devoted to making sure that no news out of city hall ever reflects poorly on the boss. In this regard vigilant, wily underling constantly saves butt of dull-witted elected official "Spin City" actually harks back to an earlier ABC series, the Robert Guillaume vehicle "Benson." But the new show aims for a younger and presumably more urbane audience, so the humor cuts sharper, the sex unfolds faster and the political stakes rise considerably higher. The show opens with sanitation workers on strike and Mike going into overdrive to play down the seriousness of the crisis. Feeding the bumbling press secretary (Richard Kind) anything resembling the truth is an infraction that will cost staffers $ 10 in the kitty. Testing their mettle is an aggressive city hall reporter (Carla Gugino) who also happens to be Mike's longtime g.f. Their affair allows for some mild bedroom hijinks; Fox is no Tom Hanks, but he's a seasoned physical comedian , and Gugino's game. The first episode wisely seems to sew up the question of whether the couple will officially move in together. (They do; let's hope they stay put, so the commitment thing doesn't unbalance the spin thing.) When the mayor (Barry Bostwick, wasted in a one-note role) makes an offhand comment that offends gays ("Great, there go all our free show tickets," a staffer laments), Mike is revealed in all his essential, Alex Keaton-ish emptiness. First he coerces a hapless aide into pretending he's homosexual; then he convinces a gay activist (Michael Boatman, in what one hopes will be a regular turn) to join the administration and work from the inside. Uh huh. Had Goldberg given Fox a foil in the mayor's character, rather than a fool, "Spin City" might have had a real charge, and maybe that's still in the cards. While some of the humor scores, too much is of the red-herring variety one-liners that don't really have anything to do with anything. And anyone even mildly versed in Gotham politics will find "Spin City" low on the believability scale, which is probably a good thing, as you'd need a Robert Altman to find much humor in the real thing. Still, there are some genuinely funny lines, and few actors project more ease on the small screen than Fox. He still impresses as someone whose ties and trouser legs are always too long, but that's Mike Flaherty's saving grace. Whether dissembling to a press secretary or hyperventilating when his girlfriend announces she's moved in, Mike is perpetually poised one step between adulthood and detention. Jeremy Gerard Spin City
A Review from The New York Times
The City Hall Doctor, Forever on Call
By JOHN J. O'CONNOR
Published: September 17, 1996
The fate of ABC's ''Spin City,'' linchpin in the network's campaign to halt NBC's ratings juggernaut, could very well depend on what the American public thinks about Dick Morris, the Clinton spinmeister caught with his family values around his ankles.
Spin, you see, is just another word for playing with the truth, reshaping events to put them in the best possible light. Spinning has become a popular currency in contemporary society. If you find that funny, you will love Michael J. Fox playing Michael Flaherty, the incessantly conniving deputy mayor of New York City. Michael is the kind of guy who, when told that New York spews more garbage than any other city in the nation, can bounce back with the cheerful declaration, ''We're No. 1!''
Mr. Fox, reeling from several forgettable movies, is back in the capable hands of Gary David Goldberg, the producer who in 1982 made him a television star in ''Family Ties.'' Mr. Fox's Alex Keaton, archconservative, was an oddly prescient icon for the decade.
Now, as Michael Flaherty, Mr. Fox is still cute as a button, doing somersaults in his jammies but with a 90's neurotic edge. When his girlfriend, Ashley (Carla Gugino), a sharp newspaper reporter with whom he has been living for a year and a half, suggests formal marriage, Michael gasps, ''I can't breathe.''
Michael's boss is Mayor Randall Winston, played by 6-foot-4 Barry Bostwick, whose mere presence next to the 5-foot-5 Mr. Fox dredges up memories of Mutt and Jeff. The mayor is pure politician, not only donning a yarmulke to attend a Jewish function but also making his exit singing ''Hava Nagila.''
This is a world feeding off images. Does the mayor make a miscalculation when answering a reporter about possibly appearing in a Gay Pride parade (''What're you, drunk?'')? Michael will solve matters by, first, getting a member of his staff to pretend that he is a homosexual, then by co-opting an especially articulate gay critic of the mayor who also happens to be black (Michael Boatman) into a City Hall job. The television ideal: two for the price of one in minority land.
As might be expected with any Gary David Goldberg product, ''Spin City'' is smart stuff. The one-liners zing, Mr. Fox and company are disarming and the 22 minutes flow by effortlessly. The only snag is that concept of spin. Are those who toy with the truth all that funny?
ABC, tonight at 9:30
(Channel 7 in New York)
Created and written by Gary David Goldberg and Bill Lawrence. Directed by Thomas Schlamme. Music by Shelly Palmer; Mikel Niers, director of photography; Randall Winston, associate producer; Linda Nieber, producer; Mr. Lawrence, supervising producer. A production of UBU Productions/Lottery Hill in association with Dream Works. Mr. Goldberg and Michael J. Fox, executive producers.
WITH: Michael J. Fox (Michael Flaherty), Carla Gugino (Ashley Schaeffer), Michael Boatman (Carter Heywood), Connie Britton (Nikki Faber), Alexander Gaberman (James Hobert) and Barry Bostwick (Mayor Randall Winston).
A Review from Entertainment Weekly
A-By Ken Tucker
In another new TV season crowded with wooden stand-up comics learning how to act while starring in sitcoms, it is a blessed relief to see Michael J. Fox back on television in Spin City. Fox plays Mike Flaherty, a hustling little bulldog of a deputy mayor of New York City, and the instant you see him, striding down an office hall, tossing out orders and sarcastic comments, you just relax. That's because you realize immediately you're in the hands of a pro that Fox is one of those TV stars who can take even a lame joke and, through phrasing and timing, get a laugh out of you.
Spin City is at once familiar and fresh. It's a workplace sitcom, as Mike oversees a staff of oddballs and comic losers, the most enjoyable of them a gullible press secretary played with winning smarm by Mad About You's Richard Kind. Better still is Mike's boss, Mayor Randall Winston, a cheerfully stupid fellow played with immense charm and WASP glory by Barry Bostwick.
Add to the mix an aggressive City Hall reporter (played appealingly by Carla Gugino) who just happens to be living with the deputy mayor, and you've got a sitcom that comes as close to classic farce as you'll find these days. In the premiere, it's not just the taut verbal interplay that gets the guffaws; while in bed with Gugino, Fox engages in some deft physical comedy that executive producer Gary David Goldberg stages for maximum sexy but not lewd amusement.
The party line is that Fox is returning to television after a bungled movie career, but that's not quite right. In fact, the kid who became famous in the mid-1980s as Republican wise guy Alex Keaton on Family Ties has done a lot of good work in underrated films, ranging from Brian De Palma's Casualties of War (1989) to this year's fascinating flop The Frighteners. Except for his Back to the Future films, Fox took some admirable artistic chances that didn't pay off in box office success. And for a guy who had been used to stardom, being in chancy movies must have become frustrating. It is revitalizing, therefore, to have the man who made him a star, Ties creator Goldberg, build a solid new show around him.
Mind you, this praise for Spin City is based on its pilot, and there's no doubt the show also benefits from its seasonal context that is, there are an awful lotta mediocre new sitcoms out there. The premiere's neatest trick is that it's a lively show about an overworked guy. Mike looks perpetually tired he blinks and sighs a lot, just as a frazzled policy wonk would. The next few weeks will prove whether Goldberg can keep his tired boy looking good.
Even more interesting, though, is the question of how involved Spin City will remain with political themes. Goldberg, who cocreated the show with Bill Lawrence, seems to be trying to tap into all our doubts about the efficacy of government. In fact, if you can get past Fox's blinding charm, you'll realize the full depth of the pessimism that is the premise of Spin City, beginning with the title itself.
On this show, no piece of political or moral policy exists without ''spin'' the forceful positive interpretation applied by Deputy Mayor Mike and his staff. Indeed, the entire first episode turns on a crisis that pops up when the dim-bulb mayor makes an unintentional slur against gays at a press conference. Rather than merely apologize for the indiscretion, Mike feels he has to come up with a gay staff member to placate potential protestors.
Similarly, when Mike sees an African-American activist eloquently lambasting the mayor's policies on TV (he's played by China Beach's Michael Boatman), his first reaction is to hire the man. Our hero's instinct is to co-opt just the sort of progressive criticism that a younger Mike Flaherty probably held dear to his own heart and mind.
Is such cynicism now the stuff of first-rate TV comedy? We shall see. A-
An Article from The New York Times
The Spin on 'Spin City'
By GAIL COLLINS
Published: September 20, 1996
The first TV show about politics I can remember seeing was an episode of ''Night Stalker,'' a 70's precursor of ''The X-Files.'' The plot involved a candidate who sold his soul to the Devil to get elected to the State Senate. Since then, I have never nurtured any great expectations about what happens when you cross American government with regularly scheduled network programming.
''Spin City,'' which premiered this week on ABC, is supposed to be a situation comedy about New York's City Hall. The reviewers have praised its one-liners and the performance of Michael J. Fox, who plays a Deputy Mayor. New Yorkers have every reason to wish it well, since it is filmed in the city (Jobs, jobs, jobs!) and seems unlikely to feature any depressing subplots about crime or homelessness. (Tourists, tourists, tourists!)
But is the City Hall in ''Spin City'' anything like the real one downtown? Well, its depiction of a deputy mayor's job is more accurate than last summer's movie ''City Hall.'' (Mr. Fox does not seem responsible for solving any murders, and shows no signs of deciding to readjust his moral compass by running for the City Council.) The offices look very much like the real ones downtown. But you would not want children studying this as a lesson in political science.
The ''Spin City'' Mayor is a handsome, dimwitted presence with a Reaganesque out-to-lunch charm, who lets his staff really run the city. ''Name a street after her,'' he advises when Mr. Fox confesses he is having woman trouble. ''Or a park. They love parks.'' In the real New York, Mr. Fox would have to get past the Parks Commissioner, who prefers naming them after deceased Social Democrats.
Politicians whose main attributes are a good head of hair and a smart staff can do very well in the United States Senate. But they cannot be mayor of New York City. Being mayor of New York is a hands-on job, practiced in full view of the voters. A mayor here can get away with being bad-tempered, egotistical, vindictive, peculiar, whiney, a cross-comber or dogmatic, but not dumb. If it were possible to breeze through the job, we would not have so many local politicians saying that all things considered, they would rather have a less stressful position, such as governor.
The central concern of the ''Spin City'' Deputy Mayor, at least in the premiere, is his long-running romance with a City Hall reporter named Ashley. She is pressing for commitment, apparently unaware that a not unsimilar situation got Donna Hanover Giuliani exiled to the Food Channel. Mr. Fox's character and his reporter girlfriend have been living together for more than a year, but the situation seems so far to have escaped the notice of the rest of the press corps. (City Hall reporters are, of course, utterly uninterested in the sex lives of the politicians they cover.)
I am a little nervous about Ashley, particularly since a costume designer for the show called Vivian Toy at the Times City Hall bureau and asked her what a New York Times reporter would wear to work. (''Not a suit,'' said Ms. Toy. ''Oh, well, we have her in a suit,'' said the designer cheerfully.) The idea that women got stories by sleeping with their sources went out around 1948. But to be fair, it does not seem that Ashley is getting any professional advantage out of her relationship. She seems to be much more interested in sex than in scoops -- another image we really do not want to see getting around.
At the end of the first episode, Mr. Fox offers to give up his apartment so he and Ashley can look for a place together -- the romantic equivalent, in this real estate market, of proving your love by walking across the Antarctic in open-toed sandals. A new character arrives in the form of an outspoken gay activist who is being hired ''to make policy,'' although he announces he has no intention of being a loyal team player. ''I'll be your worst nightmare,'' he promises the Mayor, who nods agreeably.
Much as all our recent mayors have assured the public that they delight in a constant barrage of constructive criticism, I can't help feeling there's something wrong with this picture. GAIL COLLINS
An Article from The New York Times
TV City Hall: More Laughs Than Issues
By JOYCE PURNICK
Published: September 26, 1996
THIS column was supposed to be about the daunting issue of workfare, and it would have been had the television set in the gym not been tuned Tuesday night to the new ABC hit, ''Spin City.'' There it was, with Michael J. Fox as a deputy mayor in his fictional City Hall.
Oh dear. Good grief. America, this is not really City Hall, at least not as depicted in Tuesday's episode and two others. In fact, except for the blue in the Blue Room, it is unrecognizable. So, with the excuse that many people believe what they see on screens big and little -- think of Oliver Stone, of Jerry Seinfeld -- here is a reality check on life in city government.
Hint: The real thing is not ''Cheers'' without the bar or ''Friends'' with politics. City Hall is rarely a funny place, mayors are nothing like the foggy-brained Mayor Randall Winston on ''Spin City,'' and first deputy mayors do not look or act like Michael J. Fox. Most are much older, could benefit from a close working relationship with a treadmill and -- unlike the adorable Mr. Fox as Deputy Mayor Michael Flaherty -- tend to let their bosses get the limelight. Such selflessness is a good survival technique in politics.
Another thing. Deputy Mayors work very, very hard. With the Mayor busy holding news conferences and meetings and doing cameos on ''Letterman,'' somebody has to supervise the city agencies. That is the job of first deputy mayors.
Not that deputy mayors are all work. They have their quirks. One deputy mayor, a few years ago, religiously ate a hamburger and fries every day for lunch. Another had a candid fondness for midday cocktails and yet another would periodically disappear for a few days. Just disappear.
It is the nature of City Hall that everybody always knows these personal factoids. City Hall is sort of a small town contained in a building.
Which leads to Flaherty's relationship with Ashley Schaeffer, a City Hall reporter played by Carla Gugino with gleeful sexuality and -- as The New York Times's Gail Collins has ruefully noted -- a fondness for designer clothes. Sure. Elegance in Room 9, the grungy press room where reporters are scrunched into a tiny space and it takes a majority vote to get a window opened.
Anyway, the dismaying thing here is not that a reporter is a fashion plate with oh-so-perfect makeup or that a deputy mayor is her significant other. It happens, though it would be nice if the couple alluded directly to Ashley's conflict of interest. If she had her ethical wits about her, she'd get a reassignment instead of boasting that she can be tough despite her relationship.
THEN again, she has quite a cushy job, asking a question or two and typing between love scenes. Real City Hall reporters tend to work long hours under tense deadlines and are lucky if they can find the time to buy a takeout lunch, much less for love in the afternoon. But in a world where women are still burdened with proving their professionalism, it seems that unless the star of the show has achieved the stature of a Candice Bergen or a Mary Tyler Moore, women are required to flop in and out of bed to earn acceptance -- from viewers? the sponsors? -- for having careers.
Moralizing aside, what is most dismaying about ''Spin City'' is that, as charming as it is, it gives us only a fleeting sense of the city, of the complex problems, the daily tragedies and triumphs that preoccupy mayors, deputy mayors and City Hall reporters. Wouldn't it be compelling if Ashley grilled the Mayor about workfare provisions in the welfare law, about the implications of welfare recipients doing work once done by salaried, unionized workers. Imagine a substantive discussion of the influence of the gay vote, an issue just touched on in the first episode. Or more than a quip-laden debate about trying to limit the spread of AIDS with clean needles, which is raised in a future episode and then dropped with a round of canned laughter.
Silly ideas, I guess. ''Spin City'' is a sitcom that just happens to be set in City Hall, a romantic comedy on television, where Lucy and Desi were the ideal couple and Rhoda took the subway to her wedding and Rhea Pearlman has a thing for Descartes.
No place for daunting issues. Just as there are no laugh tracks in City Hall. The real one, that is.
An Article from Entertainment Weekly
Published on November 15, 1996
CAN MICHAEL J. FOX RELAX NOW THAT SPIN CITY IS A HIT? MAYBE. BUT HIS NETWORK--CURRENTLY CANVASSING FOR A FEW MORE EQUALLY HIP SITCOMS--IS ANOTHER STORY.
By A.J. Jacobs
Michael J. Fox is now, at 35, an elder statesman of sitcoms. And as such, the star is giving a good-natured lecture to fellow Spin City actor Alan Ruck, who has been nervously poring over the latest ratings to see if they've dipped.
''This isn't Muscle!'' Fox scolds during a break on the show's cavernous New York-based set. ''We're not going anywhere!''
''Muscle? What's Muscle?'' asks an onlooker.
''A show I was in on The WB,'' sighs Ruck, who plays Fox's backstabbing foil. ''It failed abysmally. We held our own at 100 -- the lowest-rated show.''
Point well taken: Spin City is here to stay. In a season where some insanely hyped TV comebacks have sputtered (CBS' Cosby, for example, has dropped off about 35 percent since its debut), the snarky city hall sitcom has so far been a landslide victory. The show, which reteams Fox with Family Ties creator Gary David Goldberg, has the star playing Mike Flaherty, a weaselly-but-lovable deputy mayor (think Alex P. Keaton with interns), who is dating no-nonsense reporter Ashley Schaeffer (Carla Gugino). Critics, including ex-New York City mayor Ed Koch and Clinton adviser George Stephanopoulos, have given their votes of approval; and, despite an occasional spotty episode, the sitcom has landed in the top 10 nearly every week, with enviably young demographics to boot.
So maybe Fox need not look at the Nielsens (''The important thing now is that they're not going to cancel us,'' he says). But you can bet that a posse of hand-wringing TV execs are studying the numbers like the Talmud. For this show isn't just any old sitcom. Nor is it simply the first project that DreamWorks' TV division can phone home about. No, Spin City is the vehicle that troubled ABC hopes will take it back to the future and may even soothe the new bosses at Disney. ''We needed Spin City,'' says ABC Entertainment chairman Ted Harbert, who wooed the sitcom to his network. ''We would not be denied. We convinced them they could be the leaders of our comeback.''
Back on the set, a member of the crew glides into the faux city hall offices balancing a tray with cups of water for the cast. ''Time for our meds?'' cracks Fox, who still looks barely past puberty despite some crow's-feet and the occasional worry line. The star wears jeans and a blue blazer; a lone cigarette pokes out of his shirt pocket. He glances down at his pink script. ''I shall make it funny!'' Fox intones in a mock from-the-diaphragm thespian voice. ''I shall make it riotous!''
The nearby writers' office resembles an ''upscale frat house,'' as 27-year-old cocreator Bill Lawrence puts it. Here, on one Friday afternoon, a gaggle of absurdly young scribes cooks up Fox's cynical comebacks over Pringles, Foosball, and little packets of energy-boosting vitamin C. (''We get our cocaine specially packaged,'' jokes one.) In the corner, a white storyboard illuminates future plots: ''Next week on Spin City,'' it reads, ''Nikki reveals she is getting an abortion, and the father is a handicapped, Latino veteran. Also, Paul has a stutter.''
Good golly. A wacky abortion plot on Disney's network? Nah. Turns out the board's proposed story is merely a joke--but a very telling one. Though the sassy number cruncher Nikki (Connie Britton) won't be visiting Planned Parenthood anytime soon, the two-month-old Spin City has already delved into such dicey topics as needle exchange, gay marriage, marijuana, and, of course, sex. Lots of sex. Consider, for instance, the episode in which Fox's Flaherty cracked wise about the bedroom practice of going in "the back door." "I can't believe we were allowed to leave that one in," laughs Gugino.
Welcome to the new ABC. Until recently, the web had carved itself a reputation as the family network, home to sitcoms with precocious kids and plaid-shirted suburban moms and dads (see Home Improvement, Full House, Roseanne, etc.). Nowadays, though, ABC's goal is to lure back the same urban 18- to 49-year-olds NBC locked up with shows like Seinfeld, Friends, and Frasier. (Indeed, in a test screening, 98 percent of the viewers thought Spin City would air on NBC.) "ABC wants several sophisticated adult ensemble comedies--which is not what they have right now," says DreamWorks' head of TV, Dan McDermott. Gushes Goldberg: "If this works out, we'll be the first of a type of show that'll become more the trademark of this network. There was a feeling we'd be a pioneer over here."
A saving grace, too. Ranked No. 1 just two seasons ago, ABC has since lost 24 percent of its viewers and dropped to No. 3, closely behind a resurgent CBS and the still No. 1 NBC. Part of the problem is out-of-gas hits: The formerly top 10 Roseanne is crashing in the ratings, despite its last-ditch Conners-as-Clampetts gimmick. Also fading: Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Family Matters, and Grace Under Fire. "A lot of ABC's strongest shows have declined at the same time," says Steve Sternberg, an analyst with BJK&E Media Group, "and they went two years without any new hits. That really made them take a nosedive."
There's yet another--and equally tricky--hurdle. Since Disney bought ABC last year, the network has been going through an awkward transition--a sort of corporate soul-searching. "[We]don't like to get caught up in the rhetoric of identity," argues Harbert. "We're out to find the best, smartest programs, and if those hit, that will be our identity." Perhaps, but compare that vagueness with NBC's sharp-as-a-Schwarzkopf-campaign marshaling of its Must See TV comedies. Or how CBS has bounced back with a well-planned, boomer-attractive strategy. Consider, on the other hand, that ABC's three breakout sitcoms this year seem to have little in common: the adolescent charmer Sabrina, the Teenage Witch; the Joe Six-pack comedy The Drew Carey Show; and the edgier Spin City. On top of that, Fox's political comedy follows Tim Allen's grassroots Home Improvement, a pairing about as comfortable as Connie Chung and Dan Rather.
The resulting confusion hurts with viewers, who are attracted to a strong brand name, and with advertisers, who follow the crowd. "Do they want to be the more adult network of NYPD Blue and Spin City?" asks Sternberg. "Or do they want to still be more Disney, more family oriented?"
ABC is certain about one thing: It doesn't want to echo CBS' disastrous 1995-96 season. In a similar play for those all-important younger viewers, the Eye network lost its way and ended up where ABC is now--in third place. At least CBS has retreated to shows with older appeal (Ink, Pearl, Cosby). "It really is just NBC and ABC in this race now," claims Harbert.
So what makes ABC think it can survive where CBS died? Well, for starters, there's new ABC Entertainment president Jamie Tarses, the wunderkind exec who shepherded mainstream hipsters Friends and NewsRadio while at NBC. So far, though, Tarses has made curious choices, focusing on hipper-than-thou projects, possibly at the expense of mainstream appeal: a Spike Lee half-hour comedy and a sitcom from Brothers McMullen director Ed Burns. "They come with a very unique vision," says Tarses. The shows "can be commercial and critical hits." But one network exec scoffs, "They seem like art choices."
More broad-based, perhaps, are two ensemble sitcoms slated for mid-season: Jim Belushi will wax offensive as the owner of a Chicago blues bar, and Arsenio Hall will try to make his comeback as a sportscaster--in a show that will reportedly cost the network $900,000 per episode. "Arsenio is definitely a feather in ABC's cap," says a development exec at a TV studio. "Everyone wanted that project."
Given the cyclical nature of television, ABC will no doubt reclaim the Nielsen crown eventually. But that will come a lot sooner, say industry insiders, if the network puts its corporate house in order. Right now, a hodgepodge of executives are vying for control--in addition to Tarses, Harbert, and ABC president Bob Iger are the never-loath-to-interfere Michaels of Disney (chairman and CEO Eisner and president Ovitz). This is a far cry from, say, CBS, where Entertainment president Les Moonves puts his personal stamp on everything. And "if there's an environment of paranoia and competitiveness at the top," warns one network insider, "an organization can get the willies."
All the more reason why ABC isn't going to meddle with one of its few bright spots. "We've got a little breathing room now," says Fox, taking a drag on his third Marlboro Light. ("I smoke more when I'm interviewed," he says. "There's nothing to do but smoke.") "I don't have to worry about someone coming in and saying [speechwriter] James should have ESP or the mayor should have superpowers."
In fact, creative control was one big reason why the in-demand Fox crew chose ABC over NBC--aside from the network's gift of a Martin guitar for the star and the megabuck offer (ABC ordered 22 shows at the monster budget of $1.1 million per episode). "We didn't want a leaflet about who invented Must See TV and what one had to do to play that game," Fox says.
ABC has, however, called a few time-outs. In the episode about pot smoking, the WASPy mayor (Barry Bostwick) told the press corps that of course he inhaled in the '60s. "If you don't, you're just throwing your money away." ABC was not amused and chopped the line. Too bad: The studio audience, swear several members of the cast, was in hysterics for minutes.
There's even been some internal censorship from the show's self- proclaimed "old man." Now a father of three and an executive producer of the show, Fox lowered Spin City's hormone level, suggesting the writers occasionally pry apart Mike and Ashley, who were locked at the pelvis for the first couple of episodes. "The young writing staff loved that aspect of their relationship," says the star. "Which is great. But I want to do it in doses. I love their sexuality, but I don't want it to be lascivious." Adds Gugino, "We wanted to get them out of bed sometimes. Use the living room, for God's sake!"
It's Friday night, and the Spin City filming is loping into its third hour. The audience's attention is beginning to stray, but the star is about to prove why he's worth the mint that ABC dumps into his bank account each week. It turns out that Fox's elementary school librarian has flown in from Burnaby, Canada, to cheer him on. Clad in his character's black power suit, Fox bounds up to a microphone. "I'm sorry," he says to Mrs. McGowan. "I've still got Curious George. I'll give it back to you as soon as I can." The crowd roars. As the sports-metaphor-obsessed Spin City folks like to say, Fox has just slammed another home run.
The writers compare him to Ken Griffey Jr. or Michael Jordan, depending on the day. The idea: He's a master of the sitcom game. He's got that tantalizing pre-punchline pause, that latex face with its furrowed forehead, that endearing in-character stutter. "We started to get laughs on the straight lines," says Lawrence. "Your parents say, 'That was a great joke when he said blank.' And you're like, well, actually, it wasn't a joke."
So darn likable is Fox, his character can even be more ethically dubious than the proto-yuppie Alex P. Keaton. "With Family Ties, we would do three scenes, act break, three scenes, then Alex would apologize," Fox says. "We don't have to do that apology now."
One other sports metaphor tossed around the set: Fox is a team player. Consider the height issue. At 5'5", Fox could conceivably be prickly about his stature. Bostwick, at 6'4", remembers fretting about it during the audition. "I found myself slouching a lot," says the Broadway veteran. "I sat down whenever I could." Instead, Fox loves what he calls the "Mutt and Jeff" aspect of the pairing. "I play it up," he says. (In one scene, the two peer around a door, with Fox's head far below the mayor's.)
No team can win every game, though, and several Spin City episodes hover between inspired and simply okay. Those associated with the sitcom deny this--the party line is that the show just gets better and better--but they will admit to continued tweaking. In the future, watch for Fox to retreat from the center and give the second-stringers more airtime (not to mention a series of stunt guest stars, including Ed Koch, Woody Harrelson, possibly Donald Trump, and, in Goldberg's words, "a Baldwin to be named later"). You might also see slightly less of Fox's home life with Gugino, which some critics have called the weakest part of the show. "There's probably more energy in the political arena than we thought," admits Goldberg, who originally pitched Spin City as a romantic comedy first, a political satire second. "We don't want to do a show that Mad About You has done better." And though Fox promises no "very special episodes," Spin City may occasionally take a dramatic turn. "I'd like to find a way to say this is important stuff without having to walk downstage and say, 'Now I'm going to do some acting,'" says Fox. "It doesn't have to be 'Now we're going to do a show about chlamydia!'"
Back on the soundstage for this episode, the cast is sticking with laughs. But Alexander Gaberman (James) is having trouble. "I don't know the line," he admits. "Excuse me a second," says Fox. He walks over calmly, winds up, and gives Gaberman a roundhouse fake slap. The onlookers roar. Another one out of the park.
if Spin City works out," says cocreator Gary David Goldberg, "we'll be the first of a type of show that'll become more the trademark of ABC. There was a feeling we'd be a pioneer over here."
A lot of ABC's strongest shows have declined at the same time," says one media analyst. "That really made them take a nosedive."
An Article from The New York Times
She Memorizes and He Improvises: Family Ties on 'Spin City'
By LAWRIE MIFFLIN
Published: November 5, 1997
When Tracy Pollan falls into the arms of Michael J. Fox on tonight's episode of the ABC sitcom ''Spin City,'' longtime television fans may smile at the sense of deja vu.
Ms. Pollan, better known for film and theater roles, did spend two years playing Mr. Fox's television girlfriend in the mid-1980's on the sitcom ''Family Ties.'' A few years later she married him.
Her professional and personal identities merge in tonight's episode, when she plays Renee, an old girlfriend of Mr. Fox's character, Mike Flaherty, the frazzled young hot shot Deputy Mayor of New York City. Celebrating his 30th birthday, Flaherty gets a card from Renee reminding him of a promise that if neither was married by age 30, they would meet atop the Empire State Building on his birthday. The twist: several old girlfriends show up, honoring the same promise.
''When I heard the idea, I thought Tracy was perfect, because a lot of people know what she and I looked like 10 years ago,'' Mr. Fox said. ''They can summon up that image. Hey, depending on how big a fan they are, they can go to their video shelf and pull those old episodes out.''
Those old episodes come from the series that made Mr. Fox a household name, playing Alex Keaton, the conservative eldest son on ''Family Ties,'' one of the most popular shows of the 1980's. While he testifies that working with the theater-trained Ms. Pollan significantly improved his acting skills -- ''It's not a coincidence that the year she joined the show is the year I won an Emmy'' -- it was not love at first sight.
Love came later, in 1987, when both were working on the movie ''Bright Lights, Big City.'' They married the next summer. Ms. Pollan, 37, continued to work primarily in the theater and movies; Mr. Fox, 36, had mixed success in the movies and returned to television last year -- in part so that he could stay home, in Manhattan, with his family.
The family includes 8-year-old Sam and 2-year-old twin daughters, Schuyler and Aquinnah. And for Ms. Pollan, the brief toil on ''Spin City'' represented her first return to work since the twins were born in February 1995.
''It's not like I made a deliberate decision to give up acting,'' she said. ''With twins, it was just so much more work, so time-consuming. It doesn't matter if you have people there to help you: there's still another baby there. If something amazing had come along, I probably would have grit my teeth and gone back to work, but nothing was exciting enough to leave something that gives me so much satisfaction.''
Asked why this job -- obviously a sweeps-month stunt for Mr. Fox's show -- was worth a return to work, Ms. Pollan smiled sweetly at Mr. Fox and said, ''It was just one week, if you want to know the truth.''
They both laughed.
But Ms. Pollan grew serious talking about the challenges of returning to work. ''This form,'' she said with a sigh, ''is probably the most difficult thing you can do. It's harder than doing a play, and it's much harder than doing a movie.''
Mr. Fox raised his eyebrows, looking genuinely surprised.
''I'm so happy to hear you say this,'' he said to her. ''I don't necessarily agree. For me, a play would be a killer, but I don't have that muscle the way you have that muscle. It was a nice moment for me, though, when we came home after that first day and you said, 'God, that was a lot of work.' ''
Ms. Pollan has a surplus of sophistication. Manhattan-bred, she comes from a close-knit and accomplished family (her mother, Corky Pollan, writes New York magazine's ''Best Bets'' column; her brother Michael is an author and has written for The New York Times Magazine); she graduated from the Dalton School and New York University, and she has earned a respectable reputation in New York theater.
Series television, she said, ''is a little like doing a small play once a week, but the difference is that a play is much more an actor's medium.''
''The playwright writes it, there may be some changes, and the director is there through the rehearsal period, but after a lot of rehearsing and preparation, you're on your own,'' she said.
''In television, you're expected to perform in a really polished, finished way, and yet the script isn't really completed until Friday. You're handed new pages all the time; the whole structure of scenes can change today for something that will be shot tomorrow. If you gave any theater actor a new scene on Thursday to perform on Friday night, they'd say, 'You're out of your mind.' ''
As with most sitcoms, ''Spin City'' episodes are written, rewritten and rehearsed during the week, then taped (or in this case filmed) before a live audience on Friday evenings. Mr. Fox, a creature of television, says he loves the quick pace and the freedom to work in fresh ideas up to the last minute. Ms. Pollan says she does not.
''The hardest part is my anxiety,'' she said, although she looks like someone who has never been anxious about anything in her life. Moderately tall and slender, with long, subtly streaked blond hair, perfect skin and clear blue eyes, she has an air of natural composure. In contrast to Mr. Fox, wearing a baseball cap, T-shirt, jeans and sneakers, coiling and uncoiling himself in a capacious armchair like a hyperactive child, she looked the picture of serenity.
Yet she is the one who gets tightly wound at work, she said.
''My anxiety level is really high,'' she said. ''Michael has this ability, if something's funny, he'll just remember it. He'll look at it once, and then go on stage and make it funny.
''He has so much freedom as a performer. I sometimes overthink, I get very literal and very analytical. The way I work is, it starts in my head and slowly becomes part of me. So rehearsal very important to me.''
Mr. Fox said he had worried about that throughout the week of working on tonight's episode.
''When you work with someone you love, you want to make sure it's a good experience,'' he said. But in many ways their goals that week were, he said, ''essentially at cross-purposes.''
''Tracy's need is to have the pages and start getting the words down,'' he said. ''But for me, it's about getting the script right. The performance is the last thing I do: I literally do it Friday night, and I don't know exactly what I'm going to do.
''So all week I'm working with the writers, pushing them, saying: 'This could be different. Let's change this.' And Tracy's getting a script and saying, 'Can I memorize this now?' and I'm like, 'Not if I have anything to do with it.' ''
The day they discussed this, a Thursday, Ms. Pollan had spent three hours at home in the morning, working on her part.
''I really felt bad for you today,'' Mr. Fox said, a glint of mischief in his eyes, ''because I left you this morning and you said you were going to spend the morning memorizing, and I'm thinking, 'Yeah and I'm going to spend the morning trying to change it.' ''
An Article from CNN
Michael J. Fox leaving 'Spin City' to be with family, fight Parkinson's
January 18, 2000
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Michael J. Fox, the star of the hit TV show "Spin City" who suffers from Parkinson's disease, says he is leaving the sitcom to spend more time with his family and focus on seeking a cure for the disease.
Fox announced Tuesday that he will not return to the show after the completion of its fourth season. The decision came "after long and careful consideration," Fox said.
"I could not be more proud of the show, our cast, writers, crew, and all that we have accomplished over the last four years, yet I feel that right now my time and energy would be better spent with my family and working toward a cure for Parkinson's disease," he said in a written statement.
"This does not mean I am retiring from acting, producing or directing, only that I want to relieve the strain of producing and performing a weekly network series," Fox said.
Fox, 'Spin City' in line for Golden Globes
"Spin City" is up for a Golden Globe at this weekend's awards ceremony in the category of the best television series, musical or comedy.
Fox is a nominee for best actor, and co-star Heather Locklear is up for best actress. Fox has already won two Golden Globes with the show for best actor and also received two Emmy nominations for outstanding actor.
"Spin City" made its debut on September 17, 1996.
Sitcom's future unclear
It was not immediately clear what the show's fate will be after this season. ABC Entertainment issued a brief statement, saying the star would be deeply missed.
"Michael has been an extraordinary creative partner over the past four years. We know that 'Spin City' has been a labor of love for Michael and we are proud to have been a part of its success," the statement said.
"But there are clearly more important things in life, and we wish Michael and his family our heartfelt thanks and continued support. We look forward to working with Michael in his future endeavors."
Actor is active despite disease
In November 1998, Fox announced he had been suffering from Parkinson's for seven years, and he underwent brain surgery in March of that year to lessen the tremors caused by the illness.
He has since dedicated his time to focusing attention on the disease. He appeared before three congressional subcommittees in late September 1999 and asked for more federal money in the search for a cure for Parkinson's.
"What celebrity has given me," Fox said, "is the opportunity to raise the visibility of Parkinson's disease and focus attention on the desperate need for more research dollars."
Fox became a household name in the 1980s when he starred as Alex P. Keaton, the conservative, heartless son of two hippie parents in the TV sitcom "Family Ties." On that success, Fox built a movie career, with blockbuster hits like "Back to the Future."
A crippling illness affecting 1 million Americans
Parkinson's disease is a progressive, degenerative disease that ultimately renders some patients unable to walk, talk or take care of themselves. Other patients are able to manage their symptoms for many years without becoming disabled.
An estimated 1 million Americans -- including Attorney General Janet Reno and former heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali -- suffer from the disease, which has no known cause and no cure.
For more articles and some links go to https://www.sitcomsonline.com/photopost/showphoto.php/photo/376066/si/go%20to/what/allfields/name/Mr.%20Television
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