On a humid Wednesday in August, the writers are weary from having worked until 4 a.m. the night before to get this week's comedy lines right. Still, the mood is upbeat and excited. "Spin City" has had no cast changes and no retooling since the pilot--unlike the Cosby show, which changed writers and supporting players, and Danson's "Ink," whose premiere is being delayed so that the show can be revised by "Murphy Brown" creator Diane English.
"People know that careers can be made on this show," Lawrence says. "But Gary is a great, calm presence--whatever happens, he's been there. Michael is just as nice and as charming as his TV image, which is great because stars can be a disappointment."
FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Sunday September 22, 1996 Home Edition Calendar Page 87 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 16 words Type of Material: Correction
Misspelled name--The name of one of Michael J. Fox's daughters was misspelled last Sunday. Her name is Aquinnah.
Goldberg also praises Fox's comedic talent, declaring: "He's like Michael Jordan--you don't see the moves coming. Nobody says lines that I write the way Mike says them."
Then the 52-year-old producer makes another, deeper observation of Fox's appeal.
"Mike is very good at playing a character in conflict with himself," Goldberg says. "On 'Family Ties,' he was greed with the face of an angel. Alex could lie and manipulate, but you knew that he wanted to belong to that family, and the audience rooted for him. We found the same thing [in audience research] with the pilot for 'Spin City.' Roughly half the people thought Mike's character was altruistic, cared deeply about the city and had the mayor's interest at heart. The other half thought he was self-serving, conniving and cared only about himself. And both sides loved him."
"I like playing a character in politics," says Fox, who shares Goldberg's liberal views and played a George Stephanopoulos-like advisor in last year's "The American President." "The Carvilles and the Matalins are great showmen. . . . People in politics are articulate, energetic--and sometimes," Fox adds, laughing, "they have loose morals."
Goldberg and Fox, who had kept in touch through the years, were brought together for TV again by DreamWorks partner Jeffrey Katzenberg. Fox already had thought about doing another series. He had been approached last fall about teaming with Disney and producer Matt Williams ("Roseanne," "Home Improvement"). Having spent seven months on location in New Zealand with the movie "The Frighteners," Fox was receptive. But the script he received, in which he was to play a writer and former hockey player, "was not what I'd expected," he says.
At dinner one night last February, Katzenberg told Goldberg that the Disney deal had fallen through.
"I thought it would be great to work with Mike again," Goldberg says, "and Jeffrey said Mike had said he really wanted to work with me. In retrospect, I bet Jeffrey embellished each of our comments to the other--but what he told us was what each of us was feeling."
Goldberg and Lawrence--who had worked together on "Champs," the short-lived series that DreamWorks produced for ABC last season--came up with the concept for "Spin City" and soon were on a private jet to New York to run the idea by Fox. Getting his approval, they repaired to Goldberg's farm in Vermont to begin writing and soon were sending him their work.
"I was laughing as the pages came over the fax," Fox recalls.
The evolution of TV comedy was one factor in Fox's decision to do a new sitcom.
"Comedies are much more sophisticated and smarter" than in the days of "Family Ties," Fox says. "I've been blown away by some of the stuff I've seen on 'Seinfeld' and 'Friends.' "
Another major factor was the regular hours: "I want to spend time at home with my family," he says, "and the regular hours on TV are great if you have small kids."
Fox has been married since 1988 to Tracy Pollan, who played his first serious girlfriend on "Family Ties." The couple have a 7-year-old son, Sam, and 18-month-old twin daughters, Aquillah and Schuyler.
Viewers who remember only Fox's squeaky-clean "Family Ties" image may be surprised by the humor of "Spin City," which, when it isn't political, is often racy. Fox and Gugino frequently are in a romantic tangle in the sheets, although the show is also about how much trouble the equally driven, equally smart characters have finding time to be together.
"The network is a little nervous about some of the humor," Goldberg confides, "and we may get some letters from people who don't want Michael to be different. But we didn't want to do 'Family Ties' again. This is a romantic comedy."
In the episode being produced this week, Fox's character has trouble performing in bed after being selected "The Sexiest Man in New York" by a magazine.
Network representatives are worried about a line in the script about Fox's character trying to solve his problem by imagining having sex with his girlfriend in front of Catholic schoolgirls. But they decide to let it stand, and the episode ends with Fox and Gugino dancing out of a banquet to restore Mike's self-image by making love (off-screen) in the bathroom.