ABC's Plans for 'Practice?' Don't Say the 'S' Word

ABC says it is definitely shuttering its David E. Kelley courtroom drama "The Practice."

Sort of.

In one of the stranger program announcements made this season, ABC says the series will "end" in May but, in the same sentence, also says it will "evolve" in the fall into a drama set in "the high-priced, high-end world of civil law."

I don't know about Burbank, Calif., where ABC is based, but where I come from, this is called "canceling" the original series and greenlighting a "spinoff."

But ABC and 20th Century Fox, the studio where Kelley makes the series, went to extraordinary lengths not to use the "S" word. They did say, however, that "current plans have several of the characters from 'The Practice' going" to the "evolved" series.

Which, call me crazy, sounds just like NBC's plans for Joey Tribiani on the "Friends" spinoff.

The announcement came days after ABC Entertainment Group Chairman Lloyd Braun told the Reporters Who Cover Television that ABC was developing a courtroom drama with "the bloodlines" of "The Practice."

It's a spinoff, people!

ABC has made much about the rejuvenation of "The Practice" this season with the introduction of new lead James Spader.

This season to date, "The Practice" is down slightly from last season, with an average of 9 million viewers compared with just under 10 million last season. At an average of 9 million, "The Practice" is not doing as well on Sunday nights as was the canceled "Dragnet," which averaged 9.8 million viewers during its run.

The "rejuvenation" to which ABC refers is in comparison to the show's dismal performance Monday nights last season, starting in January. "The Practice" began the season in its usual Sunday berth, where it averaged a respectable 11.1 million viewers. ABC moved it to Monday, opposite a new little series on Fox called "Joe Millionaire."

"The Practice" lost about 24 percent of its viewers in that move. This allowed ABC to offer to slash the license fee it would pay to air the show this season by about half -- from a little more than $6 million per episode to about $3 million per. That, in turn, inspired Kelley to whack some of the show's higher-priced stars, including Dylan McDermott and Lara Flynn Boyle. McDermott was replaced with Spader, who, most agree, has turned out to be a TV star.

ABC has given the "evolved" series a 22-episode order for the fall. And though the network insists that the final greenlighting of this "evolved" series is not contingent on getting Spader to stay on board, in an episode that will air this season, Spader's ethically challenged character will quit the Boston firm and join a new firm that works in the high-priced world of civil law. Ironically, the "evolved" series that will air next season will be set in the high-priced world of civil law.

The new series, several television industry sources report, is expected to be more "Ally McBeal"-ish and, according to one network source, may be set in a clime that will allow the women to wear less clothing. Which is always a good thing when trying to launch an "evolved" series.

Stating the obvious, an Internet betting site announced that Fantasia Barrino and LaToya London are odds-on faves to win "American Idol" this go-round.

Even more obvious, Matt Rogers -- sporting a very dubious weave this week -- and Leah LaBelle are the least likely to win, according to Antigua-based Intertops.

Barrino and London can actually sing, while Rogers was voted through to the competition by viewers because he once played football on a team that went to the Rose Bowl. And this week, LaBelle was picked to become a finalist by show judge Paula Abdul from among eight rejectees who were brought back for another audition.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company (Thank you, Sulena!)

James Spader was brought in to spice up "The Practice," which ABC says will "end" in May and "evolve" in the fall into another courtroom drama. (Richard Cartwright -- ABC)