New Michael J. Fox show highlights humor in Parkinson’s fight

"The Michael J. Fox Show" is loosely based on the actor's life.  Credit: Reuters
“The Michael J. Fox Show” is loosely based on the actor’s life.
Credit: Reuters

Actor Michael J. Fox said he aimed to bring laughs and a dose of reality about day-to-day living with Parkinson’s disease to a new NBC comedy loosely based on his life, his first lead role in a television show in 13 years.

In the upcoming “The Michael J. Fox Show,” the actor plays a father with Parkinson’s who returns to work as a local newscaster on an NBC TV station in New York. To his surprise, his fictional family reacts with relief that he will be getting out of the house.

The show draws from Fox’s own experience to generate laughs and give viewers a sense of everyday life with Parkinson’s, a nerve disorder that causes tremors. In one scene, gun-toting police show up at his character’s home after his shaky hands accidentally dial 911.

“The reality of Parkinson’s is that sometimes it’s frustrating, sometimes it’s funny,” Fox, 52, said on Saturday at the semi-annual Television Critics Association press tour.

The show will not veer into dark humor, he said, because he did not see his disease that way.

“There’s nothing horrible on the surface about someone with shaky hands,” he said. “There’s nothing horrible about someone in their life saying, ‘God, I’m really tired of this shaky hand thing’ and me saying, ‘Me, too.’ That’s our reality.”

The show, which debuts Sept. 26, is a high-profile bet by Comcast-owned NBC to lift its prime-time ratings. For the TV season that ended in May, NBC finished last in total viewers and third among the four big broadcasters in the advertiser-prized 18- to 49-year-old range, according to Nielsen.

The Canadian-born Fox won over audiences in the 1980s for his role as conservative Alex P. Keaton on NBC sitcom “Family Ties,” and as teen adventurer Marty McFly in the “Back to the Future” movies.

He later starred in the ABC political comedy “Spin City,” but semi-retired from acting in 2000 as his Parkinson’s symptoms worsened and he focused his efforts on research for a cure.

Fox said guest roles on shows like “The Good Wife” made him want to do more. He said medications helped control his symptoms and he felt ready to commit to a lead role. NBC has already ordered 22 episodes of the new show.

“It’s what I’ve loved to do,” he said. “I thought: ‘Why can’t I? There’s no reason not to do it.’”

Parkinson’s will figure less prominently in later episodes, Fox said. His real-life wife and “Family Ties” co-star, Tracy Pollan, will make an appearance. His wife on the show is played by “Breaking Bad” actress Betsy Brandt.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will also guest star, playing himself in one episode.

Fox said his real-life family supported his return to a regular series role. “There is a kind of scrutiny of their stuff that won’t exist if I’m occupied doing something else,” he joked.



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