Josh Wolk
January 24, 2000 AT 05:00 AM EST

Why ABC should shut down ”Spin City”

ABC has said that it’s not sure whether it will continue ”Spin City” after Michael J. Fox leaves at the end of this season, and Fox has graciously said that he doesn’t mind if his signature show goes on without him. Well of course he doesn’t mind… it would last all of five minutes. You wouldn’t care if a decorator said he was going to redo your home in a ”Sad Clown” motif next week if you had already hired an arsonist to burn the thing down the next day.

Sure, ”Spin City” has one of the strongest ensembles on TV backing Fox up right now, but imagine them without their lead. It’s the Bulls without Michael Jordan. It’s the cabinet without the President. It’s Pink Lady without Jeff. Some would argue that Heather Locklear could remain a viable anchor. But though Locklear is a good comic foil for Fox, she can’t handle the laugh load herself. With her flying solo, you’ve got ”Suddenly Susan.” And no society deserves two ”Suddenly Susan”s in a lifetime.

True, there are a few sitcoms that could lose a lead and keep on going. Frankly, Dharma’s charismatic enough to survive without Greg. And David Spade and Wendie Malick don’t need Laura San Giacomo to make ”Just Shoot Me” funny. ”Friends” has so many leads that it might survive one loss (but after two they’d be pushing their luck). And we all got screwed when they dumped the Pizza Place instead of the Two Guys and a Girl. But those are the exceptions. ”Everybody Loves Raymond” needs Raymond, for far more than titular reasons. ”Norm” needs Norm MacDonald, because the show is unwatchable even now if he’s off screen for a minute. If you ditched either of the leads in ”Will & Grace,” you’d lose a lot more than just an ampersand. And ”Spin City” needs Fox.

But a spin-off might be a possibility. (Odd couples always work, so why not an Alan Ruck and Michael Boatman half hour?) It would have to be a different entity than ”Spin City,” with the characters moving to a setting outside of the Mayor’s office. ”Frasier” works because NBC gave his character a new life way the hell out of Boston and away from his barfly compatriots. Can you imagine how hollow it would have been had they left Frasier, Cliff, Norm, and Carla in the bar without Ted Danson? Like one long hangover. And the key is, a spin-off can only resurrect one or two characters, even if the locale changes, because too many holdovers only reminds viewers of who’s missing. If you don’t agree, think of ”After M*A*S*H” and then apologize. Okay, you’re forgiven.

Of course, this argument is likely moot, as ABC probably won’t keep ”Spin City” going without Fox — in any form. There would only be one precedent for it that comes to mind: When Valerie Harper left the 1986 sitcom ”Valerie” after just one season, it kept going for four more after plugging in Sandy Duncan and changing the name to ”The Hogan Family.” But here’s where it gets eerie: Jason Bateman was the breakout star of that sitcom, the success of which helped him get the lead in the sequel ”Teen Wolf Too,” replacing the lead of the original, who was Michael J. Fox. Is there a lesson in this coincidence? Not likely, but the very presence of the phrase ”Teen Wolf Too” anywhere near anything is never a good sign.

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