Did Stem Cell Research Support Hurt Michael J. Fox's TV Ratings?

Did Stem Cell Research Support Hurt Michael J. Fox's TV Ratings?

Michael J. Fox’s return to the sitcom format that cemented his fame proved to be anything but celebratory this week. Could the actor’s political statements be to blame for The Michael J. Fox Show’s weak debut?

Fox and co. got whupped by another sitcom returnee, Oscar-winning actor and erstwhile Mork from Ork Robin Williams, in a head-to-head competition Sept. 26.

Williams’ CBS comedy, The Crazy Ones — aided by a huge lead-in from a double dose of The Big Bang Theory (18.9 million viewers) — opened Thursday with 15.6 million. Over at NBC, The Michael J. Fox Show delivered just 7.2 million behind an hour of the extremely low-rated Parks and Recreation (3.3 million). A second episode, at 9:30, gained slightly. Among young-adult viewers, Crazy also defeated Fox by a factor of two.

Fox’s return was made possible, in part, to medication which allows him more control over his Parkinson’s disease. He seemed like the favorite in the Williams/Fox slugfest. Williams has spent the last decade squandering his career goodwill with mediocre to poor film choices (The World’s Greatest Dad is a stunning exception). Meanwhile, Fox appeared on several TV shows over the last few years, earning good notices and the hope he would one day return to network television.

Fox has worked tirelessly on behalf of treatments for those with Parkinson’s disease, a condition he learned he had in 1991. That battle made him part of the political landscape when he began backing candidates who embraced embryonic stem cell research, a controversial position which angered many in the pro-life movement.

Fox’s fine work on both Family Ties and Spin City, not to mention his beloved Back to the Future franchise, made him one of Hollywood’s most admired stars. It’s certainly surprising audiences weren’t lining up to watch his return to television this week.

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