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Monday, March 29, 2004  

Entertainment: The Practice leaves us wanting more

Will The Practice have three lives? Though the television program will end this summer, its legacy of excellent acting in a drama about a law firm will carry on. The two latest members of the cast, fired renegade lawyer Alan Shore (James Spader) and British legal assistant Tara Wilson (Rhona Mitra) will join a new practice. Denny Crane, veteran actor William Shatner, who appeared in "The Case Against Alan Shore" and episodes leading up to it, is a rainmaker in that new firm.

LOS ANGELES, California (Hollywood Reporter) -- David E. Kelley's Emmy-winning legal drama The Practicewill bow out May 16 after eight seasons.

The final episodes of the ABC show will set up a spin-off series, which has been given a 22-episode order by the network for the fall.

Sources said Kelley, ABC and producer 20th Century Fox TV evaluated creatively the options of picking up The Practice for a ninth season or spinning off the series into a new drama before mutually agreeing on the latter.

The Practice's first life focused on Bobby Donnell (Dylan McDermott), a working-class striver who achieved his ideal -- partnership in a professional, profitable law firm. McDemott's smoldering good looks and chronic angst kept viewers tuned in for seven years. His supporting cast, particularly (Camryn Manheim) Ellenor Frutt and (Steve Harris) Eugene Young, could be depended on to provide fireworks. The Practice became a favorite of the Emmy Awards. However, after a move to Monday nights from its long lease on Sunday's at 10 p.m., the program lost momentum and audience. Kelley surprised the industry and viewers by firing most of the original cast last year.

A reversal of fortune occurred when versatile actor James Spader (pictured above) took on the role of Alan Shore, an ethically challenged litigator. Spader has performed the role as a fascinating mix of avenging angel and annoying heckler. His performance last night, in which he managed to be righteous and offensive simultaneously, was the best yet. "The Case Against Alan Shore" highlighted the difficulties inherent in employing professionals. Young, fed up with constantly being challenged by Shore, fired him. But, Shore brought in more money than the rest of the lawyers combined during his eight-month stint. To walk away with only pocket change would have been an admission of defeat. It is not possible to demand specific performance, i.e., maintaining an agreed upon relationship, in regard to employment. Shore sued and won. Predictably, he was ambivalent about the result. I still don't know what Alan Shore wants. I don't think Alan Shore knows what he wants either. Perhaps the not knowing is what keeps us coming back for more.

In the spin-off, the characters Shore, Wilson and Crane will mix their quirky chemistries.

. . .according to the Hollywood Reporter, Shatner's role will carry over to the new law drama that David E. Kelley is dreaming up to showcase the talent of Spader, who has been such a hit as the witty, amoral Shore.

Spader's character will reportedly join the law firm of Crane, Poole & Schmidt, which is expected to include English-born Fay Masterson as a fiercely competitive rival to Shore and Lake Bell (recently Victoria on Miss Match ) as a naïve law grad. They will be introduced to audiences in the final episodes of The Practice.

One of the aspects of last night's show that endeared it to me is that The Practice finally took a clear-eyed look at what it means and doesn't mean to be a lawyer. In his closing argument in the case against him, Shore told the jury he was an ethically challenged player in an ethically challenged game. He stripped away the romanticization of practicing law, which Young had embraced, to expose the nuts and bolts beneath. Lawyers provide a service for pay. That service is dispute resolution. Sometimes, the way a dispute is resolved is equivalent to justice. Sometimes the way a dispute is resolved is not.

The Practice focused on criminal law most of the time. The firm in the new program will be larger and have a more varied practice, including labor. I believe the spin-off will provide new opportunities for looking at the practice of law, both as we wish it was, and, as it is.

Reasonably related

The Practice does history.

•The end is near.

3:42 PM