Michael J. Fox knows exactly where he was when he first started thinking about returning to television: New Zealand. The actor spent seven months there last year filming The Frighteners — and dreaming about a steady job Stateside near his wife, ex-Family Ties costar Tracy Pollan, and their three kids. ”I was thinking, F—, that sounds great,” says Fox. ”And you can only watch so many documentaries about kiwis before you go crazy, so people were sending me tapes of all the new Seinfelds and Frasiers and Friends. I saw all this great writing I hadn’t seen in features for seven years.”
Fox’s new ABC sitcom, Spin City, wasn’t the first TV comeback vehicle he considered. He had been approached by the creators of Home Improvement to star in a comedy about an ex-hockey player, and the skate-happy actor was initially intrigued. But when Fox read the pilot script, he passed. ”I wanted to do something a little more edgy and adult,” he says.
Enter Fox’s old friend Gary David Goldberg. The Family Ties executive producer’s deal with DreamWorks had so far yielded only last season’s ABC airball Champs. Goldberg was eager to reunite with Fox for a sitcom about a deputy mayor of New York City. Fox had one reservation: He didn’t want the character to be too similar to the Stephanopoulosian adviser he had just played in the feature film The American President.
But after Goldberg and cocreator Bill Lawrence faxed Fox the first act of Spin City’s script, he was sold. ”The movie character was so friggin’ earnest,” says Fox. ”This guy is borderline reprehensible. He’s a very different animal.”
Fox and Goldberg admit that Spin City’s Mike Flaherty is not very different, however, from Family Ties’ Alex P. Keaton. ”Both have a certain egocentricity and a can-do attitude with a lack of any introspection,” says Fox. ”But there’s a certain weight to the decisions this guy makes as opposed to ones that Alex was in the position to make.” Adds Goldberg, ”Somebody said to me, ‘My God, it’s Alex Keaton with power!’ That’s kind of scary.”
Spin City also reunites Fox with another former colleague — sort of. Carla Gugino (who plays Flaherty’s city hall reporter girlfriend) and Fox provided voices for a pair of amorous dogs in this year’s Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco, but they had never met. ”We had love scenes,” says Gugino. ”Well, licking scenes.” Jokes Fox, ”There were outtakes where we had to be separated by a hose to make the G rating.”
Spin City would never earn that rating — the words orgasm and erection are uttered in the pilot. Yet Fox says he’s not worried about airing after the family-friendly Home Improvement, even though The Dana Carvey Show came under fire for doing blue humor in the same slot last season. ”I promise not to suckle anybody,” says Fox, referring to Carvey’s lactating Bill Clinton sketch. ”This is the pledge I’ve made.” Besides, ”if there’s somebody in front of the television at 9:30 p.m. who has never heard the word erection before, then they should go to bed.”