Producer Gary David Goldberg was responsible for Family Ties, one of the most popular TV shows of the 1980s, which also became a breakthrough for actor Michael J. Fox who played precocious teen Alex. The couple reunited in 1996 for another hit TV show, Spin City, and it looked like Alex was making a comeback. The new character, Mike, wasn’t Alex but he was equally savvy, charming and interested in politics. The only difference was that Alex was a Republican and Mike was neither left nor right. His party affiliation was never made known to the viewers. Unlike The West Wing, Spin City was never about left or right, blue or red. No one was meant to be excluded from the fun.
Mike Flaherty was the Deputy Mayor of New York City and essentially the guy who pulled the strings, who made sure his boss didn’t slip up. That wasn’t easy because Mayor Randall Winston (Barry Bostwick) was more accident-prone than most politicians. Winston relied on his deputy to save him and Mike relied on his staff to help him do that – which was another problem. Fiercely loyal to Mike and the administration, they were nonetheless a bunch of very eccentric people.
Stuart (Alan Ruck) was the obnoxious porn connoisseur who derived endless pleasure from hitting on women in lewd ways and making fun of Carter (Michael Boatman), the black, gay guy who had been hired to advise the Mayor on minority issues. Carter knew how to fend for himself and an odd friendship developed between the guys when they were forced to share an apartment together (which often happens in sitcoms). Carter was also the loving owner of Rags, a geriatric, depressed dog who was always finding new ways of trying to kill himself.
Other members of the staff were Paul (Richard Kind), the penny-pinching, loudmouthed press secretary who managed to keep his job despite his poor performance; Nikki (Connie Britton), who eventually would have an affair with Mike; and James (Alexander Chaplin), the country boy who never got used to being in the big city. These people may not have been much help to the Deputy Mayor politically… but they sure made his life interesting.
Sheen was good enough
In 1999, Fox shockingly announced that he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease and that the show’s fourth season would be the last with him. In its final episode, Mike resigned to become an environmental lobbyist in Washington. He was replaced by Charlie Crawford who much like the actor who played him (Charlie Sheen) was a reformed party animal now trying to live a normal, responsible life. Mike was sorely missed, but Sheen was good enough and the supporting cast remained with few changes. Heather Locklear had joined the show in the fourth season, but never contributed much.
The writers basically created a fictionalized New York. 9/11 never happened and the words “Democrat” and “Republican” were never uttered. The administration fought bureaucracy more than political enemies, which is always a harmless, sympathetic cause. Spin City and its attempt to satirize politics may have lacked bite, but certainly not heart. And it did what it was supposed to do – make us laugh.
Spin City 1996-2002:U.S. Made for TV. 145 episodes. Color. Created by Gary David Goldberg, Bill Lawrence. Cast: Michael J. Fox (Mike Flaherty, 96-00), Charlie Sheen (Charlie Crawford, 00-02), Heather Locklear (Caitlin Moore, 99-02), Barry Bostwick, Alan Ruck, Richard Kind, Michael Boatman, Connie Britton (96-00), Alexander Chaplin (96-00), Victoria Dillard (96-00), Jennifer Esposito (97-99).
Emmy: Outstanding Actor (Fox) 99-00. Golden Globes: Best Actor (Fox) 98, 99, 00, (Sheen) 02.
Quote: “My grandmother thought that a homosexual was a person who slept with one person their whole life. We were gonna let it slide but she kept telling the mailman she was a homosexual.” (Fox)