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Michael J. Fox on Finding Humor in Parkinson's in His New NBC Series: 'There's Nothing Horrifying About It For Me'

Photo of Alison Willmore By Alison Willmore | Indiewire July 27, 2013 at 2:03PM

The most intriguing trailer NBC posted for its new fall series was for "The Michael J Fox Show," a sitcom loosely based on the life and experiences with Parkinson's disease of its star, who returns to a regular TV role after years of semi-retirement and guest appearances.
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Betsy Brandt and Michael J. Fox in 'The Michael J Fox Show'
Eric Liebowitz/NBC Betsy Brandt and Michael J. Fox in 'The Michael J Fox Show'

The most promising trailer NBC posted for its new fall series was for "The Michael J Fox Show," a sitcom loosely based on the life and experiences with Parkinson's disease of its star, who returns to a regular TV role after years of semi-retirement and guest appearances. The room at the TCA press tour was filled with noticeable goodwill for the star and the project, as Fox, co-star Betsy Brandt (of "Breaking Bad," here playing his wife), co-star Wendell Pierce and executive producers Will Gluck ("Easy A") and Sam Laybourne appeared to talk about the upcoming show.

Addressing the series' treatment of Parkinson's and its desire not to shy away from the disorder's comedic potential, Fox said that he didn't vet anything with the Parkinson's community: "This is a reflection of my experience, the way I look at life, the way I look at the reality of Parkinson's. Sometimes it's frustrating and sometimes it's funny. I need to look at it that way." "We all get our own bag of hammers," he continued, suggesting that he didn't want the disease treated any differently than the way any other of life's developments and disadvantages would be treated.

"We were startlingly uncalculated about this show," said Gluck of its approach to comedy. "There wasn't a lot of strategy behind it," agreed Fox. "We found a story we want to tell and we just told it." The humor, he said, comes from "the kind of stuff I deal with on a daily basis," including his interactions with his own wife and kids. "Names have been changed to protect the innocent," he added, when asked if his children would recognize themselves in the kids on the series, who are relieved to have their father returning to work as a news anchor and to not be micromanaging their lives quite so much. "They'll recognize things -- my experience with them is reflected in the show. They're cool with it."

"One of the things you deal with" when it comes to Parkinson's "is people's projection," said Fox, noting that they tend to see what they think about the disease rather than the experience he's having. "There's nothing horrifying about it for me," no "gothic nastiness," he pointed out. "There's nothing horrible about a shaky hand."

While he's happy to be returning to a regular TV role, Fox doesn't necessarily see himself working in films again alongside this series. "I have to take it as it comes," he said, adding that he couldn't imagine doing 22 episodes of a series and then spending his summer doing "Light of Day" and "The Secret of My Succe$s" and then going back to work on the next season again the way he did in 1987. "That's how I got in this mess," he joked. And were he to do another "Back to the Future," "I'd have to play Doc Brown," he laughed.

This article is related to: Television, TV News, TCA Summer 2013, NBC, Michael J. Fox, The Michael J. Fox Show, Will Gluck, Betsy Brandt