Thursday, July 17, 2003

'Practice' states its case for the future


John Kiesewetter

LOS ANGELES - In the case of The People v. The Practice, will the first witness take the stand for cross-examination by the Television Critics Association?

Please state your name.

"David E. Kelley, creator and executive producer of The Practice."

On or about May 19, did you not terminate half the cast of your Emmy-winning TV drama, without warning, after seven years?

"That Sunday before, we were given a license fee (annual budget from ABC). The only thing we knew at that time for sure is that we were going to have to make the show at ... about half of the (cost). ... Economic realities dictated that we would have to make cuts."

How did you decide whom to fire?

"It was very, very difficult. I basically sat down and looked at where I thought the creative heart of this series would be in the future. So I started to focus on ... stories, and then ask myself: Through which characters am I best going to be able to realize those stories?"

So you retained Steve Harris, Camryn Manheim, Kate Capshaw and Michael Badalucco, and dismissed Lisa Gay Hamilton, Lara Flynn Boyle, Marla Sokoloff and star Dylan McDermott?

"Dylan had such a deal in place that it was pretty much prohibitive to bring him back under our current fee structure."

Exactly how will his absence be explained?

"We've already laid the groundwork at the end of the last season. Dylan's character (left) the firm."

Isn't it true that Mr. McDermott will be back next year?

"We have a deal in place with him for four episodes."

With all due respect, didn't you abruptly change the Chicago Hope cast before its final season?

"Any series, I think, as it goes on, has to incorporate change in order to make it viable. The best way to do that is bringing in new characters. ... This was very unique here at The Practice, where we were going into our eighth year, and we had all of our original cast."

Can you cite a precedent where wholesale cast changes entering the eighth year have been successful?


Earlier in our proceedings, ABC Entertainment president Susan Lyne testified that "the show had gotten to a point where it was repeating certain beats," and that you seized this opportunity to re-energize the show. Is that accurate?

"This is a new beginning. We can't necessarily count on a viewing constituency that has been there for seven years, because a lot of those people left."

Let the record show you're referring to the move from Sunday to Monday in February?

"That was just a disaster."

What can you tell us about attorney Alan Shore, played by James Spader?

"James' character is very, very different ... (and) ethically challenged in a way that the others are not."

You mean he's not as idealistic as the others? Less of a good guy?

"Yes. Correct. ... The audience has always felt some comfort that our people are going to do the right - if not righteous - thing. ... There will be no such comfort level with Alan Shore."

Will you confirm for us that, despite financial constraints, Sharon Stone will guest star this fall?

"We do expect that she will come on board for three episodes, possibly more ... toward the beginning of the season."

What do you want to say to loyal fans of The Practice?

"I guess I would encourage them to watch, and we'd have to assume the burden of making the show as good as it's been in the past. And if they're disappointed ... they'll let us know by tuning out.

"But I hope they would at least give us the chance and tune in. And if they do so, I think they'll be rewarded."

Did you consider changing the title to The Malpractice?

"No. I think I made enough changes, so I'll stick with the name."

No more questions, your honor. The public defenders rest their case.

TV today

Dateline NBC dishes the scoop with Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck (10 p.m., Channel 5).

Talk show guests

Regis and Kelly (9 a.m. Channel 9): Allison Janney

Caroline Rhea (3 p.m. Channel 19): Joy Behar

Oprah Winfrey (4 p.m. Channel 9): Tobey Maguire


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