Amidst all the business-oriented discussion of whether NBC, which cancelled much of the new programming it tried to introduce last year, can succeed by starting over, going middlebrow, or recreating past hits, there’s one part of the network’s programming decisions that merits mention on the content rather than the financial or audience calculations. The network is remaking Ironside, a show about a detective who uses a wheelchair after he’s shot in the line of duty that ran on NBC for eight seasons between 1967 and 1975. And it’ll be airing The Michael J. Fox show, a sitcom featuring the titular comedian, who did seven years on NBC with Family Ties, which ran from 1982 to 1989, as a news anchor who returns to work despite the way his Parkinson’s Disease, from which Fox suffers in real life. In other words, NBC is putting two shows on air that feature characters with physical limitations, moving a kind of character who’s often relegated to supporting roles—and who’s often there to illustrate the goodness of or provide moral tests to fully able-bodied characters—to the center of the frame. And from the trailers, it looks like both Ironside and The Michael J. Fox show won’t shy away from discussing their characters’ physical limitations, and other people’s reactions to them, directly.
Ironside presents its main character as a man who isn’t limited in his work—or from the trailer—his love life by the fact that he’s had to learn how to use a wheelchair. But the show does look like it’s going to give him something of a chip on his shoulder about it. There’s an interesting moment in the trailer when one of Ironside’s (Blair Underwood) colleagues suggests that he’s demanding for wanting more than the standard, and legally required, accommodations that make it easier for him to maneuver his home and office, and Ironside snaps at him that he was only pursuing what’s due him. It’s nice to see Ironside push back against the idea that people with disabilities need to be saintly exemplars to people who don’t have to use wheelchairs or other adaptive technologies. But it does look like the show might fall into another trope, that of demonstrating just how fully people with disabilities can live their lives, instead of taking that fact for granted. “You really a cripple?” a criminal asks Ironside at one point in the trailer. “You tell me,” Ironside shoots back: