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Michael J. Fox Gets A New Comedy: Has NBC Found A Way To Make Some Progress?

Michael J. Fox, seen here in April, will have a new NBC comedy in the fall of 2013.
Andrew H. Walker
Getty Images
Michael J. Fox, seen here in April, will have a new NBC comedy in the fall of 2013.

NBC is in need of a stroke of luck. They need something to work. The Olympics are over; it hasn't appreciably changed anything yet, and there's certainly no swell of excitement about Animal Practice and Go On that leads me to believe previewing them during the Olympics will make them hits any more than that strategy usually does.

They need something to work – not something critically beloved and frustratingly little-watched, like the quirky Thursday comedies they've kept alive despite low ratings. They need something to hit broadly, for a lot of people, for traditional comedy audiences that like traditional television comedy. And they'd prefer to do it without seeming like they were going for the least common denominator.

It was announced yesterday that in the fall of 2013, they're going to offer those traditional comedy audiences a new show starring Michael J. Fox. And according to Vulture, they went to pretty great lengths to make the deal, including committing to the show before anybody even shot the pilot. The show will reportedly feature Fox as a dad and, it seems, will incorporate his Parkinson's.

Of course, you never know what will be luck and what will be disaster. There have been countless failed attempts to bring back beloved sitcom stars in shows that are terrible or unpopular or both. There are no guarantees, of anything. But Fox has always been superb on television; he's perfectly suited to its rhythms, scale and timing. Despite his success in Back To The Future and in a handful of other films including The American President, I've always seen him as somebody who's built for TV in the best way, and who is perhaps destined to return to it, as he did when he became a crucial recurring character on The Good Wife.

Bringing him back makes all the sense in the world creatively. He didn't leave Spin City in 2000 because he didn't want to do it anymore or because he wasn't as good or because the show wasn't as good or because people lost interest in him; he left because he'd been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Since then, he's popped up over and over in limited runs on episodic TV – Scrubs, Boston Legal, Rescue Me, and then his terrific run on The Good Wife. I have no idea, and wouldn't presume to guess, how he's doing these days, but if he's game to come back, he's got as good a chance as anyone I can think of to be welcomed by his audience.

There aren't a lot of things that NBC could announce that would inspire a sense that if they work, they could significantly move the needle for the network that's been wearing a "KICK ME" sign at least since the Great Jay Leno Experiment. But Fox's roots in family TV comedy are deep and well-regarded, and if they get this show right, this could be a big piece of whatever rebuilding they're trying to pull off.

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Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.