LOS ANGELES — Two new series debut Thursday night, each featuring a giant name in television comedy.
Robin Williams, who "nano, nano-ed" his way to fame on the TV series "Mork & Mindy," stars in the new CBS show "The Crazy Ones," while Michael J. Fox, who made his name playing Alex P. Keaton on "Family Ties," stars on NBC's "The Michael J. Fox Show."
On Fox's series, art parallels life. He plays a popular New York television reporter who has been off the air since being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease but is coaxed into going back to work. It's been Fox's own battle with Parkinson's disease that took him off the air.
Fox didn't agree to star in the show because it would cast a light on Parkinson's.
"I don't think I really looked at it in those terms. I just thought I'm just going to do this and let it be what it is. There wasn't a lot of strategy behind it. 'How am I going to vet this or how am I going to couch it, or how am I going to frame it?' We found a story we wanted to tell, and we just told it," Fox says.
Much of the humor comes from Fox's own life. There's a scene in the opening episode where Fox's character struggles to serve food during breakfast. His on-screen wife — played by Betsy Brandt — grabs the spoon because everyone's hungry. That scene was written into the script after it actually happened to Fox.
It's not the driving reason, but Fox wants to bring insights to the show to change the perception of dealing with Parkinson's.
"A lot of times when you have a disability, one of the things you deal with is other people's projections of what your experience is, and people projecting on what they think it is, and their fear about it, and not seeing the experience you're having," Fox says. "I think there's nothing like Parkinson's itself. There's nothing horrifying about it to me. It is what I deal with. It is my reality and my life, but it's not horrible.
"I don't think it's Gothic nastiness. There's nothing on the surface horrible about someone with a shaky hand. There's nothing horrible about someone in their life saying, 'God, I'm really tired of this shaky hand thing' and me saying, 'Me, too.' That's our reality. We have no control."
Fox returned to television in 2004 with a guest spot on "Scrubs" and has popped up on shows such as "Rescue Me" and "The Good Wife," but this is the first time in years he's committed to starring in a full 22-episode series. Fox went into the project knowing the workload would either wear him down or make him stronger.
"I'm planning on rebuilding the muscles. 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," Fox says.
Williams comes back to TV to star in a workplace comedy set in an advertising agency. In "The Crazy Ones," his character is trying to keep creativity in the business at a fevered pitch while dealing with his business partner — and daughter, played by "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" star Sarah Michelle Gellar.
Williams says the role is a good fit because the character was created using elements of his own life — rehab, divorce, etc. He hopes that makes the character interesting and charming enough to win over viewers.
"Basically, you have to establish a character that people buy into. Initially with 'Mork & Mindy,' I think they bought into the innocence of the character. And I think they have to buy into not just my character, but the relationship with everybody else, and see someone who really has good ideas and bad ones," Williams says. "You know there's a line. I step over it and she's there to kind of say, 'Come back, Dad.'
"And the idea of creating and at the same time failing, that's what makes it interesting."
New: "The Crazy Ones," 9 p.m. KGPE (Channel 47.1); "The Michael J. Fox Show," 9:30 p.m. KSEE (Channel 24.1)
Returning: "The Big Bang Theory, 8 p.m. KGPE (Channel 47.1); "Parks and Recreation," 8 p.m. KSEE (Channel 24.1); "Grey's Anatomy," 9 p.m. KFSN (Channel 30.1); "Glee," 9 p.m. KMPH (Channel 26.1); "Two and a Half Men," 9:30 p.m. KGPE; "Elementary," 10 p.m. KGPE; "Parenthood," 10 p.m. KSEE.
New: "Junior MasterChef," 8 p.m. KMPH (Channel 26.1)
Returning: "Undercover Boss," 8 p.m. KGPE; "Hawaii Five-0," 9 p.m. KGPE; "Blue Bloods," 9 p.m. KGPE
Returning: "48 Hours," 10 p.m. KGPE
New: "Betrayal," 10 p.m. Sundays. KFSN
Returning: "60 Minutes," 7 p.m. KGPE; "The Amazing Race," 8 p.m. KGPE; "Once Upon a Time," 8 p.m. KFSN; "The Simpsons," 8 p.m. KMPH; "Bob's Burgers," 8:30 p.m. KMPH; "The Good Wife," 9 p.m. KGPE; "Revenge," 9 p.m. KFSN; "Family Guy," 9 p.m. KMPH; "American Dad!" 9:30 p.m. KMPH; "The Mentalist," 10 p.m. KGPE.
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.