LOS ANGELES — To win a four-network bidding war to secure Michael J. Fox’s return to family comedy, NBC made the exceptional decision to commit to producing and airing a full 22 episodes for the fall 2013 season.
And, according to Will Gluck, co-creator of the series with Sam Laybourne, everyone involved is already thinking beyond that initial run of episodes — even though the pilot has yet to be shot.
“Mike signed up for this to go many, many years,” Gluck says from his office at Olive Bridge Entertainment on the Sony Pictures lot. “He’s back to work. We’re all in this for the long haul.”
The currently untitled series returns the veteran sitcom actor to NBC, 30 years after the debut of “Family Ties.” Loosely autobiographical, Fox will play a fictional married father of three children, whose ages, Gluck says, will roughly mirror those the 51-year-old actor has with real-life wife Tracy Pollan. (Figure one pre-adolescent and a couple of teenagers.) Fox’s challenges with Parkinson’s disease will figure into the show too, though no more prominently than any other aspect of his life.
“The great thing about Michael is that, sure, Parkinson’s is a part of his life, but most of the stories in his life involve trying to be a husband and father of three kids, things that have their own set of problems,” Gluck says. “And it’s also a show reflecting his own life of going back to work.”
And since Fox lives and works in New York, the new show, like Fox’s last full-time program, “Spin City,” will be set in the Big Apple. With a single-camera format, Gluck says the city will be part of the show’s fabric.
“It’s where we’re all from,” Gluck says, referring to himself, Fox and Laybourne. “It’s in us. It’s what we know. And the idea is to make this show as real as we possibly can.”
Gluck, who most recently directed the feature comedies “Easy A” and “Friends With Benefits,” says he first met with Fox, who was not available for comment, about three months ago after the actor expressed an interest in returning to network comedy. The two hit it off, and Gluck brought his friend Sam Laybourne (“Cougar Town”) into the conversations. (Gluck and Laybourne worked together on the short-lived Fox TV series “The Loop.”) Once they settled on the autobiographical approach, they began shopping the series to networks.
NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt and Entertainment President Jen Salke, who were not available for comment, won the day by making the full-season guarantee and allowing the show to be shot in New York.
Beyond job security, the 22-episode promise gives the show’s creators the same kind of freedom that premium cable show runners now enjoy — the ability to craft character arcs and story lines that play out over the course of a season. And as the series has more than a year before its debut, Gluck says there’s also a unique luxury of time in play.
Though Fox ended his full-time television work with “Spin City” in 2002, he has remained quite active, guest starring on such series as “Scrubs,” “Boston Legal” and “Rescue Me.” This year, he was nominated for two guest-actor Emmys for his work as a trickster attorney on “The Good Wife” and for playing himself in an episode of Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
Gluck laughs when the “Curb” episode is mentioned. But then, Gluck says he has enjoyed watching Fox for almost his whole life.
“I always joke with him that I grew up watching the reruns of ‘Family Ties,’” Gluck says. “He tells me he grew up watching the reruns of ‘Gilligan’s Island’ and ‘The Brady Bunch.’”
“To me, this is the natural progression for him,” Gluck adds. “He’s gone from growing up on ‘Family Ties’ to getting a job in ‘Spin City’ and now, with the new show, Mike has a family. It’s the perfect next step for him.”
©2012 Los Angeles Times
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