'Practice' is perfect for a spinoff
James Spader loves to dance with David E. Kelley

That's why the cerebral actor decided to star in a Kelley spinoff of ABC's The Practice, Spader said in an interview hours after the deal was confirmed.
Alan Shore (James Spader, left) hires Denny Crane (William Shatner) to represent him in a wrongful-termination suit on The Practice.

"David and I have this wonderful dance we do," says Spader, 44. "I want more information, yet I love it when he surprises me. I asked for more information, and he continued to surprise me."

No surprise that Spader will star in the new drama, about a Boston civil law firm that Spader's Alan Shore joins after being fired by Berluti, Frutt & Young. The Practice will ends its eight-season run in May.

As the new guy this season, Spader quickly proved why he's an art-house film star (Secretary; sex, lies, and videotape), dominating every scene in which the smarmy Shore appears.

ABC has ordered 22 episodes of the still-untitled series. No word on Spader's salary, but Hollywood insiders say it's far above his current $100,000-per-episode paycheck.

Also no word on which Practice cast members might follow Spader. At this point, only one is said to be a lock: Rhona Mitra, who plays paralegal Tara Wilson, a Shore hormone stimulator.

A TV-series rookie, Spader never expected a spinoff.

"I'm a terrible planner. I don't see very far in front of my nose. I guess I just don't understand the business of this at all. This season, I didn't know if they'd want me past two or three episodes."

Moreover, Spader refuses to see himself as the star of the new show. "I'm unwilling to take on that burden. I continue to live in the blissful ignorance I had before I entered the fray last year."

Star Trek's William Shatner entered the fray Sunday as legendary shark Denny Crane, senior partner at Boston's Crane, Poole & Schmidt. Shore hires the firm to represent him in a wrongful-termination suit against Berluti, Frutt & Young. Crane lures Shore to the shop. Shatner will appear in at least three of the remaining five episodes. His contract has an option for Kelley to make him a regular on the spinoff.

For Spader, it's all about avoiding ruts.

"I've been given a tremendous opportunity to not come back to the exact same thing. In any series, I would have been apprehensive about the sameness of it, the redundancy. Now it's in an entirely different world."

How different?

Well, for some bizarre reason, ABC refuses to call the new show a spinoff, instead labeling it "an evolution." Even the folks at 20th Century Fox, which produces Practice, don't get it.

"Nobody's been able to explain that to me," says an insider at the studio. "It's part of the Hollywood touchy-feely nonsense. It's a spinoff."

© By GAIL SHISTER, Knight Ridder Newspapers (Thank you, Sulena!)