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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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The Curious Origins of 16 Common Phrases
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Our favorite basketball writer is ESPN's Zach Lowe. On his podcast, the conversation often takes detours into the origins of certain phrases. We compiled a list from Zach and added a few of our own, then sent them to language expert Arika Okrent. Where do these expressions come from anyway?

1. BY THE SAME TOKEN

Bus token? Game token? What kind of token is involved here? Token is a very old word, referring to something that’s a symbol or sign of something else. It could be a pat on the back as a token, or sign, of friendship, or a marked piece of lead that could be exchanged for money. It came to mean a fact or piece of evidence that could be used as proof. “By the same token” first meant, basically “those things you used to prove that can also be used to prove this.” It was later weakened into the expression that just says “these two things are somehow associated.”

2. GET ON A SOAPBOX

1944: A woman standing on a soapbox speaking into a mic
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The soapbox that people mount when they “get on a soapbox” is actually a soap box, or rather, one of the big crates that used to hold shipments of soap in the late 1800s. Would-be motivators of crowds would use them to stand on as makeshift podiums to make proclamations, speeches, or sales pitches. The soap box then became a metaphor for spontaneous speech making or getting on a roll about a favorite topic.

3. TOMFOOLERY

The notion of Tom fool goes a long way. It was the term for a foolish person as long ago as the Middle Ages (Thomas fatuus in Latin). Much in the way the names in the expression Tom, Dick, and Harry are used to mean “some generic guys,” Tom fool was the generic fool, with the added implication that he was a particularly absurd one. So the word tomfoolery suggested an incidence of foolishness that went a bit beyond mere foolery.

4. GO BANANAS

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The expression “go bananas” is slang, and the origin is a bit harder to pin down. It became popular in the 1950s, around the same time as “go ape,” so there may have been some association between apes, bananas, and crazy behavior. Also, banana is just a funny-sounding word. In the 1920s people said “banana oil!” to mean “nonsense!”

5. RUN OF THE MILL

If something is run of the mill, it’s average, ordinary, nothing special. But what does it have to do with milling? It most likely originally referred to a run from a textile mill. It’s the stuff that’s just been manufactured, before it’s been decorated or embellished. There were related phrases like “run of the mine,” for chunks of coal that hadn’t been sorted by size yet, and “run of the kiln,” for bricks as they came out without being sorted for quality yet.

6. READ THE RIOT ACT

The Law's Delay: Reading The Riot Act 1820
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When you read someone the riot act you give a stern warning, but what is it that you would you have been reading? The Riot Act was a British law passed in 1714 to prevent riots. It went into effect only when read aloud by an official. If too many people were gathering and looking ready for trouble, an officer would let them know that if they didn’t disperse, they would face punishment.

7. HANDS DOWN

Hands down comes from horse racing, where, if you’re way ahead of everyone else, you can relax your grip on the reins and let your hands down. When you win hands down, you win easily.

8. SILVER LINING

The silver lining is the optimistic part of what might otherwise be gloomy. The expression can be traced back directly to a line from Milton about a dark cloud revealing a silver lining, or halo of bright sun behind the gloom. The idea became part of literature and part of the culture, giving us the proverb “every cloud has a silver lining” in the mid-1800s.

9. HAVE YOUR WORK CUT OUT

The expression “you’ve got your work cut out for you” comes from tailoring. To do a big sewing job, all the pieces of fabric are cut out before they get sewn together. It seems like if your work has been cut for you, it should make job easier, but we don’t use the expression that way. The image is more that your task is well defined and ready to be tackled, but all the difficult parts are yours to get to. That big pile of cut-outs isn’t going to sew itself together!

10. THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE

A grapevine is a system of twisty tendrils going from cluster to cluster. The communication grapevine was first mentioned in 1850s, the telegraph era. Where the telegraph was a straight line of communication from one person to another, the “grapevine telegraph” was a message passed from person to person, with some likely twists along the way.

11. THE WHOLE SHEBANG

The earliest uses of shebang were during the Civil War era, referring to a hut, shed, or cluster of bushes where you’re staying. Some officers wrote home about “running the shebang,” meaning the encampment. The origin of the word is obscure, but because it also applied to a tavern or drinking place, it may go back to the Irish word shebeen for a ramshackle drinking establishment.

12. PUSH THE ENVELOPE

Pushing the envelope belongs to the modern era of the airplane. The “flight envelope” is a term from aeronautics meaning the boundary or limit of performance of a flight object. The envelope can be described in terms of mathematical curves based on things like speed, thrust, and atmosphere. You push it as far as you can in order to discover what the limits are. Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff brought the expression into wider use.

13. CAN’T HOLD A CANDLE

We say someone can’t hold a candle to someone else when their skills don’t even come close to being as good. In other words, that person isn’t even good enough to hold up a candle so that a talented person can see what they’re doing in order to work. Holding the candle to light a workspace would have been the job of an assistant, so it’s a way of saying not even fit to be the assistant, much less the artist.

14. THE ACID TEST

Most acids dissolve other metals much more quickly than gold, so using acid on a metallic substance became a way for gold prospectors to see if it contained gold. If you pass the acid test, you didn’t dissolve—you’re the real thing.

15. GO HAYWIRE

What kind of wire is haywire? Just what it says—a wire for baling hay. In addition to tying up bundles, haywire was used to fix and hold things together in a makeshift way, so a dumpy, patched-up place came to be referred to as “a hay-wire outfit.” It then became a term for any kind of malfunctioning thing. The fact that the wire itself got easily tangled when unspooled contributed to the “messed up” sense of the word.

16. CALLED ON THE CARPET

Carpet used to mean a thick cloth that could be placed in a range of places: on the floor, on the bed, on a table. The floor carpet is the one we use most now, so the image most people associate with this phrase is one where a servant or employee is called from plainer, carpetless room to the fancier, carpeted part of the house. But it actually goes back to the tablecloth meaning. When there was an issue up for discussion by some kind of official council it was “on the carpet.”

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15 Facts About the Summer Solstice
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It's the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, so soak up some of those direct sunrays (safely, of course) and celebrate the start of summer with these solstice facts.

1. THIS YEAR IT'S JUNE 21.

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The summer solstice always occurs between June 20 and June 22, but because the calendar doesn't exactly reflect the Earth's rotation, the precise time shifts slightly each year. For 2018, the sun will reach its greatest height in the sky for the Northern Hemisphere on June 21 at 6:07 a.m. Eastern Time.

2. THE SUN WILL BE DIRECTLY OVERHEAD AT THE TROPIC OF CANCER.

A vintage mapped globe showing the Tropic of Cancer
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While the entire Northern Hemisphere will see its longest day of the year on the summer solstice, the sun is only directly overhead at the Tropic of Cancer (23 degrees 27 minutes north latitude).

3. THE NAME COMES FROM THE FACT THAT THE SUN APPEARS TO STAND STILL.

Stonehenge at sunrise.
CARL DE SOUZA, AFP/Getty Images

The term "solstice" is derived from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still), because the sun's relative position in the sky at noon does not appear to change much during the solstice and its surrounding days. The rest of the year, the Earth's tilt on its axis—roughly 23.5 degrees—causes the sun's path in the sky to rise and fall from one day to the next.

4. THE WORLD'S BIGGEST BONFIRE WAS PART OF A SOLSTICE CELEBRATION.

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Celebrations have been held in conjunction with the solstice in cultures around the world for hundreds of years. Among these is Sankthans, or "Midsummer," which is celebrated on June 24 in Scandinavian countries. In 2016, the people of Ålesund, Norway, set a world record for the tallest bonfire with their 155.5-foot celebratory bonfire.

5. THE HOT WEATHER FOLLOWS THE SUN BY A FEW WEEKS.

Colorful picture of the sun hitting ocean waves.
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You may wonder why, if the solstice is the longest day of the year—and thus gets the most sunlight—the temperature usually doesn't reach its annual peak until a month or two later. It's because water, which makes up most of the Earth's surface, has a high specific heat, meaning it takes a while to both heat up and cool down. Because of this, the Earth's temperature takes about six weeks to catch up to the sun.

6. THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE GATHER AT STONEHENGE TO CELEBRATE.

Rollo Maughfling, the Archdruid of Glastonbury and Stonehenge, conducts a Solstice celebration service for revelers as they wait for the midsummer sunrise at Stonehenge on June 21, 2012, near Salisbury, England.
Rollo Maughfling, the Archdruid of Glastonbury and Stonehenge, conducts a Solstice celebration service for revelers as they wait for the midsummer sunrise at Stonehenge on June 21, 2012, near Salisbury, England.
Matt Cardy, Getty Images

People have long believed that Stonehenge was the site of ancient druid solstice celebrations because of the way the sun lines up with the stones on the winter and summer solstices. While there's no proven connection between Celtic solstice celebrations and Stonehenge, these days, thousands of modern pagans gather at the landmark to watch the sunrise on the solstice.

7. PAGANS CELEBRATE THE SOLSTICE WITH SYMBOLS OF FIRE AND WATER.

Arty image of fire and water colliding.
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In Paganism and Wicca, Midsummer is celebrated with a festival known as Litha. In ancient Europe, the festival involved rolling giant wheels lit on fire into bodies of water to symbolize the balance between fire and water.

8. IN ANCIENT EGYPT, THE SOLSTICE HERALDED THE NEW YEAR.

Stars in the night sky.
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In Ancient Egypt, the summer solstice preceded the appearance of the Sirius star, which the Egyptians believed was responsible for the annual flooding of the Nile that they relied upon for agriculture. Because of this, the Egyptian calendar was set so that the start of the year coincided with the appearance of Sirius, just after the solstice.

9. THE ANCIENT CHINESE HONORED THE YIN ON THE SOLSTICE.

Yin and yang symbol on textured sand.
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In ancient China, the summer solstice was the yin to the winter solstice's yang—literally. Throughout the year, the Chinese believed, the powers of yin and yang waxed and waned in reverse proportion to each other. At the summer solstice, the influence of yang was at its height, but the celebration centered on the impending switch to yin. At the winter solstice, the opposite switch was honored.

10. IN ALASKA, THE SOLSTICE IS CELEBRATED WITH A MIDNIGHT BASEBALL GAME.

Silhouette of a baseball player.
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Each year on the summer solstice, the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks celebrate their status as the most northerly baseball team on the planet with a game that starts at 10:00 p.m. and stretches well into the following morning—without the need for artificial light—known as the Midnight Sun Game. The tradition originated in 1906 and was taken over by the Goldpanners in their first year of existence, 1960.

11. THE EARTH IS ACTUALLY AT ITS FARTHEST FROM THE SUN DURING THE SOLSTICE.

The Earth tilted on its axis.
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You might think that because the solstice occurs in summer that it means the Earth is closest to the sun in its elliptical revolution. However, the Earth is actually closest to the sun when the Northern Hemisphere experiences winter and is farthest away during the summer solstice. The warmth of summer comes exclusively from the tilt of the Earth's axis, and not from how close it is to the sun at any given time. 

12. IRONICALLY, THE SOLSTICE MARKS A DARK TIME IN SCIENCE HISTORY.

Galileo working on a book.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Legend has it that it was on the summer solstice in 1633 that Galileo was forced to recant his declaration that the Earth revolves around the Sun; even with doing so, he still spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

13. AN ALTERNATIVE CALENDAR HAD AN EXTRA MONTH NAMED AFTER THE SOLSTICE.

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In 1902, a British railway system employee named Moses B. Cotsworth attempted to institute a new calendar system that would standardize the months into even four-week segments. To do so, he needed to add an extra month to the year. The additional month was inserted between June and July and named Sol because the summer solstice would always fall during this time. Despite Cotsworth's traveling campaign to promote his new calendar, it failed to catch on.

14. IN ANCIENT GREECE, THE SOLSTICE FESTIVAL MARKED A TIME OF SOCIAL EQUALITY.

Ancient Greek sculpture in stone.
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The Greek festival of Kronia, which honored Cronus, the god of agriculture, coincided with the solstice. The festival was distinguished from other annual feasts and celebrations in that slaves and freemen participated in the festivities as equals.

15. ANCIENT ROME HONORED THE GODDESS VESTA ON THE SOLSTICE.

Roman statue of a vestal virgin
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In Rome, midsummer coincided with the festival of Vestalia, which honored Vesta, the Roman goddess who guarded virginity and was considered the patron of the domestic sphere. On the first day of this festival, married women were allowed to enter the temple of the Vestal virgins, from which they were barred the rest of the year.

A version of this list originally ran in 2015.

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