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Mystery of The Practice Bloodbath

It would take all the lawyers on The Practice (search) to find out who knew what about David E. Kelley's (search) shocking decision to fire most of the actors on the long-running legal drama.

When the show returns next year, six of its stars -- including Dylan McDermott (search) and Lara Flynn Boyle (search) - -will be gone.

So who made the call to drop all those stars. Was it Kelley or ABC?

Yesterday, the two sides were still a bit dazed about what took place.  

If ABC knew what was coming, why had they flown out the entire cast to New York for an elaborate presentation to advertisers at the annual "upfront meeting?"

Network sources say ABC execs met with Kelley before the upfront presentation and that a second meeting took place shortly afterwards.

"He outlined changes he wanted to make creatively and the network signed off on them," a source close to the production told The Post yesterday. "He's been planning [for a while] on making changes."

"We are on the same page on this show," ABC Entertainment Group Chairman Lloyd Braun told reporters this week -- sounding somewhat defensive about suggestions that ABC did not know what was planned for The Practice.

Some industry insiders are suggesting that Kelley may have pulled a fast one on ABC -- giving the network a substantially different show next fall as payback for ABC's waiting until the last minute to renew the series.

There is motive: it's no secret that the producer was angry at ABC officials after they moved the show from its longtime, Sunday night timeslot to Mondays where it immediately sank in the ratings.

Kelley is even said to have talked seriously about moving the show to CBS.

CBS boss Les Moonves said earlier this week that "some feelers where put out there." But ultimately CBS passed because the show was too expensive Moonves said.

Whatever the case, the major overhaul on The Practice was undoubtedly caused by ABC's decision to cut its licensing fee - the amount of money the network pays the studio that makes the show, 20th Century Fox -- almost in half from $6 million per episode to $3.5 million.

Something had to give.