Ally McBeal and The Practice

Ally McBeal (1997-2002)
The Practice (1997-2004)
Type: Crossover
Group 2

   What happens when the left and right side of producer David E. Kelley's brain come together? I dunno. He sneezes? But when his hit legal comedy and his hit legal drama meet up what happens is a really standout and unusual crossover.

   In 1997 Kelley premiered two new legal shows. Ally McBeal was FOX's hour long comedy/drama centering around lawyer Ally McBeal and the other oddball lawyers at the Boston firm where she worked. Richard Fish was the tactless head of the agency, obsessed with success and also obsessed with women's wattles (wattles being the loose skin hanging under people's necks). I told you... oddballs. Then there was John "The Biscuit" Cage, a good lawyer but also a shy eccentric stutterer. Billy and his wife Georgia were not only both lawyers at the firm, Billy was Ally's ex and Georgia was who he'd "ex'd" her for. Ally herself was the most eccentric, prone to elaborate daydreams which we the audience got to see - from a dancing baby that symbolized her biological clock haunting her to lower key things like daggers literally shooting from her eyes.

   Kelley's other show, ABC's The Practice was a dark legal drama. It centered on a Boston law firm specializing in criminal law. In most legal shows you get to root for the regulars as they strive to put the bad guys away. The Practice was unique in that the regulars... our heroes... more often than not were put in the position of striving to get the bad guys freed! I told you... dark. Week after week the lawyers would force themselves to do their best even when they thought their clients were scum. And then they'd have to try and live with having gotten people who were likely guilty back onto the streets and deal with the resulting loss of their own innocence. The head of the firm was Bobby Donnell. Other lawyers included Eugene, a large black lawyer whose wife worried about the message he was sending to their son by defending scum; Ellenor, a heavy set female lawyer who ended up defending her friend/boyfriend from some seriously heinous murder charges only to find out he was guilty when he tried to kill her and her roommate; Jimmy Berluti, a every man sort of schmo in appearance who was actually a decent man and a great attorney... and the rest, here on Gilligan's Island!!!

   Well, how the hell could these shows collide? One's a comedy and one's a drama. One's on FOX, one's on NBC. But, they were also both David E. Kelley shows and both set in Boston and at the time they were both on the same night right after each other. With both shows hits and Kelley a TV powerhouse he was somehow able to get the networks to green light the crossover. Since hyping the crossover would be giving publicity to a competing network each net promoted only their own episode.

   The story started on FOX's Ally McBeal and then continued the next hour on ABC's The Practice. The plot managed to find elements to compliment both shows style. One of the clients of Ally's firm was accused of killing her husband with an ax. Her defense? In a past life she was Lizzy Borden. Let me back up and explain...

   The first half of the story on Ally McBeal dealt mainly with the preparation for the trial. Fearing their firm was not up to a murder case, Fish and Cage, Ally's firm, called in Bobby Donnell and company to help. The episode played for a lot of humor off the differences between the firms. Bobby's group was shaken by the McBeal bunch's strange behavior - unisex bathrooms, Fish making insane statements to the press about the case and fingering women's wattles... they were so strange Bobby even felt the need to advise the client to drop Fish and Cage's firm from the case. Meanwhile Ally's group were stunned by Bobby's group's hardness, by their "win by any means" tactics.

   The client as it turned out had no memory of the crime. She had blacked out and only remembered swinging a hatchet. Her psychiatrist told them that under hypnosis she had regressed to a past life where she was Lizzy Borden. It seemed while she was blacked out she had become Lizzy and killed her husband. There was even evidence that this was true - obscure references to Lizzy's life in things the client said and did. An oddball defense for Ally's oddball group. Only her doctor didn't want to help. He knew that if he testified to the Lizzy Borden thing in a high media profile case he would look crazy and be ruined. In the end though he agreed.

   The case kicked into higher and more serious gear on The Practice. Ally and Billy were co-chairs on the case but Bobby and Eugene handled most of the case. The doctor was put on the stand and testified about the past life. The prosecution turned around and surprised everyone by getting the doctor to admit he was having an affair with the defendant thus making his testimony seem biased! He was after all trying to save the woman he loved.

   To help save their case the defendant herself took the stand as well as several other witnesses to back up their past life defense. But their case was still weak. Bobby convinced Ally to try and get the doctor to take the stand again. The idea was he was the center of their case and they needed to get him back up their and fix his image with the jurors to make their case. More than before though he didn't want to testify. His life was in ruins. The whole world including his children had seen him not only give the Lizzy testimony but also admit to fooling around with a patient! But Ally persuaded him that he had to help the woman he loved.

   What Bobby didn't tell Ally was that they were going to suckerpunch or Plan B the guy. They would point the finger of guilt at the doctor, whether he did it or not, to give the jury the reasonable doubt they needed to acquit. Once they got the doctor on the stand, Eugene attacked the quiet shy man, accusing him of the murder. He put forward the theory that the psychiatrist had planted the Lizzy Borden stuff in his clients mind while she was hypnotized, given her medicine to knock her out and that HE then had murdered her husband. They had convinced this man to get on the stand one more time after ruining him only to then further destroy him with a theory they didn't actually believe. Anything to get the client off.

   The next day, as Bobby Donnell gave his closing statement, again accusing the psychiatrist of the crime, the doctor stood up in court, pulled out a gun and shot himself in the head. Everyone was stunned. In the end Ally came to a distraught Bobby in the now empty court room to tell him he was right after all. The police found evidence and a confession that proved their theory about the doctor was right on the money. It was little consolation. A dark ending arrived at from a quirky starting point. The perfect blend of the two shows.

   There was one further crossover in that season's finale of Ally McBeal. Bobby returned to Ally McBeal (the show) to ask Ally (the lawyer) to help him on a case. He had two clients who wanted to swap hearts. One was a rich man with a bad heart and the other a poor man with a good one. Even though it looked like a rich man buying a heart for himself, that was not the case. The poor man really wanted to voluntarily give up his heart to save the life of his best friend. The problem was the hospital did not want to be party to such a thing. In the end the judge let Ally decide the case. Ally couldn't do it and denied the transfer.

   But there was more to it than that. In the course of the case, Bobby and Ally got close... very close. They danced, they kissed and then they chickened out. In the end Bobby realized that with where he was in his life, if they got involved right then he would screw things up. Or as Ally put it, "So for the sake of our relationship lets not have one?" So for the time being they put their potential relationship on hold. The truth is inter network relationships are just too difficult and Kelley would have gone bonkers making that work!

   All in all one of the most amazing crossovers I've seen. A good story and a very rare cross network crossover! Kelley had tried to do one earlier when his Picket Fences on CBS tried to do a crossover with The X-Files on FOX. It didn't happen. He had to wait for his inter-network cross. Later he did it again with FOX's Boston Public crossing over with, once again, ABC's The Practice.

Other Ally McBeal Links
Ally McBeal and Ally
Ally McBeal and Boston Public

Other The Practice Links
The Practice and Boston Legal
The Practice and Boston Public
The Practice and Gideon's Crossing

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