New series from David E. Kelley is centered on small, poorly financed legal firm. On the surface, it's as far as the producer could get from "L.A. Law" while remaining within the profession and the United States. Not quite, though: Series retains such Kelley trademarks as arch dialogue, colorful characters and interesting, quirky and socially relevant situations. In many important ways, "The Practice" is "Picket Fences" in the big city, or "L.A. Law" with cheaper suits. Initial commitment is for between six to eight episodes, in slot normally owned by "NYPD Blue," whose audience should take to it readily. A total of 13 shows are in the can. Regulars are all youngish workers in the firm, headed by Bobby Donnell (Dylan McDermott) and including attorneys Eugene Young (Steve Harris), Ellenor Frutt (Camryn Manheim) and Lindsay Dole (Kelli Williams), to be joined in a later episode by Jimmy Barluti (Michael Badalucco). Office manager is Rebecca Washington (Lisa Gay Hamilton).

Action is so furious in pilot that individual characters aren’t given much definition, or back story, except that Dole is firm’s junior member, straight out of Harvard Law School and, it seems, with an unformed sense of ethics.

Premiere introduces four storylines; one is resolved and three arcs are launched. Bulk of show is devoted to 17-year-old Rachel (Tammy Townsend), arrested for possession of cocaine (it was her brother’s) and defended by Donnell with a closing argument that should cause no end of tittering in real-life law offices the next day.

Other cases involve a flasher (Max Alexander) defended by Young; a man (James Greene) suing a tobacco company following his wife’s death from cancer; and, in a story that, some episodes down the line, takes off from the O.J. Simpson case, a murderer (Greg Wrangler) pleading temporary insanity.

Acting is aces throughout, with particularly appealing work by Linda Hunt as a judge, and Edward Herrmann as Dole’s former law professor, now representing tobacco interests; his suits are definitely expensive.

Tech credits are slick.

The Practice

ABC, Tues. March 4, 10 p.m.

Production

Filmed in Los Angeles by David E. Kelley Prods. in association with 20th Century Fox Television. Executive producer-writer, David E. Kelley; producers, Robert Breech, Alice West, Jefrey Kramer; director, Mick Jackson; camera, Theo van de Sande.

Crew

Editor, Lori Jane Coleman; production designer, Jackson DeGovia; art director, Lee Fischer; sound, Clark King; music, Stewart Levin; casting, Judith Weiner. 60 MIN.

Cast

Cast: Dylan McDermott, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Steve Harris, Camryn Manheim, Kelli Williams, Linda Hunt, Edward Herrmann, Kate Burton, James Handy, Tammy Townsend, Virginia Capera, James Greene, Shawn Michael Howard, Max Alexander, Patricia Belcher, Lorna Ravar, Pete Kovner, Timothy Sawyer, Neil Gustafson, Tony Haney.

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