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Jul 15, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Kelley Comes Clean on ‘The Practice’

The dismissal of half the cast of “The Practice” was a creative decision to reinvigorate the show, creator David E. Kelley told a packed room at the Television Critics Association press tour in Hollywood Tuesday.

The exception was the departure of Dylan McDermott, who played Bobby Donnell for the past seven years. Mr. McDermott’s deal was conditioned on the license fee for the show remaining the same, and ABC and producers David E. Kelley Productions and Twentieth Century Fox Television agreed on a license fee of about half of what it was last season. “The economic realities dictated that we’d have to make cuts, so we did,” he said.

The cost of eight-year salaries for the original cast members, who all were still with the show, were too prohibitive to add new characters he felt could help the show creatively, Mr. Kelley said. Mr. McDermott, Lara Flynn Boyle, Marla Sokoloff, Lisa Gaye Hamilton and Kelli Williams won’t return next year.

Making phone calls to the dismissed cast members was “the toughest day I can remember careerwise,” Mr. Kelley said. Mr. McDermott was the most upset, and rightly so, Mr. Kelley said because Mr. McDermott was flown to New York for ABC’s upfront presentation to advertisers and then let go three days later.

James Spader and Rhona Mitra were added to the cast and they are in final negotiations with Sharon Stone to do a three-episode arc next fall. ABC did kick in extra money for guest stars, Mr. Kelley said.

Mr. Kelley said he decided to keep Steve Harris, Camryn Manheim and Jessica Capshaw because those characters’ storylines were the ones he gravitated to at the end of last season.

Mr. Kelley — who went through a very public spat with ABC’s top brass when the network moved “The Practice” from Sundays to ondays and saw the ratings plummet — had harsh words for network and studio executives who don’t seem to have the same love for scripted programming that they used to.

“I think there has been an erosion of respect for the medium by its guardians,” he said.

He said that network and studio executives used to be in the business because they wanted to make great TV shows and movies and now they are just beholden to the bottom line. He cited reality television as the worst example – networks have always run reality shows because they make economic sense but they just didn’t talk about it. “Today they celebrate their junk,” he said. “Where once they were ashamed of it, now they will throw a parade for it.”

Mr. Kelley wrote an episode of “The Practice” last year starring Andie McDowell as a crazed reality TV fan in response to his frustration with reality TV. He said he sat down to watch Fox’s “Joe Millionaire” because it was going to be “The Practice’s” new time slot competition. His wife Michelle Pfeiffer was sitting next to him reading a book and asked him what he was watching. After about 20 minutes of watching the show in disgust, he picked up the remote to change the channel and Ms. Pfeiffer wouldn’t let him because she was hooked. “Twenty five minutes in and I said this show is a monster hit,” he said.

Mr. Kelley described his relationship with ABC since the beginning of “The Practice” as a “rocky marriage.” After the show made ABC’s schedule, it moved to the unattractive time slot of Saturday night in season two. In success “we became the best of friends” and then were “estranged” for awhile after the time slot move last spring.

Despite being upset with ABC for moving “The Practice,” Mr. Kelley did admit that it magnified some of the show’s creative weaknesses. “We have to ask ourselves why isn’t our audience passionate enough to follow us to Mondays,” he said. “I hear that.”

With three shows on the air next season, Mr. Kelley said he will be very involved in “The Practice” and CBS’s “Brotherhood of oland, N.H.” but he has turned the reins of Fox’s “Boston Public” over to Jason Katims. (However, he has already written two “Boston” scripts for next season). He expects to write about 14 episodes of “Practice” next year.

Mr. McDermott will return for four episodes this season in a guest role, and Mr. Kelley said Ms. Williams and Ms. Hamilton might be back directing episodes of the show.

Lawmakers Push to Overturn FCC Decision: A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers led by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., announced today that they will introduce a congressional veto resolution to overturn the FCC’s recent deregulation of agency media ownership rules.

At a press conference, the lawmakers said the rarely-used parliamentary maneuver will allow them to sidestep the usual legislative procedures, perhaps clearing the way for a Senate vote before the end of August. Key House leaders have expressed opposition to the plan. But Sen. Dorgan said he believes Senate approval of the measure would put “substantial pressure” on the House to follow suit.

Sen. Lott added that if the resolution fails, lawmakers will probably shift their efforts toward rolling back the FCC’s deregulation with a rider on an appropriations bill. The first riders to roll back at least part of the FCC’s deregulation are expected to be unveiled Wednesday, when the House Appropriations Committee votes on an appropriations measure for FCC funding.

Also today, Democratic FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said he has asked his FCC colleagues to fix a provision in the agency’s new media rules that he said would otherwise consider Minot, S.D., the nation’s 155th DMA, to be a larger market for media merger purposes than Detroit, which is the nation’s 10th-largest DMA.

In a statement, Mr. Adelstein attributed the aberration to the fact that the FCC’s new rules count every public broadcasting station as a separate media entity in a market, even when they’re simulcasting the same programming. The FCC’s new rules create a problem in Minot, according to the commissioner, because there are four commercial TV stations and six noncommercial stations in the geographically large market. Though the six noncommercial stations are part of a state public broadcasting network that airs the same programming across the large territory covered by the market, the FCC’s rules count them as individual media entities.

By way of comparison, Detroit, which has twice as many commercial TV stations, has a total of nine TV stations. “When a large number of public television stations that broadcast exactly the same signal each count separately, it distorts the competitive realities in local media markets,” Mr. Adelstein said.

Mr. Adelstein and fellow Democratic FCC Commissioner Michael Copps formally requested an agency vote on whether to stay the media ownership rules pending congressional action.

In addition, National Association of Broadcasters President-CEO Eddie Fritts notified House Appropriations Committee leaders that the association opposes any efforts to roll back the media ownership deregulation, while the Network Affiliated Stations Alliance in another letter made clear that it supports legislation to re institute the 35 percent cap.

Ford Named Programming VP at National Geographic: John Ford, a veteran senior executive whose career has included launching three channels for Discovery Networks, has been appointed executive VP, programming, for the National Geographic Channel.

Mr. Ford, who will be based in the channel’s headquarters in the nation’s capital, will report directly to Laureen Ong, the channel’s president, and will oversee all aspects of the network’s programming strategy, including development, production, acquisition and scheduling.

Mr. Ford was TLC’s first general manager and launched Discovery Health Channel. He also is the former president of Discovery Networks’ Content Group, where he oversaw programming for Discovery domestic networks. His last position at Discovery was president of new media, a post he held from August 2002 until February of this year. He left the company after launching Discovery HD Theater.

In a statement Ms. Ong saluted Mr. Ford’s proven “talent for crafting programming tailored to a specific brand.”