Plug Pulled on "The Practice"

The Practice has seemed more like The James Spader Show this season. Next fall, that idea may become a reality.

Despite a resurgence in the fading ABC legal drama's popularity this season--thanks mostly to an Emmy-worthy performance by new cast member Spader--ABC announced Wednesday that the May 16 season finale of The Practice will also be the series finale for the show.

But not for all the cast members. ABC also announced that it's working with The Practice creator David E. Kelley on a spinoff series for next fall. And the rumors that have been swirling for weeks suggest that, if negotiations with big-screen star Spader pan out, the new legal drama will revolve around his ethically challenged Alan Shore character from The Practice.

"This is very gratifying. Last year it seemed that the series was over," Kelley says, referring to The Practice's on-the-bubble status in 2003, when Kelley, believing the show would be canceled, even wrote a series finale. "Instead, we've been given the opportunity to evolve and go on. We look forward to the future."

"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," says ABC Entertainment president Susan Lyne. "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."

That's polite network speak for "the show and the cast has become tired, but we'd really like to capitalize on the talents of standout new tube star James Spader."

Spader, who debuted in the show's eighth season premiere last September, has created much havoc and--thankfully, for viewers of the all-but-dead drama--much excitement in the law offices of Young, Frutt & Berluti. From blackmailing opponents and soliciting a hooker with a colleague's name to sleeping with his best friend's mother and outing his priest friend's sexual shenanigans, Spader has stolen every scene he's in with his lovably quirky and slightly creepy attorney.

"At the same time that I find [Shore] sort of endearing and compelling, he's appalling at the exact same moment!" Spader told the Associated Press.

"He has so many qualities that are at such cross purposes with his profession. The legal profession is based on authority; he hates authority and questions it at every turn. It's based on protocol and diplomacy; he hates rules, and you don't know what he's going to say next--but it'll probably be inappropriate."

The character, which has helped the show see an almost 20 percent increase in viewership among the prized 18-49 demographic, has also been at odds with the other members of the firm, and that tension will lead to a story arc that will set up the spin-off series.

In the March 14 and 21 episodes--yep, that means spoilers ahead!--Young, Frutt & Berluti honcho Eugene (Steve Harris) tires of Shore's maverick machinations and fires him. Shore hires a prestigious firm (led by guest star William Shatner) to file a wrongful termination suit in the next installment, and eventually, Alan joins one of the biggest civil law firms in Boston.

Buzz is that a few cast members--most likely Rhona Mitra and Jessica Capshaw--may follow Spader's Shore to the new employer and fall 2004 series, while the rest, including the Emmy-nominated Harris and Emmy winners Camryn Manheim and Michael Badalucco, will join former series lead Dylan McDermott and Lara Flynn Boyle on the unemployment line.

McDermott and Boyle, along with Kelli Williams, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Chyler Leigh and Marla Sokoloff, were famously ousted at the end of last season, because of what Kelley called "economic and creative realities." McDermott is scheduled to return for a guest appearance later this season--presumably to help wrap the series' run--while Sokoloff guests in the March 14 and 21 episodes, and Williams returns in a new role: She makes her directorial debut with the show's March 14 installment.

© by Kimberly Potts , Mar 10, 2004, 1:45 PM PT, source: (Thank you, Sulena!)