11:46am PT by Michael O'Connell
Michael J. Fox Assures Critics He's Game for 22 Episodes
Landing a 22-episode order well before May's traditional pick-ups, The Michael J. Fox Show is one of the more high-profile and long-gestating projects NBC brought to Saturday's session at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour. And while the star has thus far received a warm welcome in his return to television, questions about his health (and how much humor can be found in it) dominated the panel discussion.
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"Sometimes it's frustrating, and sometimes it's funny," Michael J. Fox said out of the gate in response to the comedy's portrayal of his real-life battle with Parkinson's disease. "I look at it that way, and I think other people need to look at it that way. … If someone wants to be outraged, they can be outraged. I don't think it's that outrageous."
The pilot, admittedly, tries to draw much humor from the inconveniences of Parkinson's -- but all on stage, including executive producers Will Gluck and Sam Laybourne and stars Betsy Brandt and Wendell Pierce, were quick to note that it takes more of a backseat moving forward.
"Episodes coming up, it's just going to be the family and Mike with a unique perspective," said Gluck. "It's always going to be there, but it's not the spotlight."
"It's about perception," Fox added. "A lot of times when you have a disability, you deal with other people's perceptions of what that disability is. There's nothing horrifying about it to me. It is my reality. It is my life. There's nothing horrible about a shaky hand, and there's nothing horrible about saying 'I'm tired of this shaky hand.'"
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The Michael J. Fox Show, premiering Sept. 26, is now well into production, and its star assured reporters that adjusting to a more rigorous work schedule has thus far not proved problematic.
"We've done six episodes now," said Fox. "I knew one of two things would happen over the year: I would atrophy or I'd rebuild the muscles -- and I'm rebuilding the muscles."
Speaking more to what's on deck for the freshman comedy, the panel offered news on upcoming guest stars -- Fox's wife and former Family Ties co-star Tracy Pollan recently filmed an episode -- and details on a recurring character played by Anne Heche.
"Anne Heche has been fantastic," said Gluck, visibly reluctant to speak too much about the big arc. "We've shot a couple episodes with her now. I don't want to give too much away, but we were really excited about getting a nemesis for Mike."
Despite long-delayed vehicle Save Me getting a summer burn-off, Heche remains a favorite at NBC. The actress just inked a multiyear first-look deal at Universal Television, and Gluck noted that brass Bob Greenblatt and Jennifer Salke were both keen on finding the perfect person to play a foil to Fox.
Gluck also got one of the bigger laughs of the panel when asked about the self-promotional decision to make Fox's character an NBC newscaster, and not someone affiliated with a fictional network.
"A fictional television network didn't give us 22 episodes," he said.