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'Spun Out' introduces troubled mayor; just don't confuse him with Rob Ford

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You'd think plopping a character based on Toronto Mayor Rob Ford into a sitcom would be a no-brainer. The embattled mayor, currently in rehab, has been the subject of late night barbs for well over a year. He even flew to Los Angeles in March to be a guest of "Jimmy Kimmel Live," where the host mocked him for dressing "like a magician." Just a week or so ago, David Letterman ran a "Top 10 reasons Rob Ford is taking a leave of absence." No. 10: "His drinking is beginning to interfere with his crack smoking."

On Friday, a rather tubby, out-of-control mayor seeks help on the season finale of the new Canadian comedy "Spun Out" (CTV, 8 p.m. ET). "Troubled Mayor Seeks Image Makeover," reads the headline on the release promoting the episode. The character is described as, "Lewd. Obnoxious. Drunken. The city's most controversial mayor…"

Just don't confuse him with anyone who might actually be the current mayor of Toronto, pleads "Spun Out" co-creator Jeff Biederman.

"Spun Out" stars Dave Foley as the head of a public relations firm staffed with people, "who can spin anybody's problems but their own." Celebrities sometimes come seeking help. An earlier episode featured a bratty pop star who might have reminded some viewers of Justin Bieber.

Biederman and fellow executive producer and showrunner Brent Piaskoski certainly were aware of Rob Ford when the idea of having an out of control major seek help from their fictional Public Relations firm was first kicked around the writers' room. But the spin they're putting on this "Spun Out" episode is that any resemblance to T.O.'s troubled top magistrate is purely a coincidence.

"We went with 'mayor' not because of the obvious comparisons to our city's mayor," says Biederman. "It was mostly because if we go with 'premier' and we do sales internationally, people might not know who that is."

Lawyers generally read scripts to check for potential litigious issues before an episode goes to camera. The legal team at "Spun Out" did caution the producers to back off some Ford associations. Suggestions to call the character "Dodge" or other car names were quickly dismissed. (He's called "Johnson" in the episode.)

Biederman says Ford's real life antics had not hit their "fever pitch" back when the episode was written. "Spun Out" is shot before a live, studio audience, with this episode going before the cameras way back last summer. Even then, Biederman admits, the crowd in the bleachers could tell where the writers were going with this.

The cautious measures taken by Canadian producers might surprise Canadian viewers used to seeing wayward celebrities such as Bieber, Charlie Sheen or even Ford roasted on shows such as "Saturday Night Live" or "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart." Even dramatic shows such as the original "Law & Order" routinely used stories that were "ripped from the headlines." An episode about a former New York State governor involved with an upstate prostitution ring aired after Eliot Spitzer was caught with his pants down. On "Law & Order: SVU," characters were portrayed who closely resembled the headline-making relationship between Rihanna and Chris Brown.

The Canadian legal system takes a different view of libel and defamation, forcing producers here to approach reality-based storylines with caution.

Playing Mayor Johnson on Friday's "Spun Out" is Marty Adams, a Second City alumnus with dozens of credits in Canadian film, TV and commercials including "The Ron James Show."

"Marty would make a better mayor than we currently have in the nondescript city that we don't mention," Biederman adds tongue-in-cheek.

The bottom line, says Biederman, is that "we wanted to use this thing for laughs as opposed to satire." Perhaps too, for promotion — "Spun Out" is, after all, a series placed in the world of publicity. CTV is expected to announce the fate of the Canadian sitcom any day now, and a ratings jump for the finale can't hurt its chances.

"Any time we can get publicity for our show, great," says Biederman.


Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.

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