BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- It's been 12 years since Michael J. Fox was a series regular on "Spin City," his last TV series. He took a break after a Parkinson's disease diagnosis but then started popping up in recurring guest roles, most notably on "The Good Wife" and "Rescue Me."
This fall he'll be back to headlining a sitcom in NBC's "The Michael J. Fox Show" (9:30 p.m. Thursdays following a 9 p.m. premiere on Sept. 26). He'll play a former New York local news anchor who returns to work after an extended absence following a Parkinson's diagnosis. Mr. Fox said he's feeling up to the task of leading a prime-time series.
"I'm getting more comfortable with this schedule every day, and every week, and really happy with how it feels to be back at work," he said. But he has no plans to return to movie work. "I can't imagine doing 22 episodes of this and then spending my summer doing [movies] like I did in '87, doing 'Light of Day' and 'Secret of My Success,' and then going back to work [on 'Family Ties']. I mean, it's crazy, and that's how I got into this mess."
The pilot episode of "The Michael J. Fox Show" includes several jokes about Parkinson's, but Mr. Fox doesn't expect any viewers with Parkinson's to take offense.
"This is a reflection of my experience and certainly in the pilot it was more prevalent than it is in the [subsequent] scripts," he said.
"The way I look at the reality of Parkinson's [is] that sometimes it's frustrating and sometimes it's funny. I think other people will look at it that way. But beyond that, I think we all get our own bag of hammers, we all get our own Parkinson's. We all get our own thing. We'll look at that through the filter of that experience. ... If someone wants to be outraged, they can be outraged. I don't think it's that outrageous."
NBC likes it flat
NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt called the 2012-13 TV season "The Year of Improvement" and touted the network's ratings performance, proclaiming only partially tongue-in-cheek that "flat is the new up" and NBC was the only network that wasn't down.
Later a critic challenged that assertion, saying NBC was actually down year-to-year, like all the other networks, during the September-to-May TV season.
Mr. Greenblatt was presumably using July-to-July numbers and he defended their use saying the September-to-May season was arbitrary if traditional.
Regarding NBC's decision to dump Jay Leno from "The Tonight Show" in February 2014, despite his continued ratings lead, Mr. Greenblatt said it had been a long-term conversation and the decision was made because NBC wants to use the Winter Olympics promotional platform as a launch pad for Jimmy Fallon as the new "Tonight Show" host to maximize viewer sampling, something that wouldn't happen again during the traditional September-to-May TV season for another four years. (Perhaps the traditional TV season matters more in late-night than when it comes to prime-time ratings comparisons.)
Mr. Greenblatt said he hopes Mr. Leno will stay on at NBC "in some capacity."
"I think he has a lot of things to think about and sort through, but we'd love to have him a la Bob Hope and still be a presence on the network," Mr. Greenblatt said, though so far there are no concrete plans for Mr. Leno's future with NBC.
NBC's Olympics plans
NBC Sports executives addressed questions about how the network's coverage will handle Russia's new anti-gay laws and related human rights atrocities but not in a particularly satisfactory manner.
NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus said NBC will "address those issues as they are relevant at the time of the Games."
But one would hope that NBC would address the issue for the impact it has on the Russian people as part of the network's coverage of the host country's culture.
"We will address it if it becomes an issue," Mr. Lazarus said.
"Right now they have a law that is the law of their land, and governments across the world have different laws, but as long as it doesn't affect us or the athletes, we will again acknowledge that it exists, but I don't know what it's going to mean to us yet. So I cannot tell you how we're going to cover it."
Mr. Lazarus suggested the magic of the Olympics will resolve the issue.
"We as a company, obviously, believe in equality, opportunity for all," he said. "We don't believe that the Games are in the spirit of the law that they've passed, and we're hopeful that the Olympic spirit will win out."
During the Olympics, NBC plans to air a documentary on the 20-year anniversary of the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan imbroglio with an exclusive interview with Ms. Kerrigan. Ms. Harding will also be interviewed.
NBC announced plans for several miniseries, including a 4-hour Hillary Clinton mini starring Diane Lane in the title role and a 4-hour updated re-telling of "Rosemary's Baby."
A remake of Stephen King's "The Tommyknockers" is also in the offing along with a limited series called "Plymouth," about the pilgrims' journey across the Atlantic. ... NBC has canceled reality competition series "Fashion Star."
A portion of this column originally appeared online in the Tuned In Journal blog. Post-Gazette TV writer Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour. Follow RobOwenTV at Twitter or on Facebook. You can reach Rob at 412-263-2582 or email@example.com. First Published July 29, 2013 4:00 AM