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Why NBC canceled 'The Michael J. Fox Show' ... honestly



Quick: What was Michael J. Fox's character's name in Family Ties? Yes, Alex P Keaton. What about Back to the Future? All together: Marty McFly. Okay. Tougher one. Doc Hollywood? (Dr. Benjamin Stone.) Spin City? (Mike Flaherty.) Kudos if you got all those. Now about what his character in The Michael J. Fox Show?

The answer is Mike Henry, a TV newscaster who comes out of self-imposed retirement after being being diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. Of course, maybe 1 in 100 of you knew that. Create a memorable character (a cocky young Republication, an incredulous time-traveling guitar player) and the world remembers and celebrates you. Play a honest version of yourself and aim for the corners with insider laughs and suddenly you're in the same league as Hello Larry and Arli$$. It's totally not fair. Not in the least. The universe itself has been wronged, you could argue. And yet, that's essentially why NBC pulled The Michael J. Fox Show from its schedule this week. (In the network's defense, the ratings were pretty poor -- a 0.6 adult demo rating, whatever that means. The show's creator, Sam Laybourne, went on the record Thursday to say he's trying to save the show.)

I don't know a single soul who doesn't love Fox and wouldn't crawl a mile through broken glass to see him beat his medical condition and find success on TV or in the movies again -- or even to just live a long life in privacy with his kids and wife. And yet, I couldn't bring myself to watch more than two episodes of The Michael J. Fox Show. It just felt like I was laying down bets on someone's mortality, and being asked to laugh along. Maybe it's just my personal shortcoming, but I couldn't do it. I felt somewhat the same about watching Corky in Life Goes On. Maybe I'm a bad person. But I bet I'm also the average TV fan.

Deep down, I'm betting Fox knew the show didn't have legs for a long run. Simply to do might have been a victory in itself. Before the show launched, Fox spoke with Rolling Stone magazine and explained his feelings and reservations.

"People said, 'Are you sure you can handle this?'" Fox told the magazine. "'Are you sure you can take it on? Are you sure you can deal with it?' And I said, 'No, I'm not sure I can, but I want to and I have an opportunity to.' And another side of it, that I don't deal with every day but is certainly present, is that on some level it might be empowering for people. The point is, we all have our bag of hammers. We all have our own s--t. It's like the parable about this circle of people and everyone takes their worst problem and puts it in the middle and they all get to choose one to take back – and they all end up choosing their own. And that's kind of it. You'd always take your own problems back over someone else's."

I'm just betting that Fox feels better about picking up the hammers today than NBC does about throwing them in the circle.

[Last modified: Thursday, February 6, 2014 2:54pm]


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