Boston Legal (2004-2008)
Boston Public (2000-2004)
Chalk another one up to David E. Kelley. The guy has taken crossovers and spin offs to a level nobody else ever has. It started out where he was doing big deal crossovers all the time. At this point though he's almost getting cool ass casual about it. I mean, this crossover got hype and it was a big deal in a lot of ways. But in execution it had a casual vibe. Like David E. Kelley has created this universe that all his shows exist in and that is bigger than any one show. So just because one Kelley show gets canceled that doesn't mean its characters just disappear. They might pop up as needed on some other Kelley show.
Boston Public was a David E. Kelley show on the Fox Network. It was a high school drama focusing more on the teachers than on the students. It also regularly did stories about current controversial issues. It was edgy and cool and at the start very popular. But as sometimes is the case with Kelley shows, it started really really hot and then burned out fast. Not even sure why but it did. After four seasons it left the air midway through the 2003 - 2004 season.
That same season over on ABC another Kelley show left the air... well... sort of. The Practice was a hit legal drama for ABC for eight seasons. For a long time it was a continual ratings winner on the ABC Sunday night lineup. Then its seventh season ABC tried moving the show off of Sundays. The results were disastrous. The ratings fell badly. Kelley got annoyed with ABC. ABC got annoyed with Kelley. The loyal fans were annoyed the show wasn't on Sunday where they liked it. Season seven was almost its last. But Kelley and ABC came to an agreement to save the show and keep it around for another season. Kelley agreed to a severely reduced budget for season eight. To make that work though Kelley was forced to make heavy cuts to his high salaried cast. Sort of like a clearance sale: all stars must go! About half the characters on the show just mysteriously left town between seasons include the show's central star Bobby Donnell played by Dylan McDermott. In an extra ballsy move, Kelley didn't even bother to fully explain what happened with them. It was as if the audience just missed a bunch of episodes where some important stuff went down.
To spice up the show and get some hype going for it Kelley brought in another big name star to replace Dylan McDermott: James Spader as attorney Alan Shore. Where Bobby was a moral and ethical man tortured by having to defend scummy clients, Alan Shore... well he was a little different. Alan was a lawyer who, on the surface, didn't seem to have any morals or ethics to bother him. He'd break the rules and the law if it meant helping his client. But as I said, on the surface that how it appeared. The truth was Alan didn't have any problems breaking all the rules for his client IF he truly believed his client was worth defending. So he did have a code of ethics of a sort. Here's my take on Alan. Imagine if the devil realized he was the devil but wanted to try and be an angel. He's the devil so he kind of has no choice but to be a rule breaking weasel. That's just who he is. But his aim is actually to try and help the good and the innocent.
Alan was a big hit. But despite that The Practice was just running out of steam. Kelley's solution was to basically blow up The Practice and spin Alan and another supporting character (Tara Wilson played by Rhona Mitra) off into a new show. The final episodes of The Practice had Alan being fired from the show's central law firm and then suing them over it. Long story short, Alan won his case and bankrupt his old firm. The Practice dissolved and Alan and Tara went to work for the firm that had represented him: Crane Poole and Schmidt. And that marked the start of the new spin off, Boston Legal.
Where The Practice was all dark and edgy angst, Boston Legal was goofy. But not as ultra goofy as Kelley's other show Alley McBeal. This show had some dramatic meat to it as well as humor. Crane, Poole and Schmidt was an old law firm filled with an eccentric bunch of lawyers. Central among them was Denny Crane played by William Shatner. Denny started off in a guest role on The Practice. He was a half crazy genius lawyer. He felt that walking in and simply saying his name - Denny Crane - was enough to inspire awe and wonder in others. At the start the joke was how silly crazy that idea was. But as time went on... damned if you didn't start believing it!
Anyway, after all that back history, lets just get to the crossover. The year after Boston Public was canceled Kelley had the high school principal from that show, Steven Harper, pop up in a case on Boston Legal. Seems that Principal Harper had a problem with a certain cable news channel. He felt that letting it air on the school's TVs was causing a racially intolerant environment. So he put devices on all the schools TVs to block out this... certain news channel. As a result one of his students hired Alan Shore to sue the school claiming it was an infringement of free speech.
Now here is the thing. Most times with a crossover it becomes a big deal. A major huge plot where the characters from the shows meet up, clash and really get involved with each other. Now Alan and Principal Harper do square off in the courtroom and they do get into some complicated issues but... it hardly rises to the normal level of crossover spectacle. But oddly, that's what is kinda cool about it. There's no reason they couldn't have done the exact same story using some other principal. But since it is set in the Kelley universe, why not have it be Principal Harper?
The show also got funky due to some behind the scenes issues. Originally the show wasn't supposed to be about "some cable news channel". Originally the episode was supposed to be specifically about Fox News. But ABC had a problem with with the show using a real world news channel as a plot point. Apparently it is network policy not to reference real world people or businesses. As a result the show hints like crazy that its about Fox News but never comes out and says that's what channel they are talking about. The change also seemed to lead to Kelley adding a few extra jokes inspired by the situation. At one point while talking about free speech and network news Alan points out that, "The first amendment is losing its luster. Some Networks are even censoring their scripted dramas." Hehehe. The same scene then throws a wink wink nudge nudge to another cable channel. The news show Alan is watching runs a story about an actor playing the judge in a Michael Jackson reenactment jumping ship to play a character in another trial reenactment on another network. At the time this episode aired E! Entertainment Television was the only channel around running daily reenactments of the Michael Jackson child molestation trial. So another cable net's news practices gets a little needling too.Other Boston Legal Links
Boston Legal and Cheers
Boston Legal and The Practice
Other Boston Public Links
Boston Public and Ally McBeal
Boston Public and The Practice
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Buy these shows on Amazon.com and support this site at the same time! Check out Boston Legal on DVD! The crossover discussed on this page can be found on the Boston Legal Season One DVD set!