If you watched last night’s season finale of Boston Legal, you might have been a little confused.
At the end of the episode, Alan (James Spader) and Denny (William Shatner) had their usual chat on Denny’s balcony. They reflected on the day, on their sometimes exhausting work, and how much they just wanted to kick back and go fishing together. Denny said, “Let’s go. Now… Let’s hang the gone fishin’ sign on the door and just go.” As music plays in the background, we see the two friends walking down the streets of Boston; wearing their Auxiliary Coast Guard uniforms, laughing, and smoking cigars. As the music continues to play, we see various areas of the empty law firm offices. The final image is of a “Gone Fishin'” sign hanging on Denny’s door. Sounds like a series finale doesn’t it? Well, it was… sort of.
As you might know, Boston Legal was one of those shows “on the bubble” — one of the many semi-popular series whose renewal wasn’t a sure thing. Many those shows’ producers choose to end their seasons with cliffhangers in hopes that that will improve their program’s chances of being renewed.
Legal creator David E. Kelley decided to play it safe. When last night’s episode was being filmed, Kelley knew there was a good chance that the law firm of Crane, Poole and Schmidt wouldn’t be back next season. Rather than possibly leaving the audience hanging, he crafted last night’s episode so that it could serve as either a season or a series finale.
Last night’s episode likely would have been the Legal series finale had it not been for ABC’s interest in another series. Kelley owns the U.S. rights for Life on Mars and ABC wants it for the network’s 2008 – 2009 midseason schedule. Kelley was obligated to produce the series for ABC but either he or the network wanted him off the project. Because he owns the rights, Kelley was able to negotiate a fifth season of Legal as part of his exit deal.
Unfortunately, the renewal came with a price. It was revealed last week that year five will be series’ last. The season will be made up of only 13 episodes; 11 hour-long and a two-hour series finale. Production will begin in June and is expected to wrap in November.
With a reduced show budget, the size of the cast will be significantly reduced. Spader and Christian Clemenson (“Jerry”) are the only two that will be around for sure right now. Shatner and Candice Bergen are likely to be signed soon. Beyond that, it’s hard to say. Saffron Burrows won’t be back for sure since she’s already signed on for a new NBC series called My Own Worst Enemy. The cast purge is reminiscent of the last season of The Practice (Legal’s predecessor) in which series star Dylan McDermott and many others were dropped due to budget cuts.
Could Legal be saved? Possibly but not probably. If the ratings vastly improve, ABC would surely love to bring it back for a sixth season. Unfortunately, that’s not likely to happen. The show will have been around five years and, as is the case with most serial shows, you don’t get many new viewers once a show’s been around that long. On top of that, some existing viewers stop watching. Legal’s audience also skews a bit older which isn’t very attractive to advertisers.
Though next season is scheduled to be Legal’s last, Kelley will likely be writing all 13 hours so you know that they’re going to be something to remember. You can be sure that, at the very least, he’ll give us another fitting Legal series finale. Stay tuned!