Spinoff for ‘Spin City’ Minus Fox?

Michael J. Fox has certainly proven that there’s life after Parkinson’s, but can the same be said for “Spin City” after Michael J. Fox?

The actor dropped a bomb in TV land Tuesday with his unexpected announcement to leave the hit sitcom “Spin City” at the end of its fourth season — a decision, the actor said, that would allow him to better concentrate his efforts in combating the degenerative disease.

“After long and careful consideration, I have decided that following the completion of “Spin City’s” fourth season (and the filming of our 100th episode), I will not be returning for a fifth year,” said Fox in a statement.

“I feel that right now my time and energy would be better spent with my family and working toward a cure for Parkinson’s disease. This does not mean I am retiring from acting, producing or directing, only that I want to relieve the strain of producing and performing a weekly network series.”

Both ABC and DreamWorks Television, joint backers of the political satire, are tight-lipped about the future of “Spin City” (apparently out of commiseration), issuing only a generic statement of support in reaction to the news of Fox‘s impending departure late Tuesday.

“There are clearly more important things in life, and we wish Michael and his family our heartfelt thanks and continued support,” said ABC in a press release. “We look forward to working with Michael in his future endeavors.”

While the networks continue their support, in the form of golden silence on just about anything that has to do with “Spin City,” trade-paper reports have not been as reserved on speculating about the show’s possible future.

Variety reports today that one possible solution the networks are toying with is a “Spin City” spinoff — a reincarnation of the sitcom that retains the original (minus Fox, of course) ensemble cast including Barry Bostwick, Michael Boatman and the new feisty addition in the form of Heather Locklear.

Yet another (contradictory) theory, reported by Daily Variety, states that ABC execs are unlikely to give the green light to a fifth-season “Spin City” without Fox.

Networks execs declined comment on either possibility. But one tube observer did opine that the viability of a post-Fox “Spin City” is not only slim but also futile.

“The show [“Spin City”] shouldn’t have a future after Michael J. Fox. It does boast an ensemble cast and a bunch of very talented actors, but when you come right down to it, it’s still Michael J. Fox‘s show. I don’t think the networks will keep ‘Spin City’ without Fox,” said David Bianculli, TV critic for the New York Daily News.

Bianculli continued: “Stars don’t usually leave under these circumstances. When a character leaves a show, the writers can usually write around it. But when it’s the central character that’s leaving, and leaving so unexpectedly, it’s really hard for the show to continue. Just imagine “M*A*S*H” without Alan Alda.”

But such pessimism might not fly in the face of recent television history. “Cheers” without Shelley Long, “NYPD Blue” minus David Caruso and “ER” sans George Clooney are just some of the television prime-timers that continued their success long after the show’s “star” left the show. Ironically, the same couldn’t be said for Long and Caruso, whose careers became non-existent after dissociation from those shows.

Given the popularity of “Spin City,” the networks may serve well to reconsider any possibility that could keep the show on the air. According to the Nielsen ratings, the show is currently the 42nd highest-ranking show on television and the third-most watched comedy behind “Dharma & Greg” (No. 22) and “The Drew Carey Show” (No. 25) for ABC.

Another footnote: A television series is usually profitable only after its fifth season. Cancellation of “Spin City,” now in its fourth year, might result in a financial loss that neither ABC or DreamWorks want to entertain.

Fox first made public his incurable ailment in November 1998. He had reportedly told network producers and studio execs of his worsening health condition as far back as 1996, before the launch of “Spin City.”

Fox has been television’s favorite son since the ’80s. He garnered three Emmys for his role as the overachieving young Republican Alex P. Keaton on the popular NBC sitcom “Family Ties” and continued his success on the big screen with the “Back to the Future” franchise.

He returned to the tube in 1998 to play a tough-talking deputy mayor on “Spin City,” a role that earned him a best actor nomination at this year’s Golden Globes. He has won the Golden Globe for the role the past two years.