One of Tuesday’s big TV-on-DVD releases is Shout! Factory’s set of Spin City: Season 1. This was not the best season of the show (not the worst, either, since it’s not the Charlie Sheen season), but it gets better as it goes along, and Shout! has done a great job on the extras: a long making-of featurette with just about everybody participating, commentaries from most of the main actors, and two separate commentaries on the pilot, one by director Tommy Schlamme and the other by creators Gary David Goldberg (Family Ties) and Bill Lawrence (Scrubs).
I don’t think either of the creators are, or should be, as well known for this show as they are for their better-known solo creations; it was just a solid show from a time when ensemble office comedies were taken for granted, built around a great star and some excellent supporting players. (Alan Ruck as Stewart was one of the last great amoral slimeballs in TV comedy; nobody seems to be able to write that kind of character effectively any more.) The early episodes also show how nothing ever changes in TV, including mistakes: this was yet another show that tried to split its time between the hero’s work life and his home life, only to discover that nobody cared about his home life or his girlfriend (Carla Gugino). She was written off the show, and it became an office-only comedy, which is what it should have been all along.
Spin City was Goldberg and Fox’s attempt to get in on the post-Seinfeld, post-Friends type of show, where scenes were shorter, plots were more complicated, and staging was less stagy. Goldberg asked Lawrence, a young writer who had been booted off Friends, to do the show with him because he understood that type of comedy. The show as it developed has quite a bit in common with Scrubs, though Scrubs, even though it looks edgier, is actually a lot more sentimental. (Half-hour comedies are overall a lot more sentimental now than they were in the ’90s, when the Seinfeld “no hugging, no learning” rule was a big influence.) You can also see how four-camera shows were scrambling to set themselves apart by using more cinematic lighting and camera moves, though I sometimes wonder what the point of it was; the actors point out in the commentaries how realistic the lighting is, but do you really want realistic lighting in this kind of show