The Practice and Boston Legal

Boston Legal (2004-2008)
The Practice (1997-2004)
Type: Spin Off
Group 2

   David E. Kelley loves them crossovers and law shows. Yet despite having his characters criss-crossing over between shows like a bunch of insane budgies (I have no idea what that even means) he never actually had one of his characters spin off from one show into another show. Not until a certain character named Alan Shore slithered into the David E. Kelley universe. Alan Shore was a savior to Kelley's series, keeping his legal universe from extinction, and the devil to the other characters he shared screen time with.

   In March 1997 David E. Kelley started his little legal microcosm going with the premiere of the series The Practice. Up till it premiered most law shows concerned themselves with successful heroic lawyers who went about defending their falsely accused clients and saving them from unfair inprisonment. The Practice flipped that concept on its head. The Practice was about good and decent Boston based lawyers who were barely surviving and out of necessity found themeselves often defending scumy and very guilty people. Not always but often. Their tactics involved doing whatever it took to win the case including fighting dirty. It got tons of drama by playing what was morally right against what was legally ethical. Poor Bobby Donnell and his friends would win their cases and then have their conscience eat them alive for helping to free guilty men while attacking the innocents on the stand.

   In September of the same year Kelley premiered another legal show called Ally McBeal. It was also about Boston lawyers but had a sillier and more romantic tone. Both shows were big hits. Kelley eventually established that both shows were part of the same reality. He even had them crossover with other Boston based shows such as Boston Public (another of his shows) and Gideon's Crossing (not a Kelley show).

   By 2002 his Boston reality was running out of steam. Ally McBeal adiosed it from TV at the end of the 2001-2002. Boston Public was entering into its final season. Boston Public was losing some steam as well. And The Practice was having about as tough a time as its lawyers. ABC moved the show from its long established timeslot. Plus the show was aging. The combination caused the shows normally solid ratings to drop. Then Kelley started getting into a public pissing contest with the network over their treatment of the show.

   At the end of the the 2002-2003 season things got really interesting. ABC agreed to renew The Practice and put it back in its old time slot. But in return Kelley had to agree to work on a much smaller budget. The budget had previously been... uh... 75 billion dollars (give or take a billion). ABC wanted him to do the show on a budget of $1.98 plus free Bazooka Joe gum (give or take some gum). To everyone's surprise Kelley said okay. To help with the budget Kelley fired just about everybody who wasn't nailed down. I believe he even fired some people on othe ABC shows. Seriously, half the cast hit the unemployment line. Then he went and brought in movie actor James Spader to play a whole new kind of lawyer, the aforementioned Alan Shore.

   If the old lawyers on The Practice were saints doing the devil's work, Shore was the devil trying to do the work of a saint. Literally imagine if the devil one day realized he liked and admired the angels and the work they did, realized he was probably not on the right path himself. Only it was too late. He was already the devil and their was nothing for it. He couldn't follow the same rules as the angels anymore. But he did admire them and wanted to help him in his own messed up way. That's Alan Shore. While the other attorneys would do everything within the bounds of the law to help their clients, good or bad Alan Shore would do anything in or outside the bounds of the law to help someone he really felt needed helping. Screw the law as long as the good guys won.

   Alan joined the law firm on The Practce having been fired from his old job for his unethical behavior. He charmed and won over the ladies in the firm but the men hated him. HATED HIM. He was rude. He flaunted the law. He broke the rules. He nearly destroyed the firm. He also brought more money into the firm than any other lawyer. He also made the series a going concern again. For most of the season the returning cast took a back seat to Alan Shore who engaged in behavior no TV lawyer ever had before.

   Finally at the end of the season the original cast was thrown back into the mix as they forcibly removed Alan from the firm. Alan sued the firm claiming that since he brought in about 99.9% of their cash he was an ipso-facto partner. They may have condemned his behavior but they sure were willing to share in the profits it produced.

   Alan hired a law firm to represent him that was run by a lawyer even odder than he was: Denny Crane. Denny Crane as played by William Shatner was both a legal genius and also a man perhaps on the verge of sinility. He would often proclaim apropo of nothing, "I'm Denny Crane!"believing it struck fear and awe into those around him, that simply saying his name bolstered any statement he made. That said, as off kilter as he would act, his legal genius would end up shining through and help to save the day. A lawyer played by William Shatner with Captain Kirk style and bravado. It was literally just so crazy that it worked.

   Between the two of them Denny and Alan won their case. The settlement was enough to crush the firm. They were doomed. Except for one saving grace. Like I said, despite not getting along with the "angels" and not being able to play by their rules, underneath it all he actually truly liked and admired them. He didn't sue them to break them. He sued them because they had treated him badly and were just asking for it. It was the principal of the thing. He let them off the hook.

   Despite Alan letting them off the hook, the firm was still breaking up. Lawyers JimmY Berluti and Jamie Stringer went off to form a new firm with a mobster-ish lawyer aimed at helping the little guy. Ellenor Frutt decided to take some time off to raise her baby. Eugene Young became a judge. The final episodes of The Practice saw several of the fired cast members return to help close up shop.

   Both having been fired, Alan Shore and the firm's legal clerk, Tara Wilson, also moved on to greener pastures. They both went to work for Denny Crane's firm. As The Practice died a new kind of legal drama was born: the spin off Fleet Street. No wait... The Practice II: Fleet Street! No wait... before it even debut in the fall of 2004 the spin off went through several title changes. At one point it was even going to be called The Sound Of Music before cooler heads prevailed. In the end it was called Boston Legal.

   So what would Boston Legal be? A serious legal drama about good lawyers like The Practice? Something lighter like Ally McBeal? Nope. Neither. And also a bit of both. It was amazingly enough a whole new animal. It wasn't set at a struggling defense firm or a wacky little oddball firm. It was set at a big money high class law firm where how crazy or a odd a lawyer might be was secondary to the results they produced.

   The first episode had a client wanting the lawyers to hire a detective to tail his cheating wife. This plan was nixed by Denny Crane since he was the one she was cheating with. In the end Denny had to deal with an angry gun toting husband. Did he sweet talk him? Nope. He yelled at the guy. Told him to shoot because if he died he would become a legal legend. Not that Denny was ultra-brave though. He just happened to realize the pistol was a starter's pistol.

   In another case a mother wanted to move her children out of state but was being blocked by her husband. Not that the husband really cared about the kids. He just wanted to use his legal rights to hurt his wife. And the husband was going to win too. Well, until Alan Shore (who wasn't even on the case) spotted the husband at a bar, set him up to be photographed with a hooker and then blackmailed him into backing off.

   The final case was a crazy Ally McBeal style case with a real world cynical ending. Alan Shore represented a heavy young black girl who was suing the producers of a stage production of Annie. They didn't hire her to play Annie despite the fact that she could outsing all the skinny white girls auditioning. Kinda crazy. The only reason Alan took the case was because he made a bet over whether he could win it with one of the other lawyers. Only the case was so absurd he couldn't win it. Well... not legally. Denny Crane helped him pull a rabbit out of his hat. Denny sent in real world lawyer and civil rights advocate Al Sharpton to make a fuss at the trial. It wouldn't win them the case but it would cause oodles of publicity. Bad publicty for the folks working on Annie. They'd get killed in the court of public opinion. The producers had no option but to cut a deal and hire the girl as an understudy and to let her do a few shows a week.

   Amazingly enough Kelley came up with yet another take on lawyers not really seen before. Will it take off and become a huge hit? Will it flounder with people not quite getting it or thinking it's just time for "The Practice" to end? Heck if I know but I'm tuning in. Just like Shatner as Denny Crane, its just so crazy it will likely work. Work or fail I want a front row seat. People! It's Captain Kirk as a crazy legal genius and James Spader as his nearly-as-crazy partner in crime! Good or bad it sure ain't gonna be boring.

Other Boston Legal Links
Boston Legal and Boston Public
Boston Legal and Cheers

Other The Practice Links
The Practice and Ally McBeal
The Practice and Boston Public
The Practice and Gideon's Crossing

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