Michael J. Fox gets personal in new NBC sitcom

The actor returns to television for a new show that pulls material from his own life, including his struggles with Parkinson's disease. Networks battled for rights to the show -- and its advertising potential.

By Jonathan Berr Feb 1, 2013 12:47PM
Can actor Michael J. Fox mine his experiences with Parkinson's disease for comedy gold in his new NBC sitcom?  I sure hope so.

The as yet unnamed show features Fox as a newscaster who had previously quit his job due to Parkinson's Disease, but returns to work after a new drug regime helps him better manage his condition, according to The Associated Press. The NBC comedy is scheduled to debut this fall.
There are obvious ties to the life of the actor, who has said that medications have helped him relieve some of the side effects from Parkinson's medicine, such as physical tics, and return to acting, the AP reports.

Fox, who gained fame in the 1980s starring in the sitcom "Family Ties" and the "Back to the Future" movies, remains popular. TVLine reports that there was a bidding war among television networks for the show. In an unusual move, NBC, which was also home to "Family Ties," bypassed the pilot process completely and ordered 22 episodes. Michael J. Fox at the 70th Annual Golden Globe Awards on Jan. 13, 2013 (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP Photo) 

NBC and its corporate parent Comcast (CMCSA) are betting that Fox's show will generate more than nostalgia. The show could be a moneymaker, especially since its production costs are probably not high.

The cost of commercial time varies by show. Networks charge more than $300,000 a spot for highly rated shows such as "American Idol" and "Modern Family," according to a survey by Advertising Age. Sports can be even pricier, with spots on NBC's "Sunday Night Football" fetching more than $545,000.

Fox's show may do more than financial good if it can give the public a better understanding of Parkinson's.

Like Fox, I also have Parkinson's. When my symptoms emerged two to three years ago, I didn't know what to do. One day, I realized that I was typing on my computer using only my left hand. My right hand sat on top of the keys frozen like a statue. Doctors were able to piece together a Parkinson's diagnosis, thanks to my other symptoms, such as gait disturbance (I walked like I was drunk) and my small, illegible handwriting. I am on medication now, and my symptoms are much, much better. I am typing this post, for instance, with two hands. Moreover, I am more at ease with my condition, which is why I am ready to share my story on the Internet.

Like millions of others, I was inspired by Fox. He founded the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which funds research and helps get people into clinical trials. He was diagnosed with the disease when he was about 30. Though Parkinson's is often thought of a disease affecting older people, many younger people get the disease for reasons scientists don't understand. 

About a year ago, I read about Michael "Rich" Clifford, a Parkinson's sufferer who piloted the Space Shuttle. In an interview with Neurology Now, Clifford said that if he had known that he had the disease when he first went into space in 1990, he would have still flown aboard the shuttle because he wasn't going to let anything stop him from following his dream to go into space.

If Fox can star in a sitcom and Clifford can pilot a multi-billion dollar spacecraft,  I really have no excuses to slack off. I'd better get back to work.

Jonathan Berr lives in New Jersey with his wife, son and three cats. Follow him on Twitter @jdberr Story updated at 1:30 p.m. to add information on prices for TV commercials.

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