Is the return of a beloved television and movie star to the medium that made him a household name in the first place “event television”? NBC certainly hopes so when it comes to Michael J. Fox. Not only did they pick up his new semi-autobiographical half-hour comedy straight to series and title the show after him to welcome his fans back to the network, but they gave him a prime time slot, which should set him up for immediate success, as well. He’s “still got it,” as the show tagline says…at least they certainly hope he does.
“We didn’t want to put him so much in the line of fire,” NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt said at at the network’s TCA presentation in Los Angeles earlier today, acknowledging that Thursdays are the “most scrutinized night of television” in general.
But let’s face it, today’s television audience is more critical than it is nostalgic, and though Fox is beloved, he is coming back in now playing a version of himself: a guy with Parkinson’s and a big family, debating going back to work on-camera at NBC for the first time since his diagnosis. It’s meta, and some might worry calculated.
But Fox said that was not the intention: “I said ‘I’m just going to do this like I would do it and let it be what it is.’ There wasn’t a whole lot of strategy behind it…We found the story we wanted to tell, and we just told it. The humor came from sitting down and I said ‘Here’s the kind of stuff I deal with on a daily basis.”
In the pilot episode, there is a lot of humor at Fox’s expense, or more specifically at the expensive of what he goes through as both a famous man and a man with Parkinson’s. Punchlines range from shaky hands accidentally dialing 911 and having cops show up who want his autograph, to his character lamenting returning to NBC because the promos will feature him in slow-mo with schmaltzy music, things usually reserved for “the dead or the indicted.”
“The one thing that this show plays on when it deals with Parkinson’s…is it’s about perception, and a lot of time when you have a disability it’s dealing with projections of what people think it is and their fear about it and not seeing the experience you’re having. There’s nothing horrifying; it is my reality; it is what I deal with; it is my life, but it’s not Gothic nastiness…There’s nothing horrible about shaky hands and there’s nothing horrible with someone saying, ‘God I’m really tired of these shaky hands,'” Fox said.
“I don’t vet creative instinct, I just go with it, but I feel that this is a reflection of my experience, and certainly in the pilot it was more prevalent than it is in subsequent scripts.”
The Michael J. Fox Show has already shot six episodes, and Fox admitted to having to pace himself differently, but more because of his age than his Parkinson’s.
“I knew one of two things were going to happen, I was going to atrophy over the course of the year or build the muscles, and I’m finally rebuilding the muscles and getting more comfortable with the schedule and getting back to work,” Fox said.
Fox’ real life family has been incredibly supportive of the show, despite the fact that the “insanity” of their lives is basically being mined for comedy. His wife has already shot a guest spot on the show, and Fox noted that his kids certainly see “germs” of their own experiences and interactions in the characters, too. It is a way of “honoring” Fox (who considers himself a “cautionary tale that didn’t end badly”) and his funny family.
Similarly, to have Fox’ character on the show go back to work at NBC is a way to “honor” the network that gave them 22 episodes, rather than a way to continuously mock them (perhaps, say, like 30 Rock before them). The show is grounded in reality by keeping the real network name, as well as Fox’ real name and family situations, and this means a lot of other celebrities will come on the show to play versions of themselves, as well, such as Matt Lauer in the pilot and Chris Christie in a later episode, during which Fox’ character nods off during an interview with the governor.
But Anne Heche will be playing a brand new character, a “nemesis” of Fox’ from 20 years ago when “an incident occurred…in Orlando when she may or may not have used him to get a job.” Now when they cross paths again she’s an anchor, and they’ll be butting heads.
The Michael J. Fox Show will air on NBC on Thursday nights at 9:30 p.m. It premieres on September 16th 2013 with two back-to-back episodes starting at 9 p.m. and then takes the time slot premieres the following week.
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