Premiering 20 years ago today, Spin City was a multi-camera sitcom that marked a successful, more adult return to television for Michael J. Fox. It was co-created by Gary David Goldberg, the creator of Family Ties (the show that made Fox famous), along with Bill Lawrence, who would go on to create Scrubs.
Fox played Mike Flaherty, the Deputy Mayor of New York. The show at first went back and forth between Flaherty's home life with his girlfriend, reporter Ashley Schaeffer (Carla Gugino), and his work life with the mayor and his staff, which included Connie Britton as Nikki Faber and Jennifer Esposito as Stacey Paterno.
Halfway through the first season, Gugino's character was written off the show, making Spin City a workplace comedy. After Fox left due to his Parkinson's disease, Charlie Sheen stepped in as a new Deputy Mayor, Charlie Crawford, for the final two seasons. In honor of the show's 20th anniversary, here are some things you might not have known about Spin City.
1. JEFFREY KATZENBERG LIED TO GOLDBERG AND FOX TO GET THEM TO WORK TOGETHER AGAIN.
Nicole LaPorte's book about DreamWorks, The Men Who Would Be King, there was tension between the creator of Family Ties and the undisputed star of that show. Without telling Goldberg, Katzenberg called Fox and told him Goldberg wanted to work on another series with him. Fox was interested. Katzenberg then called Goldberg and said Fox was eager to work with him again.
In Fox's version of the story, he sent out feelers to different producers in 1995 asking if there was a place for him in the comedic TV landscape again. Goldberg called Fox and asked if he would be interested in working for him before sending him the pilot script. In Goldberg's autobiography Sit, Ubu, Sit, Fox called Goldberg ostensibly about a mutual friend around Christmas 1995 and also mentioned his intention to return to television. Goldberg eventually decided to work with Fox, after Fox had turned down a script from someone else.
2. GOLDBERG AND LAWRENCE WROTE THE PILOT IN FOUR DAYS.
Goldberg, Lawrence, and Fox sketched out the characters surrounding "Alex Keaton with power" before Goldberg and Lawrence went off to pen the script. They faxed it over to Fox, who faxed them back 15 minutes later with the message, "I love it. I'm in. Let's make a show."
3. MIKE FLAHERTY WAS INSPIRED BY GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS.
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The primary role model for Flaherty was George Stephanopoulos, Bill Clinton's former political advisor, White House Communications Director, and Senior Advisor for Policy and Strategy. Stephanopoulos helped Goldberg and Lawrence sketch out the character, as did New York City political fixture Kevin McCabe (John Cusack claimed he was basically playing him in the 1996 film City Hall) and lawyer Sid Davidoff.
4. THE MAYOR SHARED A NAME WITH THE MAN CARTER HEYWOOD WAS BASED ON.
Barry Bostwick portrayed New York City mayor Randall Winston, which was also the name of the show's associate producer. The real-life Winston asked Bostwick to make the character very popular so that he could get great tables at restaurants in New York. "Carter Heywood was loosely based on me," Winston also revealed on a DVD feature. "We were two bald gay black men in New York."
5. THE CO-CREATORS ARGUED OVER WHETHER TO LET RICHARD KIND AUDITION.
Goldberg insisted Richard Kind wasn't right for the role of press secretary Paul Lassiter and didn't even want him to audition. Lawrence disagreed, and won.
6. KIND AND FOX SPENT A MEMORABLE EVENING TOGETHER IN CHICAGO, WHICH FOX DIDN'T REMEMBER.
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While Fox was shooting the film Light of Day (1987), he improvised with Kind at Second City in Chicago. Fox played Kind's son, and the two got applause and laughter that lasted, in Kind's memory, for one minute when Fox perfectly jumped into Kind's arms. "It was memorable," Kind said. "It was a memorable, memorable moment, and it’s still as clear as can be."
When Kind showed up to the network audition he brought it up to Fox. "And [Michael] goes, 'Richard, I’m sorry: Not only don’t I remember that night, I don’t remember being in Chicago.'"
7. IT WAS ORIGINALLY TITLED SPIN.
But SPIN Magazine wouldn't give ABC the rights to the name.
8. THE FIRST FOUR SEASONS WERE SHOT IN NEW YORK.
It was only after Fox left the series that the show moved to Los Angeles. Bostwick believed that one of the reasons they filmed in New York at first was because Goldberg, Lawrence, and Fox would receive much less network interference.
9. STEPHEN COLBERT HIRED JENNIFER GARNER TO BABYSIT HIS KIDS AFTER THE TWO APPEARED IN AN EPISODE TOGETHER.
In the first season episode "The Competition," James (Alexander Chaplin) tried to break up with Garner, who played his high school sweetheart, while Colbert portrayed Frank, a spokesman for the City Council speaker's office. After working together on the episode, Colbert asked Garner to babysit his daughter. Garner later revealed that Colbert paid her less than $10 per hour, telling The New York Times that, "[Colbert] is so cheap!"
10. FOX SOMETIMES HAD TROUBLE HIDING HIS ILLNESS.
"He was seriously struggling with his own body,” Connie Britton remembered. “We would have delays for up to an hour and a half with a live audience waiting for us—and for Michael’s meds to kick in. It was really tough for him.” Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease back in 1991, and was told he had 10 years left to work. He left Spin City in 2000.
11. FOX GAVE AN UPDATE ON HIS OTHER TV CHARACTER IN HIS FINAL EPISODE.
In "Goodbye," Fox referred to a senator named Alex P. Keaton. In the same episode, Michael Gross (who played Fox's father on Family Ties) made a cameo appearance. Goldberg and Fox were not shy about making Family Ties references on Spin City: Meredith Baxter (who played Fox's mother) played Mike Flaherty's mother in two episodes during the show's first season, and Fox's real-life wife and former Family Ties co-star Tracy Pollan appeared in a couple of episodes, too.
12. ALAN RUCK RECOGNIZED HIS FERRIS BUELLER ROOTS.
Just like in the classic John Hughes film, in the season five installment "Hey Judith," Alan Ruck—who played Stuart Bondek on Spin City and Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off—looked out-of-place wearing a Detroit Red Wings jersey. This time, instead of Chicago, Ruck wore it to a Rangers game at Madison Square Garden.
13. MATTHEW BRODERICK, DENIS LEARY, JON CRYER, AND PATRICK DEMPSEY WERE ALL CONSIDERED TO REPLACE FOX.
Charlie Sheen ended up with the gig, despite reported concerns about his off-camera behavior. ''I probably wouldn't have hired me had I been ABC," Sheen told The New York Times in 2001. The ratings, at first, improved with Sheen on board. Ultimately, Fox would star in the first 100 episodes, and Sheen in the final 45.