Sept. 26----THE CRAZY ONES. 9 tonight, CBS3.
--THE MICHAEL J. FOX SHOW. 9 tonight, NBC10. After hour-long premiere, moves to 9:30 p.m. next week.
NETWORK TV, to mangle that wonderful line from Robert Frost, is not "the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in."
But once you've made it there, it's thrilled to have you back, as long as the ratings are good.
In the case of NBC, which tonight launches "The Michael J. Fox Show," thrilled took the form of a 22-episode guarantee for Fox's first full-time series since leaving "Spin City" in 2000 to deal with Parkinson's disease.
I'm not sure what it took to get Robin Williams to CBS to star with Sarah Michelle Gellar ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer") in "The Crazy Ones," in which they play Simon and Sydney Roberts, a father and daughter who run an advertising agency.
But, like Fox, whose new show is loosely based on his own life, the former "Mork & Mindy" star is playing a character with a familiar sounding history -- though the workplace aspect of the show, from David E. Kelley ("Ally McBeal"), was inspired by John Montgomery, creative director at Leo Burnett. (Montgomery's also an executive producer.)
As an eccentric genius, Williams is in familiar waters, and he's found a playmate in James Wolk ("Mad Men"), who's somehow able to keep up with an actor whose streams of consciousness can be Class V rapids.
Gellar's playing it straight, but a scene in which she has to sing in front of Kelly Clarkson suggests she's game for anything.
Hamish Linklater, fresh off causing trouble in HBO's "The Newsroom," plays a glum art director, and Amanda Setton is Lauren, described by CBS as a "beautiful and deceptively smart assistant." Deceptive indeed: From the pilot, I'd taken her for a cringeworthy stereotype. Or maybe an Aaron Sorkin character.
There's nothing that fancy going on in the first two episodes of "The Michael J. Fox Show," which air back-to-back tonight, maybe because Fox is trying to make a TV show, not a statement.
Success, of course, would be its own statement, but first he needs to make everyone comfortable laughing with a character who can't always control his movements. That shouldn't take long. Anyone who's seen Fox on "The Good Wife" or "Rescue Me" already knows how cannily the actor's incorporated his condition into his performances.
He still has it, but he's smart enough to not try to overuse it, and with Betsy Brandt ("Breaking Bad") as his wife and Wendell Pierce ("Treme") as his friend and boss, he shouldn't have to.
Fox plays a popular New York news anchor and father of three who's returning to work several years after a Parkinson's diagnosis. The show's still playing with the balance between work and home, but that's what the time's for. And what's there right now is definitely worth watching.
What the readers say
This year's Everybody's a Critic panel -- a dozen Daily News readers selected to watch pilots with me in return for homemade cookies and not very valuable TV-related prizes -- saw both new Thursday comedies last week.
They awarded "The Michael J. Fox Show" a 7.5 on a scale of 1 to 10, with individual scores ranging from 3 to 10.
"I loved this pilot," wrote Laurie Ann Powell, of Cherry Hill, of Fox's NBC show. "I thought it was very heartfelt. It showed his disease, but didn't exploit it or overdo it."
"A little too generic," wrote Derek Timm, of Gloucester, N.J., adding that the "plot, acting and punchlines seem too forced."
"I have always loved Michael J. Fox," wrote Christina Pale, of Fox Chase, in what was a common refrain even among those who didn't love the show. "This is something I could find myself watching weekly."
"The family unit is very dysfunctional but lovable," wrote Robert Glenn, of Olney. "The show lets us see a talent like Michael J. Fox cannot be stopped. The supporting cast is top-notch."
"The Crazy Ones," meanwhile, averaged a 6.6, but, again, opinions varied, with scores ranging from a single 1 to three 10s.
"I love Robin Williams," wrote Frances Miller, of North Philadelphia. "Sometimes when I watch a show, it has to grow on me. I think this will be one of those shows."
"Robin Williams' return to TV is going to be great," predicted Charles Musnuff, of North Philadelphia.
Angelyn Keitt, of Nicetown-Tioga, wasn't crazy about the way the show began, but wrote that "everything changed after Robin Williams started to act crazy with different voices."
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