After five seasons on ABC, Boston Legal said goodbye last night. As you might expect, the David E. Kelley series went out in its own quirky fashion. Though the TV show has had its up and downs, some of this season’s episodes have been the series’ most outrageous and poignant. Did it really have to end?
Boston Legal is a direct spin-off of Kelley’s previous ABC legal drama, The Practice. The TV show revolves around the legal workers at the Boston firm of Crane, Poole and Schmidt. Alan Shore (James Spader) is the office’s most outspoken lawyer who ends up taking on the most outlandish and controversial cases. His best friend is firm senior partner Denny Crane (William Shatner), a once-legendary litigator who exhibits outrageous behavior due to the advancement of Alzheimer’s. Other partners include Shirley Schmidt (Candice Bergen), Paul Lewiston (Rene Auberjonois), Carl Sack (John Larroquette), and, most recently, socially-inept Jerry Espensen (Christian Clemenson).
Other ongoing characters have been played by Mark Valley, Julie Bowen, Gary Anthony Williams, Tara Summers, Henry Gibson, Constance Zimmer, Monica Potter, Rhona Mitra, Saffron Burrows, Meredith Eaton, Taraji P. Henson, Justin Mentell, Ryan Michelle Bathe, Betty White, and Craig Bierko.
The “dramady” debuted on October 3, 2004 on ABC. Spader and Shatner won Emmys for their guest work on The Practice and they and several others went on to win awards for Legal. For its first season, the show averaged 12.5 million viewers. The ratings slowly declined each successive year and last season, Legal averaged 9.8 million. Though that’s still a decent audience, ABC announced that season five would be the final one.
It was initially reported that Kelley had to fight to get a shortened fifth year to wrap things up. Then, it was spun as a mutual decision. Now, that the series has finished, the story doesn’t sound quite as amicable. He told Rob Owen of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, “ABC didn’t want us back. It’s as simple as that. They didn’t even want us back for this year at all. We had to fight to get back on with 13. It’s not a product they care to market.”
Though the series has attracted a respectable number of viewers, the complaint has often been that the show’s audience skews older. In last week’s episode, Kelley took aim at this point of view with crazy Catherine Piper (White) suing the networks for age discrimination. Carl Sacks (Larroquette) argued that the 50+ generation has a healthy share of the country’s disposable income and has more discerning tastes than the younger set who are satisfied watching reality TV and youth-obsessed shows. He argued, “Old people, the ones with intelligence, don’t want to watch that crap. We’re fed up. The networks may think we’re dead but we’re very much alive with working brains. Give us something to watch, dammit!”
Kelley believes the demographics are only part of the reason why Legal received its walking papers. The series has received minimal promotion this year and the show’s creator has doubts that the network execs have even watched it. He notes, “Five years into the show, if anyone has ever seen the show at ABC, they’ve yet to bring it to my attention.” They happily haven’t interfered with the content of the show but they haven’t really gotten behind it either.
Part of the reason may be that the network has a limited financial interest in Legal. While some of ABC’s big hits are produced by its in-house studio, Legal is made by 20th Century Fox. Kelley says, “Even though our numbers are solid, not huge, I think the conventional wisdom at ABC, and I don’t know this, but I’m guessing they continue to believe they can develop their own product and get that [rating] number and then also share in the profits.”
Shatner, for one, is sorry to see the show go. He told USA Today that the series was guilty of “being on the wrong network… I don’t think NBC or CBS would have canceled us.” Next fall, we’ll get to see how the peacock network treats Kelley’s next show which is slated to revolve around a father/daughter legal team.
The creator believes that Legal could have run for a sixth season but is thankful for the opportunity to give the show a proper send-off. “I feel satisfied we had run a good course.” That fact is certainly in part due to the devoted viewers. He notes, “By far of all the shows I’ve done, it had the most devout audience. Certain series got higher ratings or a bigger constituency that liked the show, but I can’t remember ever having a fan base that truly loved the show as much.” Stay tuned!
Image courtesy ABC.