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13 Facts About Spin City

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Premiering 20 years ago today, Spin City was a multi-camera sitcom that marked a successful, more adult return to television for Michael J. Fox. It was co-created by Gary David Goldberg, the creator of Family Ties (the show that made Fox famous), along with Bill Lawrence, who would go on to create Scrubs.

Fox played Mike Flaherty, the Deputy Mayor of New York. The show at first went back and forth between Flaherty's home life with his girlfriend, reporter Ashley Schaeffer (Carla Gugino), and his work life with the mayor and his staff, which included Connie Britton as Nikki Faber and Jennifer Esposito as Stacey Paterno.

Halfway through the first season, Gugino's character was written off the show, making Spin City a workplace comedy. After Fox left due to his Parkinson's disease, Charlie Sheen stepped in as a new Deputy Mayor, Charlie Crawford, for the final two seasons. In honor of the show's 20th anniversary, here are some things you might not have known about Spin City.

1. JEFFREY KATZENBERG LIED TO GOLDBERG AND FOX TO GET THEM TO WORK TOGETHER AGAIN.

According to Nicole LaPorte's book about DreamWorks, The Men Who Would Be King, there was tension between the creator of Family Ties and the undisputed star of that show. Without telling Goldberg, Katzenberg called Fox and told him Goldberg wanted to work on another series with him. Fox was interested. Katzenberg then called Goldberg and said Fox was eager to work with him again.

In Fox's version of the story, he sent out feelers to different producers in 1995 asking if there was a place for him in the comedic TV landscape again. Goldberg called Fox and asked if he would be interested in working for him before sending him the pilot script. In Goldberg's autobiography Sit, Ubu, Sit, Fox called Goldberg ostensibly about a mutual friend around Christmas 1995 and also mentioned his intention to return to television. Goldberg eventually decided to work with Fox, after Fox had turned down a script from someone else.

2. GOLDBERG AND LAWRENCE WROTE THE PILOT IN FOUR DAYS.

Goldberg, Lawrence, and Fox sketched out the characters surrounding "Alex Keaton with power" before Goldberg and Lawrence went off to pen the script. They faxed it over to Fox, who faxed them back 15 minutes later with the message, "I love it. I'm in. Let's make a show."

3. MIKE FLAHERTY WAS INSPIRED BY GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS.

TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images

The primary role model for Flaherty was George Stephanopoulos, Bill Clinton's former political advisor, White House Communications Director, and Senior Advisor for Policy and Strategy. Stephanopoulos helped Goldberg and Lawrence sketch out the character, as did New York City political fixture Kevin McCabe (John Cusack claimed he was basically playing him in the 1996 film City Hall) and lawyer Sid Davidoff.

4. THE MAYOR SHARED A NAME WITH THE MAN CARTER HEYWOOD WAS BASED ON.

Barry Bostwick portrayed New York City mayor Randall Winston, which was also the name of the show's associate producer. The real-life Winston asked Bostwick to make the character very popular so that he could get great tables at restaurants in New York. "Carter Heywood was loosely based on me," Winston also revealed on a DVD feature. "We were two bald gay black men in New York."

5. THE CO-CREATORS ARGUED OVER WHETHER TO LET RICHARD KIND AUDITION.

Goldberg insisted Richard Kind wasn't right for the role of press secretary Paul Lassiter and didn't even want him to audition. Lawrence disagreed, and won.

6. KIND AND FOX SPENT A MEMORABLE EVENING TOGETHER IN CHICAGO, WHICH FOX DIDN'T REMEMBER.

Rob Kim/Getty Images

While Fox was shooting the film Light of Day (1987), he improvised with Kind at Second City in Chicago. Fox played Kind's son, and the two got applause and laughter that lasted, in Kind's memory, for one minute when Fox perfectly jumped into Kind's arms. "It was memorable," Kind said. "It was a memorable, memorable moment, and it’s still as clear as can be."

When Kind showed up to the network audition he brought it up to Fox. "And [Michael] goes, 'Richard, I’m sorry: Not only don’t I remember that night, I don’t remember being in Chicago.'"

7. IT WAS ORIGINALLY TITLED SPIN.

But SPIN Magazine wouldn't give ABC the rights to the name.

8. THE FIRST FOUR SEASONS WERE SHOT IN NEW YORK.

It was only after Fox left the series that the show moved to Los Angeles. Bostwick believed that one of the reasons they filmed in New York at first was because Goldberg, Lawrence, and Fox would receive much less network interference.

9. STEPHEN COLBERT HIRED JENNIFER GARNER TO BABYSIT HIS KIDS AFTER THE TWO APPEARED IN AN EPISODE TOGETHER.

In the first season episode "The Competition," James (Alexander Chaplin) tried to break up with Garner, who played his high school sweetheart, while Colbert portrayed Frank, a spokesman for the City Council speaker's office. After working together on the episode, Colbert asked Garner to babysit his daughter. Garner later revealed that Colbert paid her less than $10 per hour, telling The New York Times that, "[Colbert] is so cheap!"

10. FOX SOMETIMES HAD TROUBLE HIDING HIS ILLNESS.

"He was seriously struggling with his own body,” Connie Britton remembered. “We would have delays for up to an hour and a half with a live audience waiting for us—and for Michael’s meds to kick in. It was really tough for him.” Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease back in 1991, and was told he had 10 years left to work. He left Spin City in 2000.

11. FOX GAVE AN UPDATE ON HIS OTHER TV CHARACTER IN HIS FINAL EPISODE.

In "Goodbye," Fox referred to a senator named Alex P. Keaton. In the same episode, Michael Gross (who played Fox's father on Family Ties) made a cameo appearance. Goldberg and Fox were not shy about making Family Ties references on Spin City: Meredith Baxter (who played Fox's mother) played Mike Flaherty's mother in two episodes during the show's first season, and Fox's real-life wife and former Family Ties co-star Tracy Pollan appeared in a couple of episodes, too.

12. ALAN RUCK RECOGNIZED HIS FERRIS BUELLER ROOTS.

Just like in the classic John Hughes film, in the season five installment "Hey Judith," Alan Ruck—who played Stuart Bondek on Spin City and Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off—looked out-of-place wearing a Detroit Red Wings jersey. This time, instead of Chicago, Ruck wore it to a Rangers game at Madison Square Garden.

13. MATTHEW BRODERICK, DENIS LEARY, JON CRYER, AND PATRICK DEMPSEY WERE ALL CONSIDERED TO REPLACE FOX.

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Charlie Sheen ended up with the gig, despite reported concerns about his off-camera behavior. ''I probably wouldn't have hired me had I been ABC," Sheen told The New York Times in 2001. The ratings, at first, improved with Sheen on board. Ultimately, Fox would star in the first 100 episodes, and Sheen in the final 45.

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11 Black Friday Purchases That Aren't Always The Best Deal
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Black Friday can bring out some of the best deals of the year (along with the worst in-store behavior), but that doesn't mean every advertised price is worth splurging on. While many shoppers are eager to save a few dollars and kickstart the holiday shopping season, some purchases are better left waiting for at least a few weeks (or longer).

1. FURNITURE

Display of outdoor furniture.
Photo by Isaac Benhesed on Unsplash

Black Friday is often the best time to scope out deals on large purchases—except for furniture. That's because newer furniture models and styles often appear in showrooms in February. According to Kurt Knutsson, a consumer technology expert, the best furniture deals can be found in January, and later on in July and August. If you're aiming for outdoor patio sets, expect to find knockout prices when outdoor furniture is discounted and put on clearance closer to Labor Day.

2. TOOLS

A display of tools.
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Unless you're shopping for a specific tool as a Christmas gift, it's often better to wait until warmer weather rolls around to catch great deals. While some big-name brands offer Black Friday discounts, the best tool deals roll around in late spring and early summer, just in time for Memorial Day and Father's Day.

3. BEDDING AND LINENS

A stack of bed linens.
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Sheet and bedding sets are often used as doorbuster items for Black Friday sales, but that doesn't mean you should splurge now. Instead, wait for annual linen sales—called white sales—to pop up after New Year's. Back in January of 1878, department store operator John Wanamaker held the first white sale as a way to push bedding inventory out of his stores. Since then, retailers have offered these top-of-the-year sales and January remains the best time to buy sheets, comforters, and other cozy bed linens.

4. HOLIDAY DÉCOR

Rows of holiday gnomes.
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If you are planning to snag a new Christmas tree, lights, or other festive décor, it's likely worth making due with what you have and snapping up new items after December 25. After the holidays, retailers are looking to quickly move out holiday items to make way for spring inventory, so ornaments, trees, yard inflatables, and other items often drastically drop in price, offering better deals than before the holidays. If you truly can't wait, the better option is shopping as close to Christmas as possible, when stores try to reduce their Christmas stock before resorting to clearance prices.

5. TOYS

Child choosing a toy car.
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Unless you're shopping for a very specific gift that's likely to sell out before the holidays, Black Friday toy deals often aren't the best time to fill your cart at toy stores. Stores often begin dropping toy prices two weeks before Christmas, meaning there's nothing wrong with saving all your shopping (and gift wrapping) until the last minute.

6. ENGAGEMENT RINGS AND JEWELRY

Rows of rings.
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Holiday jewelry commercials can be pretty persuasive when it comes to giving diamonds and gold as gifts. But, savvy shoppers can often get the best deals on baubles come spring and summer—prices tend to be at their highest between Christmas and Valentine's Day thanks to engagements and holiday gift-giving. But come March, prices begin to drop through the end of summer as jewelers see fewer purchases, making it worth passing up Black Friday deals.

7. PLANE TICKETS AND TRAVEL PACKAGES

Searching for flights online.
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While it's worth looking at plane ticket deals on Black Friday, it's not always the best idea to whip out your credit card. Despite some sales, the best time to purchase a flight is still between three weeks and three and a half months out. Some hotel sites will offer big deals after Thanksgiving and on Cyber Monday, but it doesn't mean you should spring for next year's vacation just yet. The best travel and accommodation deals often pop up in January and February when travel numbers are down.

8. FOOD AND SNACK BASKETS

Gift basket against a blue background.
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Fancy fruit, meat and cheese, and snack baskets are easy gifts for friends and family (or yourself, let's be honest), but they shouldn't be snagged on Black Friday. And because baskets are jam-packed full of perishables, you likely won't want to buy them a month away from the big day anyway. But traditionally, you'll spend less cheddar if you wait to make those purchases in December.

9. WINTER CLOTHING

Rack of women's winter clothing.
Photo by Hannah Morgan on Unsplash.

Buying clothing out of season is usually a big money saver, and winter clothes are no exception. Although some brands push big discounts online and in-store, the best savings on coats, gloves, and other winter accessories can still be found right before Black Friday—pre-Thanksgiving apparel markdowns can hit nearly 30 percent off—and after the holidays.

10. SMARTPHONES

Group of hands holding smartphones.
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While blowout tech sales are often reserved for Cyber Monday, retailers will try to pull you in-store with big electronics discounts on Black Friday. But, not all of them are really the best deals. The price for new iPhones, for example, may not budge much (if at all) the day after Thanksgiving. If you're in the market for a new phone, the best option might be waiting at least a few more weeks as prices on older models drop. Or, you can wait for bundle deals that crop up during December, where you pay standard retail price but receive free accessories or gift cards along with your new phone.

11. KITCHEN GADGETS

Row of hanging kitchen knives and utensils.
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Black Friday is a great shopping day for cooking enthusiasts—at least for those who are picky about their kitchen appliances. Name-brand tools and appliances often see good sales, since stores drop prices upwards of 40 to 50 percent to move through more inventory. But that doesn't mean all slow cookers, coffee makers, and utensil prices are the best deals. Many stores advertise no-name kitchen items that are often cheaply made and cheaply priced. Purchasing these lower-grade items can be a waste of money, even on Black Friday, since chances are you may be stuck looking for a replacement next year. And while shoppers love to find deals, the whole point of America's unofficial shopping holiday is to save money on products you truly want (and love).

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The Origins of 5 International Food Staples

Food is more than fuel. Cuisine and culture are so thoroughly intertwined that many people automatically equate tomatoes with Italy and potatoes with Ireland. Yet a thousand years ago those dietary staples were unheard of in Europe. How did they get to be so ubiquitous there—and beyond?

1. TOMATOES

For years, the wonderful fruit that’s now synonymous with Italy was mostly ignored there. Native to South America and likely cultivated in Central America, tomatoes were introduced to Italy by Spanish explorers during the 1500s. Shortly thereafter, widespread misconceptions about the newcomers took root. In part due to their watery complexion, it was inaccurately thought that eating tomatoes could cause severe digestive problems. Before the 18th century, the plants were mainly cultivated for ornamental purposes. Tomato-based sauce recipes wouldn’t start appearing in present-day Italy until 1692 (although even those recipes were more like a salsa or relish than a sauce). Over the next 150 years, tomato products slowly spread throughout the peninsula, thanks in no small part to the agreeable Mediterranean climate. By 1773, some cooks had taken to stuffing tomatoes with rice or veal. In Naples, the fruits were sometimes chopped up and placed onto flatbread—the beginnings of modern pizza. But what turned the humble tomato into a national icon was the canning industry. Within Italy’s borders, this business took off in a big way during the mid-to-late 19th century. Because tomatoes do well stored inside metal containers, canning companies dramatically drove up the demand. The popularity of canned tomatoes was later solidified by immigrants who came to the United States from Italy during the early 20th century: Longing for Mediterranean ingredients, transplanted families created a huge market for Italian-grown tomatoes in the US.

2. CURRY

Bowl of chicken curry with a spoon in it

An international favorite, curry is beloved in both India and the British Isles, not to mention the United States. And it turns out humans may have been enjoying the stuff for a very, very long time. The word “curry” was coined by European colonists and is something of an umbrella term. In Tamil, a language primarily found in India and Sri Lanka, “kari” means “sauce.” When Europeans started traveling to India, the term was eventually modified into “curry,” which came to designate any number of spicy foods with South or Southeast Asian origins. Nonetheless, a great number of curry dishes share two popular components: turmeric and ginger. In 2012, traces of both were discovered inside residue caked onto pots and human teeth at a 4500-year-old archaeological site in northern India. And where there’s curry, there’s usually garlic: A carbonized clove of this plant was also spotted nearby. “We don’t know they were putting all of them together in a dish, but we know that they were eating them at least individually,” Steve Weber, one of the archaeologists who helped make this astonishing find, told The Columbian. He and his colleagues have tentatively described their discovery as "proto-curry."

3. THE BAGUETTE

Several baguettes

A quintessential Gallic food, baguettes are adored throughout France, where residents gobble up an estimated 10 billion every year. The name of the iconic bread ultimately comes from the Latin word for stick, baculum, and references its long, slender form. How the baguette got that signature shape is a mystery. One popular yarn credits Napoleon Bonaparte: Supposedly, the military leader asked French bakers to devise a new type of skinny bread loaf that could be comfortably tucked into his soldiers’ pockets. Another origin story involves the Paris metro, built in the 19th century by a team of around 3500 workers who were apparently sometimes prone to violence during meal times. It’s been theorized that the metro foremen tried to de-escalate the situation by introducing bread that could be broken into pieces by hand—thereby eliminating the need for laborers to carry knives. Alas, neither story is supported by much in the way of historical evidence. Still, it’s clear that lengthy bread is nothing new in France: Six-foot loaves were a common sight in the mid-1800s. The baguette as we know it today, however, didn’t spring into existence until the early 20th century. The modern loaf is noted for its crispy golden crust and white, puffy center—both traits made possible by the advent of steam-based ovens, which first arrived on France’s culinary scene in the 1920s.

4. POTATOES

Bowl of red, white, and black potatoes on wooden table

Historical records show that potatoes reached Ireland by the year 1600. Nobody knows who first introduced them; the list of potential candidates includes everyone from Sir Walter Raleigh to the Spanish Armada. Regardless, Ireland turned out to be a perfect habitat for the tubers, which hail from the misty slopes of the Andes Mountains in South America. Half a world away, Ireland’s rich soils and rainy climate provided similar conditions—and potatoes thrived there. They also became indispensable. For millennia, the Irish diet had mainly consisted of dairy products, pig meats, and grains, none of which were easy for poor farmers to raise. Potatoes, on the other hand, were inexpensive, easy to grow, required fairly little space, and yielded an abundance of filling carbs. Soon enough, the average Irish peasant was subsisting almost entirely on potatoes, and the magical plant is credited with almost single-handedly triggering an Irish population boom. In 1590, only around 1 million people lived on the island; by 1840, that number had skyrocketed to 8.2 million. Unfortunately, this near-total reliance on potatoes would have dire consequences for the Irish people. In 1845, a disease caused by fungus-like organisms killed off somewhere between one-third and one-half of the country’s potatoes. Roughly a million people died as a result, and almost twice as many left Ireland in a desperate mass exodus. Yet potatoes remained a cornerstone of the Irish diet after the famine ended; in 1899, one magazine reported that citizens were eating an average of four pounds’ worth of them every day. Expatriates also brought their love of potatoes with them to other countries, including the U.S. But by then, the Yanks had already developed a taste for the crop: The oldest record of a permanent potato patch on American soil dates back to 1719. That year, a group of farmers—most likely Scots-Irish immigrants—planted one in the vicinity of modern-day Derry, New Hampshire. From these humble origins, the potato steadily rose in popularity, and by 1796, American cookbooks were praising its “universal use, profit, and easy acquirement.”

5. CORN

Corn growing in a field

In the 1930s, geneticist George W. Beadle exposed a vital clue about how corn—also known as maize—came into existence. A future Nobel Prize winner, Beadle demonstrated that the chromosomes found in everyday corn bear a striking resemblance to those of a Mexican grass called teosinte. At first glance, teosinte may not look very corn-like. Although it does have kernels, these are few in number and encased in tough shells that can easily chip a human tooth. Nonetheless, years of work allowed Beadle to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that corn was descended from teosinte. Today, genetic and archaeological data suggests that humans began the slow process of converting this grass into corn around 8700 years ago in southwestern Mexico. If you're wondering why early farmers showed any interest in cultivating teosinte to begin with, while the plant is fairly unappetizing in its natural state, it does have a few key attributes. One of these is the ability to produce popcorn: If held over an open fire, the kernels will “pop” just as our favorite movie theater treat does today. It might have been this very quality that inspired ancient horticulturalists to tinker around with teosinte—and eventually turn it into corn

BONUS: TEA

Person sitting cross-legged holding a cup of green tea

The United Kingdom’s ongoing love affair with this hot drink began somewhat recently. Tea—which is probably of Chinese origin—didn’t appear in Britain until the 1600s. Initially, the beverage was seen as an exotic curiosity with possible health benefits. Shipping costs and tariffs put a hefty price tag on tea, rendering it quite inaccessible to the lower classes. Even within England’s most affluent circles, tea didn’t really catch on until King Charles II married Princess Catherine of Braganza. By the time they tied the knot in 1662, tea-drinking was an established pastime among the elite in her native Portugal. Once Catherine was crowned Queen, tea became all the rage in her husband’s royal court. From there, its popularity slowly grew over several centuries and eventually transcended socioeconomic class. At present, the average Brit drinks an estimated three and a half cups of tea every day.

All photos courtesy of iStock.

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