Shingle file: 'Practice' makes way for change

When is a series finale not the true end? ABC's The Practice qualifies for several reasons.

The last episode establishes a new fall series about ethically challenged lawyer Alan Shore (James Spader). Bobby Donnell (Dylan McDermott) returns for the farewell, but he's not bringing the five other characters ditched with him before the season began.

Series creator David E. Kelley says a mass return would be too unwieldy, a view likely to displease longtime fans.

The program, airing at 10 p.m. Sunday on WFTV-Channel 9, marks the official conclusion after eight seasons.

"For all intents and purposes, The Practice ended last year when Bobby sort of closed the lights," says Michael Badalucco, who plays Jimmy Berluti. "This season was the antithesis of what The Practice was about for the past seven years. I thought it was interesting to have a character like Alan Shore come aboard, who was the opposite of what we all stood for."

Smarmy Shore clashed with his more upright colleagues, and The Practice morphed into another show. Before that, the legal drama won fans and Emmys with sharply drawn characters, provocative stories and sensational murder cases.

Camryn Manheim will continue playing Ellenor Frutt in a midseason comedy. She says she's sad about saying goodbye to The Practice but praises the way Kelley treats the characters at the fade-out.

"It's one chapter in our lives, and we're moving on," she says. "It would have been really hard to see it all wrapped up in a bow, and that's the end."

Most actors would have been miffed if their show's focus shifted to a newcomer. But Kelley says his actors were selfless and professional as Spader assumed the limelight.

"I have absolutely no resentment toward James Spader," Manheim says. "I think he's a genius."

The Practice joins the list of other Kelley creations that are now TV history: Ally McBeal, Chicago Hope and Picket Fences.

"I'm sorry to see it go, because I have a great loyalty and affection for it," Kelley says. "Creatively, however, I think we've had our run, and probably it's the best time to go."

© By Hal Boedeker | Sentinel Television Critic, Posted May 15, 2004