The Boston law firm of Donnell, Young, Dole & Flutt is undergoing a dramatic downsizing.
Dylan McDermott, Lara Flynn Boyle and four other cast members of "The Practice" are exiting David E. Kelley's ABC legal drama next season after their options were not picked up by David E. Kelley Prods. and 20th Century Fox TV.
The slimming of "Practice's" actor payroll comes as the Emmy-winning series faces at least a 50% reduction in the license fee paid by ABC.
The show endured a rocky seventh season -- ratings took a dive after a midseason time-slot shift to Monday -- and secured an eleventh-hour pickup for 2003-04 on condition that the estimated $6.5 million license fee be halved -- though ABC committed to returning the show to its longtime 10 p.m. Sunday home.
McDermott will guest-star in at least four episodes next season, and it is unclear if the other exiting cast members will make any appearances. In addition to McDermott and Boyle, the departures include original cast members Kelli Williams and Lisa Gay Hamilton. Marla Sokoloff, who joined "Practice" during its second season, and Chyler Leigh, who signed on this season, also are gone.
"Due to economic and creative realities, many key people will not be returning, including Dylan," Kelley said Monday. "It hurts, professionally and personally. This is perhaps the finest group of actors and people one could ever hope to work with; I hope for all of them to recur if possible, and if I'm lucky, I'll get to work with them on future projects as well. I'm indebted to each and every one of them."
While budget cuts were expected given such a substantial license-fee cut for an old show, the exodus came as a surprise because five of the six actors whose options have not been picked up -- McDermott, Williams, Hamilton, Sokoloff and Leigh -- were flown to New York last week to appear at ABC's fall schedule-unveiling presentation and party.
"For the past seven seasons, we've successfully relied on David E. Kelley's creative vision for 'The Practice,' and we'll continue to rely on his vision for the future of this series," the network said. "While we're sorry to see these talented cast members leave the show, we're excited to discover what David has in store for 'The Practice' this fall."
Sources said the cast reduction was Kelley's idea and is part of his plan to rejuvenate the veteran show, which won the outstanding drama series Emmy in 1999. It is understood that Kelley's camp has taken note of how other long-running dramas, including NBC's "Law & Order" and "ER," have used cast changes as a creative spark to keep a show fresh and even bring in new viewers.
Several new regulars are expected to join remaining "Practice" cast members Camryn Manheim and Michael Badalucco -- both Emmy winners for their roles -- Steve Harris and Jessica Capshaw.