Boston Legal: Did That Have to be the Last Episode?

Alan and Denny say goodbye to ABCAfter 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.”

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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! TV Series Finale home page

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25 Comments · Read them below or add one

  1. Charlie says

    In Australia, we’ve only just now gotten the fourth season on DVD, and of course I watched it the moment I got it. And now to find out that the fifth season will be the last? I’m 23 and I find Boston Legal to be one of the best tv programs on at the moment, never mind that rubbish aimed at younger people, it only makes me want to stab my eyes out. Boston Legal is clever, witty and damn hilarious as well as being serious about current issues.

    ABC, you need to pull your head out of your arses and at least watch this fantastic program before canceling it.

  2. Larry Rizk says

    It was entertaining, blasphemous and totally outrageous at times.It was creatively written and very well acted, but seemed to have little tolerance for different points of vi
    ew. Would anyone invite Alan back for next Thanksgiving dinner? Betty White was terrific abd Monica Potter left too soon.

  3. Laura says

    Clever writing… headlines ripped from the daily news… Even when Alan was on the other side of and issue with me…(rarely…) It was thought provoking TV … hmmm a concept lost on ABC execs. They couldnt have been watchiing… all the pot shots BL shot over the bow this season Hilarious!!… I LOVED it!
    Mr. Spader sure grew from the “snotty kid” in the Molly Ringwald movies!
    Please other networks TAKE NOTE: be clever and throw 8 millon THINKING viewers a bone and keep this brilliant cast intact.

  4. says

    We never watched the show even though friends have been telling us to for several years. Finally in October we relented and loved it only to discover it would be done in December. Luckily ION TV has all the re-runs which we will most certainly enjoy. Best TV show in a long time…..

  5. dee says

    One of the best adult shows on the tube; everyone knows that these programs can’t go on forever, but this one certainly had many topics of today’s world to draw on.

    What’s next to be axed — House?

  6. Valita says

    Eight million constant viewers aren’t wrong…Boston Legal deserves to be put back on the air. Hopefully another network will pick it up if ABC doesn’t. With all the crap shows on ABC each week, i.e., the Jim Belushi shows that they repeatedly air, one would think that ABC would realize that Boston Legal fans want not only for the show to be renewed but to also have it on in a CONSISTENT time slot…NEVER varying. Some people had a hard time just trying to find the show at times because ABC kept flipflopping the times/dates. We need Alan, Denny, Shirley, Jerry, etc., etc., etc. for our weekly fix of a GREAT cast putting out the FANTASTIC work of David E. Kelley.

  7. Londi Palmisano says

    I love BL. It’s the most intelligent and brilliantly outrageous show on TV today. It’s one minute hilarious and the next minute poignant. Shatner and Spader are a stunning pair of actors; together they’re amazing. Candace Bergen…equal kudos to her. Of course, the writing is fabulous, the casting impeccable. Please bring it back!!!!

  8. Russ says

    Well ABC…. you blew it again! What a great show Boston Legal has been and I guess only us older folk get the back slap humor that it provided each and every week. I can’t say the same for all the reality shows that proliferate the airs today. How sad that this is what our society has come to (who can out smart who and get them kicked off till we’re down to one). Can’t anyone at any of the networks come up with anything more creative than that slop? How boring that we go from channel to channel and see the same version of this same old dead programming, but just wearing a different suit. Come on ABC where’s your mojo on coming up with something that is really funny?

  9. Net says

    Apparently this show had too much truth in it for ABC to handle. I will miss it greatly. It has been my favorite show and the only thing I really care to watch. It is a very sad day for me.

  10. Karen says

    I loved Boston Legal but I could never seen to find it as the days always seemed to be changed or the show was cxled for some other show. It got very confusing.

    I thought it was being done on purpose as the subjects on the show were so controversial that I thought the sponsors were afraid. I guess I won’t be watching much of anything anymore as everything else seems so inane.

  11. Jessica says

    I miss Boston Legal already. It was one of my all-time favorite shows. It was so smart and funny. I guess that’s the problem … it ended up being too smart for ABC execs … they just didn’t get it. It makes me upset that ABC execs never even got behind the show. I’m very sad to see it go, but I am so glad that the show got a proper send-off and wasn’t just cut off without any closure (like so many other great shows).

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