The show was abruptly shelved as 'Grey's Anatomy' took off.
By MIKE DUFFY
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Getting laughs from lawyers, that's the ticket.
As he wrote the opening season of "Boston Legal" last fall and winter, David E. Kelley had that rather slaphappy revelation.
"As the show evolved this past year, we discovered that the series really wants to be a comedy more than a drama," said Kelley, who knows a little something about funny lawyers -- he invented the sexy courtroom romp "Ally McBeal."
Much of the comedy on "Boston Legal" revolves around the screwloose camaraderie of borderline barristers Alan Shore and Denny Crane, the eccentrics at the humorous heart of "Boston Legal," portrayed by James Spader and William Shatner.
But something unfunny happened last season to "Boston Legal."
It was scheduled to return in late April after a brief hiatus while ABC gave the hospital drama "Grey's Anatomy" a spring tryout in the 10 p.m. ET Sunday time slot following "Desperate Housewives. " But plans changed quickly when the sawbones soap opera became a surprise hit.
So "Boston Legal" -- along with the final five episodes that would have climaxed the show's enjoyable opening season -- was abruptly shelved. Ouch.
"We weren't pleased about it. It was tough," admitted Kelley, chatting with reporters in Beverly Hills, joined by Spader, Shatner and other members of the cast during a news conference.
"It was unfortunate when it happened because we felt we were just coming into a run of our best shows of the season."
Being knocked off the schedule last spring wasn't the only unpleasant surprise.
ABC decided to keep "Grey's Anatomy" paired with "Desperate Housewives" on Sunday nights for the upcoming fall season. And then the network moved "Boston Legal" to 10 p.m. Tuesdays, where it takes over the old "NYPD Blue" spot in the weekly schedule starting Sept. 27.
"Last year on Sunday we had a pretty cushy and protected time slot, so we're going to have to earn it," said Kelley, referring to the tougher competition the show will face at 10 p.m. Tuesdays from NBC's highly rated "Law & amp; Order: Special Victims Unit" and also potentially from "Close to Home," a new CBS crime procedural from "CSI" producer Jerry Bruckheimer.
With those five holdover episodes from last year, "Boston Legal" has 27 hours to air in 2005-06.
To get the new season off to a hot start, Heather Locklear will strut her diva stuff as a gold-digger and murder suspect in the opening two episodes. Rupert Everett and Betty White also join the guest-star lineup for those two episodes.
As "Boston Legal" found its own offbeat personality and comic rhythms following the overwrought final seasons of "The Practice," Kelley shook things up pleasantly last season with the addition of Candice Bergen to the cast as founding partner Shirley Schmidt.
The revolving door hasn't stopped spinning at Crane, Poole and Schmidt.
Keep your courtroom scorecards handy. "Boston Legal" regulars Rhona Mitra, Lake Bell and Monica Potter -- and the fabulous legal babes they played -- have all departed.
"They were strong characters in their own right," said Kelley. "But we were missing the opportunity to distinguish them politically from the upper tier" of the law firm represented by Denny Crane, Alan Shore, Shirley Schmidt and Paul Lewiston (Rene Auberjonois).
Because Kelley found that "Boston Legal" is more comedy than drama, he sought out new "characters and actors with strong comedic skills as well as dramatic skills."
Personable "Ed" star Julie Bowen is the most prominent new face, playing senior associate Denise Bauer. Bowen describes her character as "a tough litigator going through a divorce and determined not to let anybody know how much it's bothering her."
From "Happy Gilmore" to "Ed," Bowen has proven her vivacious chucklehead chops. And all the returning "Boston Legal" regulars -- including Shatner, Spader, Bergen, Auberjonois and underrated Mark Valley ("Keen Eddie") -- are blessed with sly comic gifts.