The stars of "The Practice" (search) say goodbye to the ABC drama May 16 - and they're not really sure what lies ahead for the show's spinoff.
"I don't think the finale is setting up the new series, and I don't think the new series is 100 percent defined," Camryn Manheim (search), who plays Ellenor Frutt, told reporters yesterday.
What is known is that the spinoff will star James Spader (search) - who joined the show this season as smarmy Alan Shore - and William Shatner, who guest-starred as Denny Crane.
"The finale will focus on three different worlds," said series creator David E. Kelley. "Berluti's world, resolution of the original 'Practice' world and the introduction to the new Crane, Poole & Schmidt world."
"The Practice" signs off May 16 with an episode called "Cheers," in which, among other developments, Crane and Shore appear before Judge Young, and Jamie (Jessica Capshaw) takes a job at Berluti's (Michael Badalucco) new legal office.
The finale also features Bobby (Dylan McDermott (search)) returning to help his ex-colleagues bid goodbye to the firm.
Both Manheim and Badalucco said this season of "The Practice" was different than in years past - especially after six regulars were canned after last season to save money.
"We were so happy we were picked up for another season, then a week later I was on a soccer field with my nephew, and I get a call from Lisa Gay [Hamilton] saying, 'David Kelley just fired me,'" Badalucco said.
"It was disappointing to see that kind of thing, but it's part of the business....I think this season was the antithesis of what 'The Practice' was about the last seven years," said Badalucco.
"I thought it was interesting to have a character like Alan Shore come on board - he was the opposite of what we all stood for . . . for all intents and purposes, 'The Practice' ended last year when Bobby turned out the lights...This was a transition year, and people sort of enjoyed that."
Ratings for "The Practice" improved when ABC moved the show back to its Sunday-night perch, and Spader won raves for injecting new life.
"I think David [E. Kelley] just loved writing for James . . . It was exciting to see David get excited about a character again," Manheim said.
Manheim has her own ABC sitcom in the works, which will transplant Ellenor to upstate New York, possibly Buffalo, where she'll teach at a college and interact with her two sisters and her mother. "It's an interesting idea to transfer a dramatic character to a comedy - it was done the other way with Lou Grant," she said.
Manheim said there's a chance for Ellenor to return to her old stomping grounds - if anything, to help ABC promote her new show.
"I think we have some plans for me to come on the new show to remind people of me, so when the show launches in January people will say, 'Oh, yeah, that girl, I remember her.' "