‘Practice’ cast off the docket

Topliners exit legal show amid cutbacks

Dylan McDermott and much of the cast of “The Practice” will not be returning to the David E. Kelley-created drama when it resumes in the fall.

In addition to McDermott, Lara Flynn Boyle, Kelli Williams, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Chyler Leigh and Marla Sokoloff have not been reupped or won’t be coming back next year. Steve Harris, Camryn Manheim and Michael Badalucco will remain; McDermott may be back for a four-episode guest stint.

News comes barely a week after ABC reached a new deal with David E. Kelley Prods. and 20th Century Fox TV to bring back “The Practice” next fall for an eighth season — but at a much lower license fee.

Alphabet’s old deal with 20th gave the network the option of bringing back the show at a license fee of roughly $6.5 million per seg; renegotiated pact cut that figure nearly in half, according to industry insiders (Daily Variety, May 12).

Move also comes just a week after many of the show’s cast members, including McDermott, were seen onstage during ABC’s upfront presentation to advertisers.

With less coin to play with, it was almost a given that Kelley and 20th would look to reduce above-the-line costs in order to avoid incurring production deficits (though even at a reduced license fee, skein still makes money due to backend syndie coin).

Indeed, industry insiders said Kelley was determined not to run a deficit next season, delivering ABC the show it paid for — and nothing more.

Kelley was vocal in his displeasure about the net’s decision to move “The Practice” to Monday nights earlier this year, a sked shuffle which caused the show to take a Nielsen tumble.

In addition to money issues, Kelley also may have felt it was time to add some new creative spark to the series by saying goodbye to old characters and making room for new names. Indeed, it’s expected Kelley will add several actors to the cast– possibly even a few well-known names. (Here’s an idea: Call Calista Flockhart, aka Ally from Kelley’s “Ally McBeal.”)

In a statement, Kelley attributed the departures to “economic and creative realities.”

“It hurts, professionally and personally,” he said. “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.”

ABC said it backed Kelley’s moves.

“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,” a spokesman said, adding the net was “sorry to see these talented cast members leave the show.”

Cast shakeups aren’t unprecedented in TV land, though it’s rare for so many vets of an ensemble to leave at once.

Dramas such as “Law & Order,” “NYPD Blue” and “ER” have managed to keep ratings high and (in the case of “L&O”) production costs in check by frequently adding new characters while parting ways with vets. Final season of Kelley’s own “L.A. Law” also went on without much of the core cast, though ratings and reviews suffered as a result.

McDermott’s departure was foreshadowed in the season finale of “The Practice,” which ended with thesp’s Bobby character quitting the law firm he founded and literally shutting off the lights in the office. At the time Kelley wrote the episode, there was a good chance the episode would serve as a series finale, since ABC and 20th hadn’t hammered out a new deal at the time.

Thesp, who earned $300,000 or more per episode last season, had come to the end of a two-season deal. Kelley had an option to renew him for the fall, but it would have required a substantial raise to make it happen. The mutual decision was to part ways.

McDermott will likely return to the feature route from which he came when he took the series. He recently co-starred with Val Kilmer in the John Holmes tale “Wonderland,” and he has a supporting role in the Gary Fleder-directed John Grisham adaptation “The Runaway Jury” for New Regency that stars John Cusack.