Kelley Slams ABC over "Practice" Move
Wed Jan 29, 5:35 PM ET
By Josh Grossberg
David E. Kelley is ready to throw the book at ABC.
The Practice creator and executive producer--and a onetime lawyer himself--is holding the Alphabet net in contempt for moving his legal drama from its Sunday slot, where it consistently ranked first, to its new time on Mondays at 9 p.m.
Kelley, who had complained when the move was first announced, went ballistic when this week's Nielsens showed The Practice fourth place in its slot, lagging far behind its new competitors, including Fox's hit reality series Joe Millionaire.
Now, Kelley and 20th Century Fox Television, the show's production company, blasted ABC execs, accusing them of "acting in bad faith" and purposefully trying to hobble the show so the network could renegotiate the series' renewal at a lower price.
Speaking to the Los Angeles Times, Kelley calls the move "an act of stunning stupidity."
"They've killed it with one fell swoop. It didn't make any sense when they announced it; it seemed like a death sport," Kelley fumes to Daily Variety. "Today, some of us look smarter and some of us don't. I would hope [ABC] would act in their own self interest and put it back where it was doing well."
The Practice, which averaged 11.8 million viewers this season and ranked 31st when it was airing on Sunday nights, drew just 8.96 million viewers on Monday--the lowest numbers since the show's rookie season.
Despite Super Bowl promos heavily hyping its new Monday night slot, The Practice was handily beaten by NBC's Third Watch, CBS' double threat of Everybody Loves Raymond and Still Standing and Fox's Joe Millionaire, which pulled in a whopping 20 million viewers.
ABC decided to shift the Emmy-winning series to Mondays to make room for Dick Wolf's highly touted midseason entry Dragnet, starring Ed O'Neill, which is set to debut February 2.
The move was immediately seen as a major diss to the Boston-based law film led by Dylan McDermott and a ploy designed to give Alphabet the edge at the bargaining table for talks to extend the show beyond the 2003-04 television season. ABC contends that The Practice doesn't deserve the $6 million licensing fee sought by Kelley and Fox, especially since the net has been struggling to overhaul its low-rated schedule.
"It's hard to believe that they could act in such bad faith," Kelley tells Variety. "But no matter how low you set the bar of intelligence for ABC, they manage to slither under it...It's folly to try to guess what's in their heads because that would start with the presumption that there's something [in them].
According to insiders at ABC, there's some sympathy for Kelley's plight. But, network spokeswoman Alison Rou absolutely denied any malicious intent to harm one of ABC's most prestigious shows.
"We have paid an enormous price--millions of dollars an episode--to have The Practice on our schedule. One would think that gives us the right to schedule it as we see fit in order to serve the best interest of the network," Rou says. "Any suggestion that we would consciously attempt to hurt an important asset is simply ludicrous."
ABC reps also point out the decision to move The Practice was made before Joe Millionaire took off, and they expect The Practice's numbers will rise once the reality show ends its run in three weeks.
"You can't make schedule changes and expect them to pay off overnight," ABC Entertainment Television Group chairman Lloyd Braun tells Variety. "I find it hard to believe that an established show that's widely recognized as one of the best dramas on TV isn't going to be able to establish itself Mondays at 9."
Braun also notes that The Practice wasn't helped by its lead-ins, the brand new midseason dramas Veritas: The Quest (9.12 million viewers) and Miracles (8.74 million).
Being told to be patient, however, just isn't good enough for Kelley & Co., who still hold out hope ABC will move the show back to Sundays. If not, television's most prolific writer-producer has threatened to take his Practice to another network.