Kelley, creator and executive producer of the legal drama, was scoping out his competition, watching Millionaire at home, and saw first-hand how the Fox reality hit hooked his wife and millions of other TV viewers.
"I picked up the remote to change the channel and she said 'Wait, wait, wait, wait! I want to see if that [expletive] comes back!'" Kelley recounted. "I knew, 25 minutes into it. I said 'This show is a monster hit,' and it was."
Millionaire's remarkable run almost sank The Practice - which had won the Emmy for best drama in 1998 and 1999 - from its Sunday-night spot on ABC.
Now one season removed from its crippling move to Monday nights, The Practice is set for Sunday night again this fall, limping into season No. 8.
It's believed the network agreed to give Kelly's production company and 20th Century Fox Television $3.5 million an episode for The Practice, almost half off last season's price tag of $6 million-a-show.
Steve Harris, Camryn Manheim, Michael Badalucco and Jessica Capshaw return to The Practice this fall. Veteran actor James Spader (search) has been added to the cast.
Kelley said he hopes The Practice's near-death experience of last season will shock new creative life into the struggling drama. McDermott is set to come back for four episodes this upcoming season, and producers are closing in on a three-show deal with Sharon Stone (search).
"It's been a rocky marriage [with ABC], I guess," Kelley said. "If you want to look for a silver lining, it was a kick in the ass that might prove creatively fruitful."
Surviving cast members said they're still stunned by the changes, but are eager to get the new team back on the set.
"So two things [are] at work: sadness that they're [old cast members] not there to play with, and also I'm really excited about giving the viewers and the public a new Practice, " Manheim said.