"Practice" Adjourning for Good

This season's series finales aren't so much endings as they are beginnings for new TV shows...

The recent series finale of Friends will lead to the premiere of Matt LeBlanc (news)'s Joey next fall, and the finale of Frasier might just beget a spinoff for the titular Dr. Crane.

And the Sunday night series ender of ABC's legal drama The Practice is the beginning of a new TV life for several of its characters.

The show, once a critical and ratings darling that won back-to-back Outstanding Drama Emmys in 1998 and 1999, had declined in both popularity and ratings in recent seasons thanks to a lot of over-the-top (read: bad) storylines and preachy writing.

"It made people think. That's when we were at our best," star Michael Badalucco told reporters in a teleconference earlier this month. "In the later years, we started getting into fantastic murder cases, and that, to me, was entertaining. [But] we were the thinking person's show for a while there, and people were interested."

When viewers stopped being interested, the network made a decision last year to fire more than half the cast members.

Dylan McDermott (news), Lara Flynn Boyle (news), Kelli Williams, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Chyler Leigh (news) and Marla Sokoloff (news) were out. Their replacements: an ethically challenged fast talker played by scene-stealing (and Emmy-worthy) big-screen star James Spader (news), a kooky, pompous attorney with a secret played by William Shatner (news) and a sassy legal assistant played by Rhona Mitra (news).

Ratings increased almost 20 percent earlier in the season, thanks in no small part to Spader's performance. So it was hardly a surprise when murmurings began in March that The Practice would end its run this season, while the replacement characters would go on to star in producer David E. Kelley's untitled spinoff drama, set to debut on ABC's fall schedule.

"David, with the help of a truly extraordinary cast, accomplished the impossible this season; they breathed new life into a show that had been on the air for seven years," recently fired ABC Entertainment President Susan Lyne said earlier this year. "Now it's time to take this series to the next level by moving it to a bigger, more complex law firm where David can introduce new characters and a broader range of legal and personal stories."

The last several episodes of the series leading up to Sunday's finale have set up the new show. Spader's Alan Shore was fired from Young, Frutt & Berluti, the law firm that has been the center of the show's action, because of his unethical--and sometimes illegal--decisions. That led to a new job at Crane, Poole & Schmidt, a prestigious firm led by Shatner's Denny Crane--whose eccentric habit of repeating his name is his way of hiding the fact that he has Alzheimer's Disease--for both Shore and pal Tara (Mitra), and a new premise and setting for next year's spinoff.

The finale continues to introduce the new series, which is also scheduled to include Rebecca De Mornay (news) as another partner at Shore's new firm, but also gives the old characters a chance to wrap-up their storylines.

The ousted McDermott, an original cast member who played firm head Bobby Donnell, returned in the penultimate installment to congratulate Eugene Young (Emmy nominee Steve Harris (news)), who recently left his post at Young, Frutt & Berluti to become a Boston judge. Jimmy Berluti (Emmy winner Badalucco) also abandoned the firm to return to his childhood neighborhood and open a law office with a new partner played by The Sopranos' Vincent Pastore. And Ellenor Frutt (Emmy winner Camryn Manheim (news)) was last seen socking De Mornay's Hannah Rose because of Rose's shady dealings in a case where Frutt is the opposing counsel.

No need to spoil the finale fun, but all four original characters find some unexpected consequences to their decisions, and some more interaction with Shore. And a hint: Both Badalucco and Manheim, according to ABC insiders, are talking to the network about spinoffs of their own.

As for Kelley, reports surfaced last month that he would be temporarily "retiring," and would not be involved with the Spader spinoff. Not true, he says. He is giving up the head writing job--a big concession for the producer who is famous for tinkering with every episode of every show he's done--but will be involved in writing and running the new show, which he calls "much more comedic" than The Practice."

"It'll be much more of a relationship and character piece," he told TV Guide Online. "It will approximate a soap opera more than the current Practice does. If I were going to compare this series with anything I've been involved with, it would be more commensurate with an L.A. Law-type franchise than The Practice or anything else."

Hey, we hear Corbin Bernsen (news) is available.

© By Kimberly Potts for E!Online