Michael J. Fox Assures Critics He's Game for 22 Episodes
The TV icon talks about returning to a full-time job with Parkinson's and lampooning the disease weekly on NBC: "If someone wants to be outraged, they can be outraged. I don't think it's that outrageous."
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.
"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.'"
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.