If Family Ties' Alex P. Keaton had an alter ego, it would have been Michael Flaherty, the cynical and scheming deputy mayor of New York City. Both characters did have one thing in common: Michael J. Fox. Seven years after leaving Family Ties he proved to television audiences he had not lost one iota of charm, timing or talent. That was a good thing, since Fox's newest series Spin City was sometimes uneven in quality. But it did have its good points, and managed to survive after Fox's untimely departure for health reasons.
"Ties" creator Gary David Goldberg and producer Bill Lawrence (who would later develop Scrubs for NBC) came up with this political comedy about the staff of likeable but clueless New York Mayor Randall Winston (Barry Bostwick). Flaherty was not only busy keeping the mayor out of political hot water; he had to oversee his ragtag staff in the mayor's office. They included ruthless and crude assistant Stuart Bondek (Alan Ruck); bumbling press secretary Paul Lassiter (Richard Kind); young idealist James Hobert (Alexander Chaplin); and accountant Nikki Faber (Connie Britton).
The first episode (which aired September 17th, 1996) found Michael defusing yet another controversy by the mayor; when he was asked by a reporter if he would march in the city's gay pride parade, Winston replied "What, are you drunk?". To "spin" the situation, Michael hired gay and African-American Carter Heywood (Michael Boatman) as the mayor's minority liaison. Meanwhile, Michael's relationship with City Hall reporter Ashley Schaeffer (Carla Gugino) proved to be prickly; Ashley and Michael broke up after the first season-partly because Michael could not commit to Ashley for the long term. He had chosen his career over the woman he loved.
Most of the show's plots involved cleaning up the mayor's weekly messes, or the personal problems of the various staff members. The mayor himself divorced his wife Helen after Season One; Paul fell in love with Claudia Sacks (Faith Prince); the two eventually married. Carter, who became one of American television's most-rounded homosexual characters during the late 1990's, shared an apartment with politically incorrect Stuart. The pair made a true "odd couple" with Stuart's politically incorrect womanizing and Carter's fussiness, along with his aging dog "Rags".
Some critics have compared Michael Flaherty to real-life political "spinmeister" George Stephanopoulos, who worked for Bill Clinton's presidential campaign (and was later an aide to Clinton before leaving the White House for a journalism career).
Fox kept audiences laughing on screen. But it was a more serious matter in 1998 when the much-loved actor announced he had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease nearly a decade earlier. By this time, the symptoms had begun affecting his motor skills to a noticeable degree. Fox decided to put his health and family first, announcing that the 1999-2000 season of Spin City would be his last.
In the fall of 1999, TV series veteran Heather Locklear became a regular as the mayor's sexy campaign manager Caitlin Moore, who directed Mayor Winston's ill-fated run for the U.S. Senate. During the season, Caitlin and Michael clashed for power, then ended up dating. At the end of the season, in an emotional episode, Michael took the fall for a political scandal involving the mayor's office and became an environmental lobbyist in Washington, DC. A future episode later revealed that Michael's congressional nemesis would be a conservative senator by the name of Alex P. Keaton! The final Spin City season won Fox won his fourth Emmy to go with the three he earned during his Family Ties years.
With Fox gone, the producers brought in Charlie Sheen as new deputy mayor Charlie Crawford, whose history of womanizing was catching with him. Charlie and Caitlin would clash and date other people, but later had a secret relationship. But the show wasn't the same without Michael J. Fox, even though Sheen and Locklear proved to be a fine match. Declining ratings led Spin City to call it a day on July 2nd, 2002.
A year later, Charlie Sheen found sitcom success with the hit CBS series Two And A Half Men, while Fox has been a tireless advocate for research into Parkinson's disease. Although he occasionally makes guest appearances on TV (most memorably on Scrubs as a doctor with Parkinson's), Fox remains much loved and missed by audiences who grew up with him since the 1980's.
Published on January 31st, 2019. Written by Mike Spadoni (July 2004) for Television Heaven.